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Interactive Multimedia Reader Education for the Deaf

Jan Messelheiser describes a new program of reader orientation and education at La Trobe University

It is February 1990, the beginning of the academic year and a reader education class is scheduled for thirteen Deaf postgraduate students. The lecturer tells you to do what you always do and that interpreters will be present. PANIC! How can the students watch the interpreter, an overhead projector screen containing reading list examples and the ever changing screen of the computer catalogue in a darkened classroom? After the catalogue demonstration there is the information about services for postgrads and the hands-on exercise to present. And all in one hour!

The result was that it did work. The class was similar to those using an interpreter for hearing students whose first language is not English.

This analogy was the genesis of an interactive multimedia program, described in this article, which was designed for students with a bilingual, bicultural background and titled Sources of Information, Borchardt Library, Planning Assignments. It is available as a computer file from the National Institute for Deaf Studies and Sign Language Research (NIDS), La Trobe University. It was made possible through a Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT) Grant in 1994 to a team at La Trobe University: Jan Branson (team leader, NIDS), Don Miller (NIDS and Monash University), Jan [McLeod] Messelheiser (Borchardt Library) and the time, equipment and technical expertise of the NIDS technical staff, academic staff, research assistants and students.

The first library orientation and reader education classes for the Deaf were conducted in 1990. A tour, followed by a demonstration of the computer catalogue for locating references on reading lists and exercises for hands-on experience in using the catalogue, provided the introduction. After the Dewey Decimal System was explained during the tour of the collection in the 370s, 300s, 400s and 600s, a student asked, 'If all the books are shelved together by subject, why aren't all the books on the Deaf put together?' Additional classes were organised for reinforcement, opportunities to clarify information and to extend students' knowledge about the information available. As the students were studying linguistics and language, a class was devoted to dictionaries; each student was given a dictionary and told to tell the class about the contents and how it might be used. Imagine the description and comments about the slang dictionary-knowing it existed was part of the excitement! Having used the catalogue primarily for finding reading list references, the students responded positively to developing their catalogue skills for independent work such as using subject headings and finding captioned videos and theses completed at the University.

The use of indexes for finding references to journal articles commenced with the showing of a twelve minute non-captioned video. This part of the class took about three times longer than it would have done with hearing students. Students were presented with written instructions to guide them through the steps demonstrated on the video. The objective was to find one reference, use the catalogue to find the call number for the journal, and go to the shelves and get the article. With thirteen students, the lecturer and two interpreters, the classroom became a beehive of activity. Students shared information with glee when they found a title to an article relating specifically to their chosen topic; they willingly worked together and helped each other. There was constant dimming of lights, pounding on tables and nudging of a neighbour to gain attention in order to share references. One student did not know how to photocopy an article, another student was willing to help her so that I could assist the others.

Reader education classes for Deaf students are not much different from classes for hearing students. They take longer and require more handouts and written instructions so students can read and reinforce what they need to know or do not understand. They only see interactions when they are in queues at the loans or the reference desk; they miss overhearing what is happening. To communicate by demonstrating library use with an interpreter is important for the Deaf because they see what is happening just as they 'see' their language-Auslan. A few Deaf students wanted to buy the books held by the Library. They acknowledged they needed more time to read academic publications and that they liked to have books of their own. They were less familiar with libraries because their education had been related to communication skills and basic education, not independent research. English is their second language, therefore it is difficult for the students to grasp the technical terms used by librarians in printed materials or during a personal enquiry. The students have had fewer opportunities to use large, complex libraries and the electronic technology.

Literature searches revealed very few publications on reader education for the Deaf at tertiary level. Some material (Dalton, 1985; Day, 1991; Weir, 1986) provided guidance. The Library Trends (1992) issue on 'Libraries serving an underserved population: deaf and hearing-impaired patrons' was very useful, especially the articles by Goldman and Mallory on communication and Norton on academic library services. Articles on teaching the Deaf found in educational journals (Koehler and Swanston, 1990; Mackowiak, 1989; Sipe, 1993; Wathum-Ocama, 1992) were worth pursuing. The constant recommendation occurring in all of the publications was the need to provide visual information.

