Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Central Lancashire
Department Name: Int Inst for Sign Lang and Deaf Studies

Abstract

In much of the world, English instruction is delivered to deaf signers by teachers who cannot sign themselves. This makes deaf people's English acquisition, which is very difficult (Kempt & Maxwell 1989; Schmitz & Keenan 2005), virtually impossible in many locations. This pilot project aims to provide English-language teaching for members of the deaf community in India including deaf young people in high poverty contexts, and draft a model of effective language-teaching interventions for them, to guide policy and further innovation. The focus is improving the quality of educational outcomes for a specific community which may not derive adequate benefit from traditional interventions. Peer education can lead to improved academic and cognitive abilities for both learners and tutors, and decreased absenteeism and isolation (Bruffee 1978; Falchikov 2001). The project proposes a model which departs from existing traditional language teaching practices in India, and takes an ethnographic approach which will see the development of materials and teaching led by local deaf tutors supported by trainers both in-country and from the UK, to ensure responsiveness to learner needs. It is an interdisciplinary collaboration between specialists in (applied) sign linguistics/Deaf Studies, TESOL, cross-cultural research on literacies, and learning technologists. The development of a virtual/mobile learning platform (Sign Language to English by the Deaf - SLEND) combined with the use of sign language and support from deaf peer tutors constitute a learner-driven, innovative methodology based on a functional approach to learning that will emphasise using language to do things (rather than grammar-driven). Adaptation of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for the expression of learning outcomes will allow achievements to be expressed in terms of an internationally understood tool. To examine transferability across cultures, small-scale investigative fieldwork will take place in Uganda and Ghana to reveal literacy needs there and pave the way for future South-South collaboration.
Using mixed methods from action research and ethnographic research, the project addresses the following research questions:
1. How can we develop and implement a deaf-led, community based, learner-focussed teaching programme that meets local community needs in a sustainable way?
2. How can we capture and measure, in a standardised way, the effectiveness of the combination of peer tuition, a dedicated virtual learning environment, and a staged training programme on teaching English literacy in this particular socio-cultural context?
3. How can we best understand and conceptualise the interrelated elements that characterise this approach and how they interact to facilitate effective teaching in this context? Qualitative data including classroom observations, analysis of interactions on the SLEND, and interviews inform the answers to this question. Community teachers/peer tutors will be trained in data collection and analysis, enhancing the research capacity of the deaf community.
In India, the study has four overlapping phases: (1) Ethnographic study into existing literacy practices to identify the types of communication which are valued by deaf sign language users proceeds alongside (2) content development based on this needs assessment. Course delivery (3) is then carried out by local tutors with pre- and post- assessment to measure learner attainment. Compiling the interim and final quantitative-qualitative evidence for dissemination (4) informs national policy and ensures the project's on-going influence.
In Uganda and Ghana, smaller case studies into literacy needs and practices will be carried out using the same ethnographic research tools. Focus groups in these countries alongside dissemination workshops will review the SLEND and discuss possible adaptation/scalability to teaching situations in deaf communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Planned Impact

At present, much of the human and intellectual potential of India's one million deaf signers is being wasted because their instructors teach in spoken language, and thus they are unable to attain basic English literacy, a vital component of economic and career success in modern India and globally. The programme benefits deaf people who have inadequate interpreter provision or who lack the funding or skills necessary to access traditional education. Peer education by deaf signers, and course materials in sign language, will give these individuals full access to learning English. Skills in written English open a multitude of doors for deaf people in terms of exploiting technology, further education, employment, and an enriched social life, as suggested by previous work with deaf Indians carried out by iSLanDS under the UK-India Education and Research Initiative. This will extend the pedagogy flexibly in India, with potential for South-South collaboration among deaf learners in Ghana and Uganda. National, regional and local policies will be recommended by the research team in order to support and scale up sustainable educational initiatives, based on real-life literacies in deaf communities. The economic and societal impact of this project is maximised through the involvement of deaf individuals in every aspect, from researcher to learner. Deaf people, especially in the developing world, have a high unemployment rate and low educational attainment. By improving their employability, this programme is of social and economic benefit to each of the countries. It builds capacity by giving the peer educators valuable job experience and increasing access to education and employment for all both tutors and learners. The peer educators will gain a deeper understanding of English, enabling them to act as role models. The Indian staff will receive technical training and research experience. By having the data collection carried out by local deaf people, the project capitalises on grassroots expertise and capacity growth. National policy will be influenced and on-going impact secured through assessment evidence and publications, and the investigation of scalability for extension. Publications, evidence from assessments and programme evaluations can be used to demonstrate to policy makers the validity and effectiveness of the methodology in terms of achievement and learner reaction. Publications will focus on literary practices in the target community, development of literacy needs and the use of the CEFR to guide teaching and record learner achievement of deaf learners. Cross-cultural comparisons of literacy practices and drafts of implementation models will be presented to policy-makers and practitioners, and later refined in a larger-scale project. Adapting the CEFR will enable internationally comparable assessment and empirical measurement of the programme's effectiveness, and provide evidence that learners can use to demonstrate their achievement levels to employers. Partnership with the NAD and other deaf organisations is central to engagement with stakeholders, to verify that deaf people in the target countries have the opportunity to benefit from the project. At our dissemination workshops in India, Ghana and Uganda and an international conference in India, we will plan sustainable, deaf-led communicative channels to manage the project's legacy and ensure the capacity-building and policy impacts have lasting value.
 
