Emerson ASL faculty have been using video to teach for years. In Fall 2019, I interviewed Wendy Whiting about her use of video in her teaching, and then interviewed one of her students, Adam Engel, on his experience taking her course. The two conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What made you want to use video to teach your students American Sign Language?
I began teaching at Emerson in 2018, and Nancy Vincent-Meotti, who recruited me, developed the curriculum, and shared it with me.
You haven’t used video in teaching before?
Before I came to Emerson, I didn’t make videos myself but I asked my students to submit videos as assignments. All my teaching was done face-to-face. I used to teach using the Signing Naturally curriculum. I used that curriculum for 28 years. Back then, my students bought a workbook and the workbook included some videos and we also used books. But as said, I didn’t make my own video back then. At Emerson, I started using the True+Way ASL curriculum, and I like it better than Signing Naturally. I make instructional videos now as part of my curriculum.
So what role does video play in teaching ASL at Emerson?
We use the True+Way ASL platform to teach students. TWA is an online ASL resource where you can watch videos of different signs. When I first started, Nancy suggested that I make additional videos for my students as a way to reinforce their learning.
How do you make your videos?
I use Photo Booth on my computer to record my videos, and I upload them to Panopto and share them on Canvas.
Why do you use Photo Booth to record your videos? Why not record them straight into Panopto and save yourself the time?
I tried recording my videos using the Panopto recording App but I didn’t like it at all. It looked too busy and the recording preview was too small. I need to see myself sign.*
Do you find Panopto/Canvas to be generally helpful in your teaching?
I originally planned to record videos and email them to my students, but these tools are better for sharing content.
Do you ask your students to make videos?
I ask my students to submit portions of their midterm and final as videos.
Do you think it’s easier to teach students using the videos you make? Do you think they learn faster?
It depends on the student, really. I know some of them don’t really look at my videos. It’s their decision. I often tell them that if they want a better grade, then they need to look at my videos to reinforce what they learned. In the end, it’s up to them. **
Do you think the students you taught using Signing Naturally were more attentive in class because they didn’t have the videos you made to lean back on?
I am not sure yet. I only started using TWA last fall. Also, the students here are different from the students I taught in the past. The students here don’t major in interpreting. My ASL class is an elective course so the expectations here are different.
Can you tell me more about the video assignments you ask your students to complete?
I give my students take home expressive exams, and they send me videos of themselves signing.
Why not do the expressive exams in person? What’s the benefit of doing it over video?
Time. It saves time. Scheduling all these one-on-one exams can be challenging. Also, it can be straining for a teacher to assess twenty students signing their expressive exams back-to-back.
Do you find that video is well utilized in the deaf community?
We deaf people use FaceTime quite a lot, and we use an app called Marco Polo. Do you know about Marco Polo? It’s a video messaging app that wasn’t designed by a deaf person, and it wasn’t designed for deaf people, but we’re the biggest user group for it.
Why is that?
Because we get tired of texting. It’s really hard to communicate over text. For us whose first language is ASL, we are used to communicating in a visual and spatial language. It’s easier for us to be clear over video, so that’s why we choose Marco Polo. English is our second language!
So what was Wendy’s class like?
Starting out we used True+Way ASL videos instead of a textbook. The first series of videos teaches you about deaf culture and grammar. They do all of it through video. The actors sign and there’s a transcript alongside the video. The website is basically a video dictionary. You also watch little snapshot videos, these short, narrative, nuanced stories that illustrate details about ASL. Stuff like how the meaning of a word is different when you lift your eyebrows than it is when you drop them.
How did you use video in your course?
At the end of each unit, we would be given a series of phrases and short sentences and asked to pick several of them, translate them into ASL and record ourselves signing them. This was more for practice than for grade. Both the midterm and final had an expressive portion that was graded. We would be asked to memorize 5-6 sentences and record ourselves. We were then evaluated on a rubric for:
- Non-manual marker (like mouth movements)
How did Wendy use video to teach you?
Wendy recorded videos where she would sign each word in each unit – so we didn’t have to find every word in the True+Way dictionary. We just watched the videos of her signing the words that corresponded with the PDF.
What was on that PDF?
The PDF was just a list of English words with ASL annotation, as in symbols that are meaningful in ASL. They are like musical notations. She held up a sheet, pointed to each word on the sheet, and signed it.
So were Wendy’s videos better than True+Way’s videos?
In some ways. True+Way’s videos could be better. Some of the snapshots can be a little too esoteric. I would have preferred to sit on grammar a little more and learn how to structure a sentence.
Did video help you learn?
I felt the video helped. The videos I was asked to make were helpful because I got to see myself signing and notice things I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s better than looking at a mirror. Being able to re-watch and slow down the video is very helpful. Also, I was able to take a bunch of takes. At least 10 takes. It was a process, and I would get better and better. First I would get one sentence right, and then 2 and so on. Watching them I’d assess like, “this take is good but this part can get better” and then do more takes.
Did you find these video assignments motivating? Even the ungraded video assignments?
I think so. I knew it was coming so I knew I had to do the work. The scaffolding was helpful. You make these little videos as a foundation for making big videos.
What did you think about the video test?
I found the video test less stressful than the in-class exam. The test in class is very stressful because it’s in real-time, and she repeats things only once. At the same time, I did better on the test in class final than the video final, because the expectations are higher in the video. You are graded more for accuracy in the video. Also, you are assessed for different skills. The class test was receptive. It was for assessing our sign reading skills. The video was expressive. We were asked to sign. Come to think of it, this format makes sense. Asking us to interpret her signing in a video wouldn’t prepare us better, because in real life you don’t get to ‘replay the person’.
Are the other uses for video you would have liked to see in class?
It would have been fun if we did a video discussion in Canvas. Like, more student to student video interaction in Canvas.
*ITG passed this feedback on to Panopto. Panopto agreed that they could make their app more accessible. They have since released a web recorder!
**You can see in Panopto who watched your video, how many times they watched it and how long they watched it for.