Chapter 5: Conclusions and Recommendations
Summary of Chapter 5
During the Covid-19 pandemic, sign language teachers had to quickly switch to online teaching without prior experience. They lacked accessible training and struggled to help students with technology. Teachers also had to adapt their strategies and materials without support or collaboration.
To address these challenges, the SignTeach Online project aimed to fill some of these gaps. Sign language teachers in the consortium shared practices, answered questions, interviewed colleagues and students, and created “Good Examples” and "sign podcasts."
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the participants in the consortium had to meet on Zoom for the first 9 months of the project. When we finally were able to meet in person, March 2021, we were able to discuss teaching practices. We discovered what we had in common, and what we did differently. These discussions were very useful and contributed to the success of the project.
We do not intend to present any of our output as “THE” best practices for teaching signed languages online. Unfortunately, we do not have the data to support any of our recommendations. Our output however can be used for inspiration, for discussion, for training purposes.
Our Recommendations therefore are:
- We need more research on teaching signed languages offline and online.
- We need more collaboration between sign language teachers and trainers locally, nationally, and internationally. Teachers and researchers of signed languages and teachers and researchers of spoken language should work together to find out what they can learn from each other.
- We need an evidence-based model curriculum for signed languages based on the CEFR, that is suitable for different age groups.
- Affordable, user-friendly apps must be developed for video-based training activities.
- The EU must continue to fund projects for and by sign language users and teachers.
Implementing these recommendations will support sign language teachers in Europe and will promote and improve the teaching of the sign languages of Europe - and worldwide.
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the many restrictions, sign language teachers had to switch to teaching their classes online. Many of them had had no previous experience with online teaching. Training courses (online, offline) in how to use Zoom and other online platforms were usually not accessible to Deaf teachers and did not take the specific needs of sign language teachers into account.
While teachers were learning to use the new technology, they had to instruct their students (of all ages, all educational backgrounds) into the use of the technology,as well. Often, they had to help students to acquire and use the necessary hardware, software and internet access.
At the same time, sign language teachers had to adapt their teaching strategies, their curriculum and their learning materials for teaching online. Again, usually with little or no support or training and no guidelines or collaboration with colleagues.
The objective of the SignTeach Online project was to quickly fill in at least some of these gaps. The sign language teachers in the consortium shared examples of their online teaching practices (Good Examples), they answered questions, they interviewed colleague teachers as well as students about challenges, solutions and insights. And they produced a number of ‘sign podcasts’, short videos about specific aspects of teaching online.
They did this, while struggling themselves with the challenges of online teaching, but also with the challenges of participating in a transnational project during lock-down restrictions. Partners - some of whom had never met before - had to work together, develop materials, make decisions during virtual Zoom meetings. The first physical in-person meeting in Siena, March 2022, was a big relief: 2D partners finally became real 3D persons - often taller than expected!
During the physical meetings, the sign language teachers in the consortium discussed their online teaching strategies and discovered what they had in common, but also many differences. Differences between cultures, countries, teaching contexts, as well as different preferred didactic methods and teaching strategies used when teaching offline or online. Partners in the consortium learned from each other, but also discovered how much is still unknown, how much of what sign language teachers do in their classes, online or offline, is not based on evidence but on assumptions and personal experience. .
Sign language teachers across Europe (and worldwide) can now use the project’s output - most of which is in International Sign - to start learning about what works or doesn’t work for other sign language teachers. However, we did not and do not intend to present any of our output as “THE” best practices for teaching signed languages online. Unfortunately, we do not have the data to support any of our recommendations. Our output however can be used for inspiration, for discussion, for training purposes.
The main recommendations of the SignTeach Online project therefore are
- Much more research is needed, both research of teaching signed languages offline and online.
- More collaboration is needed: between sign language teachers and their trainers, locally, nationally, and internationally. And possibly also between researchers, teachers and trainers of spoken languages and those of signed languages.
- There is a need for an evidence based model curriculum for signed languages, founded on the CEFR for Sign Languages (https://www.ecml.at/Portals/1/mtp4/pro-sign/documents/Common-Reference-Level-Descriptors-EN.pdf) . Preferably suitable for different age groups.
- There is a need for affordable and easy-to-use apps that sign language teachers can use to develop online video-based training activities such as flash-cards.
- Erasmus+ projects and other EU funded projects that enable sign language users and sign language teachers to collaborate with colleagues in other European countries are very valuable and must continue to be supported by the EU.