Title Deaf literacy from the grassroots 
Description This is a 34-minute documentary film about the research project. It shows both the research process, with its main actors such as the research team on the ground and the learners, and the research outcomes, with interviews of the lead academics. Dissemination activities are also documented. The film was produced by a deaf team of filmmakers in 2016-2017. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The film has been screened to live audiences, both in full and partially, at dissemination events. It is now in the final editing stage, after which it will be released online. 
 
Title Hello Literacy! 
Description This is a short 10-minute film that fictionalises the situation of deaf people who struggle with low levels of literacy. It shows how these carriers can be overcome, using the peer-to-peer and sign language based method of the research project. The film was created by a team of deaf actors and deaf film producers. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The film was screened to live audiences at dissemination events. 
 
Description The interrelated research questions revolved around how to implement a sustainable community-based and learner-centred English literacy programme for young deaf adult learners (research question RQ1), how to measure the effectiveness of peer tuition and a virtual learning environment (RQ2), and how to conceptualise the interrelated elements of the approach (RQ3).

With respect to RQ1, the research group implemented a successful intervention at five Indian field sites, and exemplified the importance of deaf-led research and capacity building in deaf communities through research. In publications, we explicated our ethnographic and learner-centred approach to this type of literacy education (Gillen, Panda, Papen & Zeshan, 2016), and our findings from focus group data collected in Ghana and Uganda (Ahereza, Nyarko, Fan, Gillen & Zeshan, 2016). We confirmed the validity and need for similar English literacy provision in these countries, while also pointing out important considerations with respect to possible barriers, such as technology coverage among deaf sign language users. Together with deaf learners in India, we co-constructed a bilingual online learning environment implemented on Moodle, called Sign Language to English by the Deaf (SLEND), which is now archived as a legacy site.

With respect to RQ2, for the Indian learners who participated in the educational intervention, we saw an improvement of their English literacy skills over time. We evidenced this via their results on tests that we adapted for deaf learners on the basis of the internationally recognised standard of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The results demonstrate that the intervention did result in a significant improvement in the test scores of 43 learners between the pre- and post-tests, and that there has been a sustained long-term effect on the participants which can be seen in the delayed post-test with 17 learners. We applied descriptive statistics to confirm that the results are statistically significant. Moreover, 44 participants rated their skills according to statements modified from the CEFR (level A1-A2). Again, statistical testing confirmed significant improvement.

The data most relevant to RQ3 come from qualitative data, most importantly the 46 learner interviews. They indicated a wholly positive response regarding usefulness of the real-life English approach and highlighted the use of Indian Sign Language as essential to improving English literacy. Learners valued opportunities to connect with other student groups, the diversity of activities on SLEND, and the multimodal learning resources. The peer tutors leading the learning activities with deaf learners in India were seen as supportive, raising learners' confidence. Respondents also commented on difficulties, most crucially, access issues to the SLEND and some concerns regarding varieties of Indian Sign Language. These findings are important for further adaptations to the approach in the future.