The reader education classes described were conducted for students in Deaf Studies courses. The curiosity and motivation of the Deaf students encountered in the first three years indicated they became comfortable and confident when using the library and were eager to use the library. They knew they could ask questions and they helped each other. Discussions about providing the Deaf with information about the use of libraries in the community; the second language and information literacy issues; and the similarities that Deaf students and many international students have in adjusting to the academic culture, provided the incentive to apply for a 1994 CAUT grant in May 1993.

The aim of the project was to develop an interactive multimedia program for university students for whom English was a second language on the use of libraries for preparing essays and assignments. The objectives were for the program to:

Early in 1994, skills assessment surveys of continuing and new students were done as part of the reader education classes to confirm previous observations, to determine needs for future reader education classes, and for the project design. Students were asked to identify words which they did not understand or wanted information about in the library guide and do-it-yourself tour and a script from a video on using the Social Sciences Index. Knowledge of using libraries was assessed by using multiple choice questions. Deaf students at La Trobe University and Indonesian students at both La Trobe University and Monash University participated in the assessment. The findings indicated the students had problems with culturally dependent words, technical terms and jargon, especially in the academic context. For example, they indicated that one daily morning newspaper was easier to read than the other.

The program is activated by the instruction 'Touch me'. Users then choose a language: Auslan, English or Indonesian. After their selection, the next screen provides the options to view one of three segments: 'Sources of Information', 'The Borchardt Library', or 'Planning Your Assignment'.

The 'Sources of Information' segment has 20 screens informing users of the variety of library and information resources which are available in our community-educational libraries, public libraries and special resources. The text indicates the types of information available, the primary users, how to find out about resources available, such as directories, how to access resources, and what to do upon arrival. This segment was included to provide information about how libraries can be used for pleasure or recreation, informal or self-education, work-related research or study and learning at any level by everyone in the community. This segment has an 'extra video' option where screens scroll through additional visuals. The extra video was not used in the other segments.

The content of 'The Borchardt Library' has 65 screens which are a description of collections, borrowing, catalogue use, information and help, study facilities, and floor plan. Every attempt was made to avoid using technical terms, library jargon and details which are subject to annual change, such as opening hours or photocopying costs, because it was unlikely that resources would be available to up-date this program. As an example, in the section on borrowing books, the information about fines (based on 'demerit points') was as follows:

Figure 1
Floor Plan of the Library

Penalties for Late Returns
You are responsible for the safe-keeping and return of items you borrow. Penalties are incurred when items are:

You can incur fines and lose borrowing rights. Details about penalties can be obtained from leaflets in the Library and from library staff.

The catalogue-use segment provides an option to start with a 'reading list' containing references to books, journal articles and chapters in a book, with the elements of an identified bibliographic reference. Users can move from the titled screens to the map of the Library (Figure 1) or they can work from the map by touching the words on the screen for the collection or service they want to investigate. This is the 'information kiosk' option of the program which answers directional questions.

'Planning assignments' has 48 screens covering the following: 'Understanding the topic', 'Finding the information' (catalogue use, browsing, selecting, reading and note taking), 'Organising your essay', 'Final presentation' (referencing in text and bibliography) and 'Assessment'. Comprehensive coverage is given to writing an essay; writing literature reviews and book reviews are mentioned.

Each of the 133 screens created for the three segments has four parts: title of segment and title of screen, the text panel, the control panel and the visual panel (see Figure 2).
For each screen the following material was prepared:

Figure 2:
Screen Layout

Each screen has seven separate parts of information. In addition, there are video production cue sheets held for the Auslan signer and documentation showing screen links for the material for the team and for the computer programmer at the commercial multimedia production company.

