Virtual ASL classes face unexpected challenges

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Kelley Holland

Many courses at WKU have opted to go online or participate in a hybrid model of both in person and online classes due to the pandemic. Included in this are some American Sign Language courses.

Sarah Woosley, an ASL minor, took a specialized vocabulary course via Zoom over the summer. After taking five other ASL courses in person, Woosley found Zoom to be challenging. 

“The biggest challenge is not being able to fully see your teacher at times when he or she is signing,” Woosley said. 

Woosley said that since the squares that each individual shows up in when on a Zoom call are small, she found herself bringing her computer closer to her face so she could clearly see the signs her professor was making. 

“I did not dislike having class on Zoom, but it was more challenging,” Woosley said. 

Woosley said her professor ensured that students were able to work on their receptive and expressive skills, which are vital to learning the language. 

Despite the challenges, Woosley said she still learned a lot and felt that taking the class over Zoom was worth it. 

Brooke Mahanna, vice president of WKU’s American Sign Language Organization, is serving as a peer mentor in the ASL program. 

Mahanna said that she hasn’t heard about many issues with ASL courses being taught over Zoom. 

“ASL is a visual language and a lot of it is spatial,” Mahanna said. “That is kind of hard to portray via a computer screen.” 

While learning ASL, interacting with people in a one-on-one environment is ideal. However, Mahanna said professors in the program have done a great job adapting and making the experience as close as possible to an in-person course. 

“It isn’t perfect, but they are doing what is needed to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Mahanna said.

Kelley Holland can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kelleyaholland.