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September 17, 2003

Technology links SHS sign class, instructor

From: Seguin Gazette Enterprise, TX - Sep 17, 2003

By Janet Grafe Seguin Gazette

SEGUIN — The dean of St. Michael’s High School in Austin looked in a classroom and was puzzled when he saw a student silently sitting in the room, making gestures with his hands.

When he walked in to see what was going on he realized the boy was staring at a television screen where a teacher was also silently gesturing. Then the surprised dean saw himself in a second television screen.

The student explained that this was a distance learning class for American Sign Language (ASL).

The teacher was at the Texas School for the Deaf, and on another screen were the second-year ASL students at Seguin High School, who witnessed the dean’s amazement.

The SHS Distance Learning Lab is part of a consortium organized through the Region 13 Education Service Center. It may be used for distance learning by students, SISD staff, other nearby school districts as well as the community.

“I was really surprised the first day of class,” said SHS sophomore Chris Martinez. “It was a small class, and we wondered where the teacher was. I didn’t expect the teacher to be in Austin.”

With the dual-television set up, and the use of video cameras, the teacher can see and hear both the class at St. Michael’s and the class in Seguin, and both classes can see and hear the teacher and each other.

“There’s some choppy moments when the screen freezes, but overall it’s very cool and fun,” Martinez said.

Martinez said he decided to take the class because it was something different; but it was also personal. He visits his mother’s friend, who is learning to sign in a nursing home because of hearing loss, and Martinez thought it would be fun to be able to communicate with her, and with other people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

The students are enthusiastic about the class and impressed with the technology that makes it possible. The class counts toward satisfying the requirement for two years of foreign language credit.

The students have fun, but they have to form the signs carefully. When teacher Kathy Oglebay’s image froze on the screen Tuesday, the students had to tell her using two-handed gestures. This prompted the teacher to laugh.

“You are making the gesture for monster,” Oglebay said. “Frozen is hands out, monster is hands held up.”

© 2003 Seguin Gazette-Enterprise Inc. All rights reserved.