The control panel provides users the option to return to the 'previous screen' or select the 'you are here' navigation screen which links to the network structure of the information providing access to other parts of the segment (Figure 3). The navigation screen is represented by a coloured bullet linking to other bullets; one colour shows screens which have been viewed, another colour indicates screens which have not been viewed and a third colour shows the last screen viewed. Touching a bullet causes a reduced version of that screen to pop-up; when touched the pop-up screen becomes full size with the language chosen. This mixed hierarchical/linear structure of the information allows the user to move anywhere in the segment. The buttons on the control panel allow movement to any part of the segment. Each segment might be described as a book; the navigation screen allows selection of any chapter or heading within the chapter, whereas the buttons allow selection of headings within a chapter.

A two gigabyte computer file (equal to three CD-ROMs) is available on a PC in the National Institute for Deaf Studies. The Co-ordinator of Deaf Students Services refers students to it for assistance when necessary. Subject librarians refer students to use the program for preparation prior to library classes.

Students can explore the library in multimedia format without being intimidated and can return to the program when they need it, for example, to select an aspect on writing an essay. Access to the program has generated an enthusiasm and confidence in students when they physically enter the building to find information or ask for help. Students are observed to have more motivation in reader education classes and during personal consultations. Some of the library terminology and jargon has been demystified and there is an awareness of the different collections.

Other library staff have been motivated to learn more about services for the Deaf. The Staff Development Committee sponsored the workshop entitled 'It's a deaf, deaf world' (described by McQuigg and Khan, Link-up, June 1996).

Figure 3:
Navigation Network

As a librarian and member of the team I have developed a greater appreciation for Auslan and its linguistic structure by attending Auslan evening classes and having more contact with the Deaf. I have had the opportunity to work in a departmental setting one day a week for part of a year and to supervise another librarian to carry out some of my Reference Division responsibilities. I have been able to work with a team of talented people and had the opportunity to learn how much time and commitment it takes to complete such a project. A draft of definitions of library terms and a list of library terms in Indonesian which may be put to use in the future has been prepared, and I have been able to consider how to adapt teaching methods and to develop, rewrite and test handouts for use in reader education classes for students whose second language is English.

Dalton, Phyllis I., Library Service to the Deaf and Hearing Impaired. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1985.
Day, John Michael (ed.), Guidelines for Library Services to Deaf People. The Hague: IFLA, 1991. IFLA Professional Reports, no. 24.
Goldman, Warren R. and James R. Mallory, 'Overcoming communication barriers: communicating with Deaf people', Library Trends, vol. 41, no. 1, 1992, pp. 21-30.
Koehler, Boyd and Kathryn Swanson, Kathryn, 'Basic writers and the library: a plan for providing meaningful bibliographic instruction', Journal of Basic Writing, vol. 9, no. 1, 1990, pp. 56-74.
Mackowiak, Carol 'Academic library service to Deaf students: survey and recommendations', RQ, vol. 26, no. 4, 1989, pp. 477-486.
McQuigg, Karen and Jennifer Khan, 'The Helping Hands Project', Link-up, June 1996, pp. 7-11.
Norton, Melanie, J., 'Effective bibliographic instruction for Deaf and hearing-impaired college students', Library Trends, vol. 41, no. 1 (1992), pp. 118-50.
Norton, Melanie J. and Gail L. Kovalik, (Eds.), 'Libraries serving an underserved population: Deaf and hearing-impaired patrons', Library Trends, vol. 41, no. 1, 1992.
Siple, Linda A., 'Working with the sign language interpreter in your classroom', College Teaching, vol. 41, no. 4, 1993, pp. 139-142.
Wathum-Ocama, John C., 'A survey of the appropriateness of instructional language materials used with Deaf students', American Annals of the Deaf, vol. 137, no. 5, 1992, pp. 420-424.
Weir, Graham and Clifford Law, Quiet Please! Deaf People are Coming. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1986.

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Jan Messelheiser, Reader Education Librarian, Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Bundoora VIC 3083. Tel (03) 9479 3558 Fax (03) 9471 0993 Email
Last updated 2 December 1996

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Telephone + 61 2 6262 1111; Facsimile +61 2 6257 1703; TTY: 1800 026 372