During the research, we also reflected especially on the consequences of conducting deaf-led research in the Global South. From the qualitative data, research team composition, training for deaf project staff, and agency in research at all levels emerged as crucial aspects of the systemic approach, and can be conceptualised under the heading of "agency subsidiarity" (Zeshan, in prep.).
Exploitation Route Our literacy provision model is being extended to China through a British Council-funded exchange between UCLan and Zhongzhou University (home to a college with 600 deaf students). We also submitted a follow-on-funding proposal for extending this research from English literacy to 'multiliteracies' (i.e. literacy, signing, metalinguistic and other skills), and from deaf adults in informal education to deaf children in formal education. This proposal builds on the pilot, with interventions in India, Ghana and Uganda, in collaboration with a new constellation of University partners who are well-placed to take the approach further in these countries in the future. Furthermore, we have used our model of deaf-led research to provide a 10-day training event in June-July 2016 in Vadodara, India, for 22 deaf instructors and graduates, aiming to build their skills in researching sign languages and deaf communities. The aim is to enable some of them continue similar research in other contexts. Through the international hubs coordinated by UCLan, we plan to adapt and distribute deaf-led research to other countries like Indonesia. Finally, we have had discussions with the Rehabilitation Council India, the national accreditation body for courses and professionals in the disability sector, about creating a one-year certificate training programme for deaf Indians to become formally qualified "Language and literacy trainers".
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

URL http://www.deafliteracy.net
 
Description Wide and varied dissemination, in addition to the project's dissemination workshops and events, was important in generating impact resulting from the research, detailed under (a) - (e) below. We disseminated outcomes to wider audiences via events and outputs including the'4th India Deaf Expo' (Coimbatore), the Impact Initiative's workshop on 'Establishing a dialogue on disability for higher impact' (Cambridge, Co-I Panda and RA Manavalamamuni), an online article for the Association of Commonwealth Universities Engage Community (Co-I Gillen), participation in a cross-sectoral consultation meeting on 'Teaching, Learning and Disadvantage - from policy to practice' (New Delhi, Co-I Panda with two NGO representatives), and a summary report for general audiences for the blog and website (www.deafliteracy.net). Moreover, the SLEND (Sign Language to English by the Deaf) online learning platform has been archived as a legacy site. To make our approach more accessible to stakeholders, we produced a 45-minute documentary film about our project together with Indian deaf filmmakers, and screened it at the final dissemination conference in India. A short 10-minute feature film by deaf actors and directors entitled 'Hello literacy!' was also produced. The following impacts are notable: (a) NGO sector impact. The research results are now being used in a feasibility study by an Indian NGO in the disability sector (V-shesh), in order to assess how skills in business English can be taught to their deaf clients who seek entry to the skilled labour markets in India. v-shesh are preparing a feasibility report for the "India Prosperity Fund" programme operated by the UK High Commission (due by the end of 2016) and are using our results to make detailed plans and bid for funding of their work with deaf learners. The v-shesh co-founder Mr Rajasekharan visited the University of Central Lancashire in October 2016 for discussions with the project's PI. (b) Impact with policy makers. Meetings with the Indian Advisory Committee in India were particularly useful for determining future priorities. Participants recommended as next steps further policy-related engagement, in-service training for teachers on our approach to raise awareness, training more peer tutors and working with children in schools. Consequently, the Rehabilitation Council of India, the national accreditation body for courses and professionals in the disability sector, has expressed its interest in accrediting a one-year certificate training programme for deaf Indians to become formally qualified "Language and literacy trainers"; these deaf professionals could then work in the formal education sector, for example in schools for deaf children. The RCI's Member Secretary (i.e. the executive head) visited the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University in September 2016 to discuss this with members of the research team. (c) Impact of training. Training and capacity building was a major objective of the research, particularly with respect to the deaf project staff. Several deaf project staff have gained allied skills enabling them to apply for international fellowships and scholarships to support the next phase of their university education. In June 2016, Ghanaian research assistant Nyarko won the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for young African leaders. (d) International collaboration. Our literacy provision model is currently being adapted and extended to China through a British Council-funded exchange between UCLan and Zhongzhou University (home to a college with 600 deaf students). (e) Deaf-led research. We have used our model of deaf-led research to provide a 10-day training event in June-July 2016 in Vadodara, India, for 22 deaf instructors and graduates (funded by UCLan), aiming to build their skills in researching sign languages and deaf communities. A related series of Facebook posts with video summaries and comments has had 12,000 views so far. There is clearly a high level of interest in deaf-led research.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description UK-China partnership innovation challenge fund
Amount £76,760 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2018
 
