Monday, June 29, 2009

Students Learning Sign Language Via YouTube

Parents used to tell their children to turn off the tube and do their homework. Now, some college students are being told to do their homework by turning on the tube — YouTube that is.

Recently, Tempe-based Rio Salado College started using the popular social networking site YouTube as the classroom for its American Sign Language (ASL) classes.

YouTube is a video sharing Web site, which allows users to upload videos and share them with other people.

“Using a social networking site has taken online learning to a new level, and I don’t think any other school is offering an entire sign language class online,” said Angela Felix, faculty chair of languages at Rio Salado College. “With YouTube, teachers and students get to see each other and this makes the class a more personal experience for both.”

ASL Instructor Maryann Stegall agrees with Felix, and said she and her students are lucky to get to interact with each other using this medium.

“Sign language is a visual language and the students need this type of interaction,” said Stegall, who helped develop the courses for Rio Salado College. “As I review the students’ videos, I can give them immediate feedback, which will keep them from forming bad habits and signing the wrong words.”

One student who enjoys the quick feedback from Stegall is Diane Vasquez, a Mesa schoolteacher who is taking the class to fulfill an ESL endorsement.

“The teacher gets back to me promptly,” said Vasquez. “This helps me practice my signs properly and confidently move on to the next assignment at my pace.”

Besides immediate feedback on her progress, Vasquez appreciates the convenience of being able to take the class at anytime and from anywhere.

“I’m going to a conference in Baltimore and I will be taking my class while I’m there,” said Vasquez. “Rio Salado is the only school I could find that offered a sign language class entirely online. If this class weren’t available, I would have to choose between going to Baltimore or completing my endorsement. This class is allowing me to do both.”

Besides her out-of-town trip, Vasquez said the classes do not interfere with her busy family life either.

“My son is involved in several activities at school,” she said. “The flexibility of the class lets me be involved with my family and take the class when it fits into my schedule.”

Kate Cleaveland, of Mesa, is a home-schooled student who needed language credits and found the Rio Salado class easy to adapt into her schedule.

“My mother teaches me at home and this class meshes well with my schedule,” said Kate, who is starting her junior year of high school. “I need to learn a second language and thought sign language sounded interesting. I think online learning works well for people who have irregular schedules.”

Vasquez and Kate are not the only people who are enjoying the YouTube classroom. According to Felix, every class has been full since it was introduced.

“This class is more popular than we anticipated,” said Felix. “The second level was slated to begin in the fall, but due to demand we had to make it available sooner. Now, we are preparing to offer the third level and bringing in another teacher.”

Other language classes offered by Rio Salado College include: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. For more information, please visit