1999 Conference Proceedings

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Enhancing Learning through the Internet

Siew King Tan
Christina Van Huizen
Dennis Tan Lian Seng
Singapore School for the Deaf

Introduction

Established in 1963, the Singapore School for the Deaf currently provides a comprehensive pre-school and primary education for the hearing-impaired children. The School offers early intervention classes for children under the age of 2½ years and then the nursery, kindergarten and primary classes for students up to the age of 14 years.

To cater for different degrees of hearing impairment, the School uses "Total Communication", a multi-sensory approach combing speech, speech-reading, amplification, signs and finger spelling. All instruction is conducted in English using the system called "Signing Exact English II".

The School's curriculum is similar to that of regular Singaporean primary schools except students are exempted from studying a second language.

About being hearing-impaired

By the time they enter kindergarten, many deaf children of hearing parents have not developed a sophisticated competence in any language, whether signed or spoken. This often results in delayed reading development and, consequently, a reduced capacity to acquire knowledge.

Research has shown that most hearing-impaired children tend to use shorter, simpler sentences than those used by their hearing peers. As a result their general written expression appears immature when compared with that of hearing of the same age.

History of Computer Use at SSD

In an attempt to enhance learning, the Singapore School for the Deaf has gradually introduced its students to the use of computers.

Since the 1980's the school has had computer-based learning programmes in place. In 1994, however, a decision was made to bring the students a step closer to the version of IT 2000 by introducing them to the Internet.

The school's then 12 computers were upgraded and Project KFCN (Knowledge and Fun with Computer Network) was launched. Beginning in January, 1995 students from Upper Primary levels were taught word-processing skills and then introduced to an "internet Relay Chat" programme. By enabling the students to communicate with each other on the Net, the programme assists them to develop and refine their written language by constructing meaningful phrases and grammatically correct sentences.

In 1997 the School also set up a computer club to encourage students to access and use some of the information available to them on the Internet. Using material sourced from the Net, members of the club produced information booklets on "Singaporean Festivals" and on "Places of Interest in Singapore".

Results

Much of the information on the Internet is beyond the students' language levels and locating of appropriate material is often very difficult. Nevertheless, teachers have noticed a significant improvement in the written expression of those who use the Internet on a regular basis. Such positive results led to a decision to expand the use of the Internet into the core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science.

English

In the area of English language, the School has designed a number of Internet-based lessons aimed at developing students' reading and writing abilities. These lessons follow the themes stipulated in the standard Primary English syllabus. Each theme covers a period of two weeks. Students are encouraged to access and read a wide variety of texts and then to write on different topics for different purposes and audiences.

At the beginning of the lesson students receive input from their teachers in the classroom. As the lesson progresses, the students use the computers to perform various allotted tasks and projects on the specified theme.

In one such project, entitled "What's my line?", students log on to the Search Engine or Company Websites to access information on the qualifications required for particular jobs.

They then select an occupation and prepare a comprehensive job description, including details of any necessary skills or qualifications.

Working in small groups, students may also photograph people engaged in various occupations and the scan the photographs on to the computer for further discussion and project work.

Throughout these projects teachers guide the students to ensure that instructional and terminal objectives are met. The use of the LCD projector enables students to follow the teacher's instructions step by step. The projector is linked to the teacher's computer, permitting the teacher to display to the whole class information obtained from the Net or scanned in by the students.

At the conclusion of each lesson, appropriate material and data are stored on diskette for future reference.

Mathematics

In the study of mathematics, the computer is being used to promote a spirit of inquiry in the students, to sharpen their problem-solving skills and to develop and extend their grasp of various mathematical concepts.

On project, for example, encourages students to explore some of these concepts through the making of cakes.

Working in groups, students first surf the Net for a variety of cakes recipes. After reading each recipe carefully, the students choose one and decide how big they want the cake to be. They then calculate the quantities of ingredients needed and the total cost of producing the cake.

When the planning stage is complete, the students purchase all the necessary ingredients and set about making the cake. The finished product must then be divided equally between the members of the group.

To ensure that they become familiar with the concepts of area and perimeter and rate and proportion, the students are also required to make another cake of a different size. Again, if they wish to eat the finished product, the students must decide how it is to be cut so that it can be shared equally. Alternatively, they may decide to sell it and calculate the net profit which they have made.

The various stages of the project are documented and photographed and then consolidated and present in booklet form.

Science

The computer is also proving to be an invaluable tool in the area of science. One lesson developed within the School involves the investigation of various animals' life cycles. Over a period of about two weeks, students use the Internet to access both written and graphic information on the development of a particular animal. They consolidate the information on the computer and then retrieve and display it in poster format.

The first step entails the students' retrieving the necessary information from textbooks, reference books and the Internet. To obtain the graphic information, they scan pictures from cards, jigsaw puzzles and charts on to the computer. They are also encouraged to photograph and video-record live animals at various stages of development and this material is also scanned and stored on diskette.

In this way students not only learn important facts about biology, they are also actively engaged in the development of a scientific reference base which is pitched at an appropriate language level for the School's students.

Other lessons following a similar format deal with topics such as "My wonderful body" and "Saving our earth, animals and plants".

Other Programmes

Apart from enabling students to access the Internet and Computer Based Learning Programmes, the School's computers are now also being used for assessment of auditory and speech capacity and for therapy.

The School's speech therapist uses an American programme, "Visi-Pitch II", for speech analysis and audio-visual bio-feedback. The programme's functions include speech acquisition, graphic and numerical display of speech parameters, audio output and signal editing.

Graphic analyses are produced in "real time". In other words, during the speech acquisition function, graphic representations of speech parameters, such as pitch and energy traces, can be viewed on screen instantaneously.

The "Visi-Pitch II" programme is also equipped with a games module so that entertaining graphics can be used for bio-feedback and as a source of reinforcement during speech therapy.

Whereas traditional speech drill and practice relies solely on subjective auditory perception, audio-visual bio-feedback shows speech differences through graphic representations. Moreover, statistical calculations provide an objective and quantitative assessment of students' performances. Such quantitative data is imperative if clinical impressions are to be objectified. When used correctly, the audio-visual feedback will result in more efficacious therapy and will be of enormous benefit to both the clinician and the student.

A locally produced programme designed specifically for the School is now being used to assess and improve students' auditory abilities. This programme comes with a specially adapted microphone which is fitted into the student's hearing aid. Particular images together with corresponding sounds are communicated to the student via the computer. The sounds are then replayed at random to the student who is asked to identify the corresponding image on the screen. The unique aspect of this programme is that actual sounds made by people, animals and other objects are made availiable to students via the computer. The programme is self-corrective and allows the students to work at their own pace. Although the main focus is on reinforcing auditory skills, the programme also creates an awareness of environmental sounds essential to the students' survival in society.

Conclusion

No student in today's society can afford to be without a through grounding in computer use. For hearing-impaired students, exposure to information technology is particularly important as it helps to level the playing field for them and their hearing peers. The programmes now in place at the Singapore School for the Deaf not only help to identify and improve speech and auditory skills but also give students immediate access to a vast wealth of information. As well as expanding their knowledge and improving their written communication, such programmes stimulate the students' young, inquiring minds and engender in them the self-confidence which they will need to move comfortably into secondary and tertiary education and the workforce of the new millenium.


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