Grant aims to help deaf students learn statistics

Visual aids will be created to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students learn statistics

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $399,986, three-year grant to RIT’s College of Science and National Technical Institute for the Deaf to develop up to 10 supplemental online learning tools that may help deaf and hard-of-hearing students better understand statistics concepts by integrating visual representations of complex concepts with signed explanations, voice and captioning.

“There are many videos out there used to support statistics classes, but some of them aren’t even captioned. Even those that are captioned may not be completely accessible,” said Carol Marchetti, an associate professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and principal investigator for the grant. “It can be difficult for a deaf student watching a video to know where to focus attention: at the video or at the captioning, so pace and timing are also important considerations.”

An additional issue for deaf and hard-of-hearing students is the translation from English to American Sign Language. Some signs may not best convey the concept. “For example, we talk about ‘population’ versus ‘sample,’” Marchetti said. “We can write the definitions on a board. But when you develop a graphic and signs to accompany that, the concept is much clearer. It becomes very visual and easy to remember.”

Deaf, hearing and hard-of hearing individuals will work on the project, as will interpreters, tutors, access service providers, instructors and students to help develop pedagogical strategies that support introduction to statistics classes, Marchetti said. Introduction Statistics is a required class for most students at RIT and helps students move through a pipeline to more advanced courses and degrees, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Marchetti said the online learning development and testing will be done with RIT/NTID students in Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall, at the Research Center for Teaching and Learning. NTID’s Technical Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students (DeafTEC), will help disseminate the completed videos through their website and partner schools.

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