Volume III Number 2, June 1996

Teaching Science, Engineering, and Mathematics to Deaf Students: The Role Of Technology in Instruction and Teacher Preparation

Harry G. Lang
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology

It comes as no surprise that when deaf adolescents are asked to rate characteristics of effective teachers, they place a high importance on the visual representation of course content during lectures (Lang, McKee & Conner, 1993). Mediated instruction has been advocated by effective teachers ever since the earliest forms of transparency and slide projections, and motion picture films, have been introduced. As new forms of technology enhanced the general living conditions of deaf people as well, educators have applied them to the classroom.

Such was the case, for example, when the acoustic telephone coupler was designed by three deaf inventors in 1964. Shortly after the modem came out, the large, noisy, 250-pound tele- typewriters were being lugged into classrooms across the country to provide primary and incidental language learning experiences for deaf students.

Not until recently, however, has technology shown great promise to become an integral component of classroom instruction for deaf students. In this paper, I will discuss three avenues of research on technology for science, engineering and mathematics education for deaf students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. These arenas of technological research include: 1) direct instruction in the classroom through multimedia approaches; 2) assistive device technologies for enhancing access to classroom lectures in mainstream classes; and 3) use of technology for networking in teacher preparation.

Over the past decade, the use of captioning technology has greatly improved access to information in the science, engineering and mathematics classrooms for deaf students. There are at least two kinds of access through captions which play an important part in learning. First, in the classroom, there is what I call primary access to science films through either open or closed captions. Captioned films are much easier to obtain today and many commercial publishers offer captioned versions of their educational media.

Second, there are many improved opportunities for what I call incidental learning of science, through closed captioned television shows, for example. Programs such as "Bill Nye, the Science Guy" can be copied directly from television and permission is given to teachers to use the tapes in their classes for up to three years. Science-related films are frequently seen on regular broadcast and cable television channels and the opportunity for deaf students to learn science, as well as English language skills, through informal viewing shows great promise. Computer software is available for custom captioning as well.

One of the principal research concerns at this time includes the effect on learning when verbatim or edited captions are used. In one study conducted at NTID by Hertzog, Stinson, and Keiffer (1989), 32 deaf engineering technologies students viewed two captioned versions of a film about cement manufacturing. Both high and low reading groups benefited from instruction when the captions were on an 8th grade level, while only the high reading group benefited from the 11th-grade level captions. This study shows how the development of technology along with a sound educational research program may lead to optimal teaching and learning strategies.

Computer software for direct instruction of deaf students in science is being experimented with across the country. However, without a solid educational research foundation, new CD-ROM and other computer technologies may flounder without direction as was the case with many earlier attempts at computer assisted instruction (CAI). One study now in progress at NTID involves the Content Independent MultiMedia System (CIMMS). As described by Dowaliby (1996), CIMMS provides an interface between a teacher or instructional developer and HyperCard, the authoring system employed, which performs all of the programming, graphics, and compilation. This overcomes problems of cost and lead time which have formerly discouraged teachers from pursuing computer technology for direct instruction or tutoring. CIMMS is currently being evaluated at NTID through experimentation with lessons presented in instructional text, adjunct questions, movies in sign language, and content movies or still pictures displayed simultaneously or in any combination on the computer screen. Not only does this technology present some exciting approaches to visually oriented learners, but it also shows promise to meet the needs of bilingual deaf students (those who use both English and American Sign Language).

Personal captioning workstations are also being explored for their potential to enhance learning in the classroom by deaf students. The highly visual materials stimulate writing, vocabulary enrichment, and independent learning skills. The personal captioning workstation uses two VCRs (one for playback and one for recording), a personal computer, a captioning device that allows text to be superimposed onto video, a printer, a video monitor, and an optional camcorder. Students view videotape material and compose their own text. The method provides teachers with an evaluation scheme to see how well the students are comprehending the topic (Kelly, Loeterman, Morse, Parasnis, and Samar, 1995).

One of the most exciting assistive device technologies being developed for use with deaf students in the classroom today is the Computer-Aided Speech-to-Print Transcription System known as the "C-Print System" (Stinson & Stuckless, 1995). C-Print involves a hearing operator who transcribes spoken lectures on an IBM compatible laptop computer using a commercially available word processing program, WordPerfect, and an abbreviation software program, Productivity Plus. The laptop may be connected to a television monitor to be viewed in real time by students in the class, and the lecture is stored in memory and can be printed as notes for student reference. In studies conducted so far, C-Print has been found successful in courses where numerical information, including formulas, are being discussed. C-Print will be explored in additional science and engineering courses in the near future.

In the area of teacher training for professionals in science, engineering, and mathematics, technology is playing a key role. In a three-year National Science Foundation grant project I am leading with John Albertini at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, for example, many forms of communication technologies are being used to establish a national network of science teachers who conduct "action research" with us to identify the best practices for use with deaf students. Networking by electronic mail and FAX occurs daily, allowing us to provide teachers across the country with information for their own teaching and teacher preparation in science, engineering and mathematics. Plans are being made for teleconferencing for small, local workshops for teachers. Several regional workshops are offered each year and the entire contents of the two-day workshop are being placed on World Wide Web to allow other teachers access to the information and to join us in our efforts to do research on science teaching strategies.

In addition, we are collecting, evaluating and sharing engineering, mathematics, and science signs through videotapes and a printed manual in a national "Technical Signs Project" (Caccamise & Lang, 1996). Teachers, interpreters, and other professionals use these tapes and manuals to learn the most common signs for technical concepts, which enhances communication in the classroom.

In summary, educators now have available a variety of technologies for use in both direct instruction and in their own preparation as professionals. It is our hope that these many forms of electronic communication will have a significant impact on the quality of science, engineering and mathematics education for deaf students over the years to come.


Caccamise, F., & Lang, H. (1996). Signs for science and
mathematics: A resource book for teachers and students.
Rochester, NY: National Technical Institute for the Deaf,
Rochester Institute of Technology.

Dowaliby, F. (1996). CIMMS: A content independent multimedia
system. Working paper. National Technical Institute for
the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY 14623.

Kelly, R. R., Loeterman, M., Morse, A. B., Parasnis, I., & Samar,
V. (1995). New approaches to learning through video, computers,
and captioning. Deaf Life, November, pp. 22-25.

Lang, H.G., McKee, B.G., & Conner, K.N. (1993). Characteristics
of effective teachers: A descriptive study of perceptions
of faculty and deaf college students. American Annals of
the Deaf, 138 (3), 252-259.

Hertzog, M., Stinson, M. S., & Keiffer, R. (1989). Effects of
caption modification and instructor intervention on comprehension
of a technical film. Educational Technology Research and
Development, Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 59-68.

Stinson, M. E., & Stuckless, E. R. (1995). Recent developments
in speech-to-print transcription systems for deaf students. Paper
presented at the International Congress on Education of the Deaf,
Tel-Aviv, Israel, July.

Lang, H. G. (1996). Teaching science, engineering, and mathematics to deaf students: The role of technology in instruction and teacher preparation. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 3(2).