Description Deaf literacy partnership 
Organisation Lancaster University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are the lead team in a multi-partner project investigating literacy development of deaf learners in India, Uganda, and Ghana.
Collaborator Contribution Staff from Lancaster University's Literacy Centre are contributing vital expertise to the project. The partners in Ghana and Uganda are providing work space and infrastructure for a local research assistant to work in the project.
Impact Several conference presentations and one journal publication. We are working on several other forthcoming presentations and publications.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Deaf literacy partnership 
Organisation Lancaster University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are the lead team in a multi-partner project investigating literacy development of deaf learners in India, Uganda, and Ghana.
Collaborator Contribution Staff from Lancaster University's Literacy Centre are contributing vital expertise to the project. The partners in Ghana and Uganda are providing work space and infrastructure for a local research assistant to work in the project.
Impact Several conference presentations and one journal publication. We are working on several other forthcoming presentations and publications.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Deaf literacy partnership 
Organisation National Institute of Speech and Hearing
Country India, Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are the lead team in a multi-partner project investigating literacy development of deaf learners in India, Uganda, and Ghana.
Collaborator Contribution Staff from Lancaster University's Literacy Centre are contributing vital expertise to the project. The partners in Ghana and Uganda are providing work space and infrastructure for a local research assistant to work in the project.
Impact Several conference presentations and one journal publication. We are working on several other forthcoming presentations and publications.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Deaf literacy partnership 
Organisation Uganda National Association of the Deaf
Country Uganda, Republic of 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are the lead team in a multi-partner project investigating literacy development of deaf learners in India, Uganda, and Ghana.
Collaborator Contribution Staff from Lancaster University's Literacy Centre are contributing vital expertise to the project. The partners in Ghana and Uganda are providing work space and infrastructure for a local research assistant to work in the project.
Impact Several conference presentations and one journal publication. We are working on several other forthcoming presentations and publications.
Start Year 2015
 
Description 1st Advisory Committee Meeting, New Delhi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a cross-sector steering committee meeting held with representation from various key stakeholders including from deaf organisations, businesses, government, and academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 1st Regional Dissemination Event, Indore Bilingual Academy, India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact 200 deaf adults attended the event which was intended to educate the pilot study's participants and stakeholders about the research outcomes so far and engage them in considering means toward the future sustainability of this literacy work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 2nd Advisory Committee Meeting, Vadodara June 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Second meeting of the Indian Advisory Committee for the deaf literacy project. Participants made recommendations for further priorities of this work, which were taken forward by the research team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 2nd Regional Dissemination Event, Mook Badhir Mandal, Vadodara, Gujarat, India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact 180 participants attended this event, which aimed to update them on the study's outcomes so far and encourage them to share thoughts and ideas on augmenting the research remit and improving its uptake by the target stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 3rd Dissemination Event, NDFC Trust, Pattambi, Kerala 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact 250 participants expected (to take place on 13 March)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Deaf literacy website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We set up a website for the project in order to disseminate news and results from time to time.

The website is accessible to deaf viewers because there are many sign language videos alongside text in English.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.deafliteracy.net
 
Description Final dissemination conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Members of the research team reported on the outcomes of the research, invited panellists from outside academia discussed the results on stage, and we screened the documentary film about the project. Two newspaper articles and a television interview for a regional channel (in Hindi) also contributed to dissemination.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Final dissemination in Ghana and Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact In Uganda, final dissemination was in the form of a workshop in Kampala. In Ghana, final dissemination was done via a roadshow, with local research assistant travelling to visit several deaf schools and organisations in and around Accra.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited lecture at Liverpool Hope University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Invited by Dr Owen Barden, I delivered an invited lecture to approximately 30 students on the BA (Hons) Special Educational Needs programme about this project, its research methodology and the Sign Language to English for the Deaf platform, SLEND. The audience also included a deaf educationalist and his interpreter from beyond the university. In the subsequent discussion students asked questions about the project and also drew on some ideas for their forthcoming assignment concerned with ways to develop inclusion at Liverpool Hope University. It appeared they gained a greater understanding of ethnographic methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Mid-term dissemination workshop Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Ghanaian research assistant working on the project organised a workshop together with Lancaster University Ghana in order to share initial outcomes of our project on English literacy for deaf people using peer education and online material. One of the participating organisations was interested in funding follow-on work after the end of the current project.

Another local Ghanaian deaf high school offered to host future English literacy learning groups arising from our project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Mid-term dissemination workshop in Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Ugandan research assistant working on the project organised a workshop together with Uganda National Association of the Deaf in order to share initial outcomes of our project on English literacy for deaf people using peer education and online material. The participants created a list of follow-on actions that they wanted to pursue after the workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015