1 Institute of Technology Blanchardstown Dublin (IRELAND)
2 Trinity College Dublin (IRELAND)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 357-368
ISBN: 978-84-612-7578-6
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 3rd International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 9-11 March, 2009
Location: Valencia, Spain
Irish Sign Language (ISL), an indigenous language of Ireland, is recognized by the European Union as a natural language. It is a language separate from the other languages used in Ireland, including English, Irish, and, in Northern Ireland, British Sign Language. Some 5,000 Deaf people use ISL. Given the history of suppression of signed languages across the EU, the average Deaf person leaves school with a reading age of 8.5 to 9 years. Given this, it is no surprise that Deaf people are the most under-represented of all disadvantaged groups at third level. This poses two challenges: (1) getting Deaf people into third level and (2) presenting education in an accessible form.
Two institutions, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Institute for Technology, Blanchardstown, Dublin (ITB) have partnered to create a unique elearning environment based on MOODLE as the learning management system, in the delivery of Deaf Studies programmes at TCD.
This partnership delivers third level programmes to students in a way that resolves problems of time, geography and access, maximizing multi-functional uses of digital assets across our programmes. Students can take courseware synchronously and asynchronously. We have built a considerable digital asset and plan to re-architect our framework to avail of current best practice in digital repositories with learning objects vis-à-vis ISL. Our digital assets include a corpus of ISL, the ‘Signs of Ireland Corpus’ which is one of the largest, most richly annotated in the world.
We have operated online delivery since 2005, hosted by ITB, and in early 2008 were successful in attracting significant Irish government funding to expand delivery of a series of undergraduate diplomas to degree level nationwide under the Strategic Innovation Fund, Cycle II. The hallmark of this project is the delivery of blended learning, maximizing ICT in the teaching and learning of ISL.
It is important to note that there are currently no other universities delivering Deaf Studies programmes with this degree of online content internationally. Thus, this programme and its associated research is cutting edge innovation in its philosophy, its rich content and its utilization of rich media.
Signed languages, by their nature, are visual-gestural languages, which (unlike spoken languages) do not have a written form. Given this, the online content is required to be multi-modal in nature and we utilize rich-media learning objects in our delivery. This presents a number of serious and important challenges.

Specific challenges include:
• Universal design in an online curriculum for Deaf students
• Identifying what aspects of ISL learning can best be supported & assessed online
• Assessing signed language interpreting skill in an online context
• Decisions regarding ISL annotation & mark-up standards
• Using the Signs of Ireland corpus in blended learning contexts
• Leveraging a corpus within digital learning objects
• Architecture of a digital repository to support ISL learning
• Tagging of learning objects versus language objects
• Issues of assessment in an elearning context

We are instigating a range of doctoral level studies linked to this project, focusing on the deployment of rich digital media as learning objects to support online delivery of Deaf Studies, the online assessment of ISL, and the phonological-morphological interface in ISL.