Computer mediated communication with deaf children



Résumé, summary

An experience is reported concerning the use of a computer program (the RETE system) which was developed in order to carry out distance dialogues (by means of computers connected via modem) between deaf pupils. The work is aimed at verifying the opportunity offered by computers in the development of communication capacities through the written language, which, as well known, deaf children have difficulties to manage. Different students (all attending primary school) were involved in the experience. The communication context rendered the use of the written language very different from how it is traditionally approached with deaf children (often reduced to purely mechanical activities focused on transcription aspects) and gave the possibility to relate it with children real needs. Moreover communication activities helped the realization of cognitive processes which are usually very difficult to realize with deaf children: we refer, for example, to the process involved in anticipating the content of written messages or of planning communication acts. Keywords Learning, educational computing, written language, communication, special needs, deaf children, learning tools, teaching tools, computer supported communication

Discipline, subject :

langues Sprachen languages lingue special activity activités spéciales

Public :

primaire Primarschule primary school primario cycle d'orientation Sek I, BWK lower high school ciclo d'orientamento postobligatoire Weiterführende Schulen upper high school postobligatorio enseignement spécialisé Sonderschulen specialized training insegnamento speziale

Contacts :

Bottino, Rosa Maria

C.N.R., Istituto per la Matematica Applicata, Via De Marini 6

Tel :
Mail :
Fax : 39 10 6475660

Pédagogie, pedagogy :

The work concerns an experience of communication between deaf children of primary school supported by the use of computers. We experienced different kind of computer supported communication: communication between two deaf children attending different schools; communication between two groups of deaf children living in different town (one group was of children living in a private Institute for deaf); communication between a deaf children and an adult. Each experience consisted of weekly sessions of 30-40 minutes for about five months. The dialogue between the two groups of deaf children who live in different towns was characterised by the negotiation, within each group, of the content and form of dialogue statements, before sending them on to the other group.The dialogue between a deaf child and an adult enabled the child to communicate with a person who could adapt to his/her expressive capacities, exposing him/her at the same time to selected and correct syntactic forms. The dialogue between two deaf children of the same age answered the needs of interrupting isolation and of comparison with a peer interlocutor.

Apprentissage, learning :

The evolution of oral language in deaf children when they approach reading and writing (at the age of about 6) is as a rule poor in comparison with that of hearing pupils of the same age. It is widely documented that such delay in development greatly affects their learning performance. The traditional educational approach does not seem to be able to overcome the difficulties deaf children encounter in this field. According to this approach reading and writing activities are often reduced to purely mechanical activities, focused on transcription aspects (i.e. of lip movements) and on the decoding and the articulation of the written code. They are often not associated with any real need to give meaning to the expressions in question. This kind of teaching is far removed from the true communication needs of deaf pupils and their actual linguistic development, and it often does not offer them any effective learning motivation since they cannot grasp its usefulness. It further hinders the development of fundamental cognitive processes such as the anticipation of meaning in reading and the speech planning in writing. An important aspect to be considered in an educational setting where disabled subjects are involved is how to balance the development of specific abilities and the overall needs of the subject. These needs are not only of knowledge acquisition but mainly of communication. In our experience the communication activities were not to be the means through which reading and writing abilities are developed but the goal itself of the educational process. We note that, in such communication contexts, the cognitive processes involved in learning the written language may benefit from an interaction mechanism which is not present when the written language is used in monologues, and which appears to be particularly useful to deaf children in that it helps realise cognitive processes which they would be unable to carry out on their own nor with the assistance of an adult. We refer, for example, to the cognitive processes involved in anticipating the content of written messages or in planning communication acts.

Enseignement, teaching :

The communication context in question renders the use of the written language very different from how written language currently is. Actually the written dialogue carried out through computers takes on a non formal character and uses simplifications which are usually not possible in the written form. Importance is attached to the substance of the message and to its capacity of expressing a communication meaning. Other parameters such as syntax and style are less emphasised. Considerations about the structure of the sentences issued and their eventual correction were carried out only after the communication activity was over, by working on the print of the complete dialogue.

Technique :

During the experience the dialogues were carried out through the use of a software system (the RETE system) which allows users to carry out on-line dialogues between computers connected via modem. This system is implemented in Hypercard 2.1 using HyperTalk programming language. It runs on Apple Macintosh computers. With this system it is possible: - to choose the partner to communicate with each time; - to exchange written messages; - to correct and modify each statement of a message before transmitting it to the interlocutor. - to read the whole dialogue held with a partner; - to store automatically each dialogue; - to send or to receive previously arranged text files; - to send or receive graphic files prepared by means of a graphic editor incorporated in the system; - to manage the data-base of the names and telephone numbers of the communicating partners. The way in which the system has been designed, as we were able to verify during the experiments, makes its use easy also for beginners and young students and allows a rapid familiarity.

Société, society :

Computer mediated dialogue gives deaf children the opportunity to communicate with different subjects and so to extend their communicative experience in ways they can easily control. The possibility to understand and be understood represented a strong motivation for children to carry out the communication activities. The motivation increment could also be perceived in the eagerness pupils expressed in conducting the reading and writing activities correlated with the computer mediated dialogue, thus creating the conditions for development both in the cognitive and self-reliance spheres. In the course of the different activities pupils always showed the need to know each other personally. At the beginning of the expereinces they, for example, exchange their photographs or the cassettes in which they have video recorded themselves; towards the end of the experiments the children actually meet. The social effects have thus been especially rewarding: the children's capacity for social relations was enhanced and autonomously consolidated in the course of time.

Culture :

The children had the opportunity to be in touch with other children living in different situations: for example children living with their families could communicate with children living in an Institute for deaf and so become aware of a different reality and way of life.

Institution :

The experiments were run in computer laboratories equipped with personal computers and modems. All experiments were directly and constantly monitored during their running. The evaluation of students' behaviour was based on the analysis of the observation protocols and of the record of their communication sessions.

Logistique :

This kind of work needs that communication activities are carried out weekly (one or two sessions per week of a quater of an hour each) for a period of time of at least three or four months.

Remarques, remarks :

During the work we have experienced also the use of other technologies as tools for communication among deaf children. In particular we used video-camera and video recorder in order to realize interviews and to comminicate one another through LIS (Italian Language System).