Posted on: January 23, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Since last spring, COVID-19 has caused the lockdown of most schools across the United States, including Moraine Valley Community College. The Glacier is presenting a series of stories to hear MVCC professors and students talk about the experiences and challenges they are facing while making the switch to digital learning.

By Deana Elhit, Features Editor

Learning a new language online can be difficult, especially when there is no sound involved.

Madeline Fabris misses social Deaf events with her ASL classmates and Deaf tutors.

Madeline Fabris discovered her love for ASL when she attended her brother’s wrestling match. One of the players was Deaf. As the coach would yell at the Deaf wrestler, beside him was the interpreter, screaming with his hands.

“It was super intense and exciting. It was awesome,” she said. 

Fabris, 23, hopes to become an ASL interpreter in the future and is part of the American Sign Language Interpreter Training Program.

“I started doing research on it and I was like wow this really seemed like a good fit. I get to work with people but I’m not on the spot,” she said. “I can be prepared and I like to interact with people.”

In the beginning of the switch to online, many of the ASL students weren’t responding, making Fabris feel stuck, but now they are much more prepared.

 “You emailed them back and everything took three times as long. I noticed a lot of people got frustrated and weren’t responding,” she said.

The positive upside of taking classes online for Fabris is the convenience of being present in class from any location. This allowed Fabris to travel to California with ease since it didn’t interfere with her school schedule. She also began to take classes from the park. 

Though the convenience is great for Fabris, she feels as though she doesn’t retain as much information as before. She finds herself constantly rewatching Hedding’s signing videos, which she says, “worked pretty well!”

Being able to walk up to the teacher in class to ask how to sign a certain word or sentence is something Fabris misses. She also misses accidental learning from goofing around in class. 

“I really miss the people. I didn’t realize how big I’m very much a people person,” Fabris said. “I love to talk and be around other people, I love to mess around with signs in class or sign secretly in class, so a large part of that struggle too is kinda learning how to be on my own and how to function. Also how to get my schedule and get my routine set up where I don’t have to go anywhere.” 

There are two different Deaf events held for the ASL students to connect with the Deaf community, says Fabris. “We had coffee chats at Starbucks in Crestwood. A lot of the ASL students would go there because they sign nice and slow. They know all the students,” said Fabris.

Fabris would have “Deaf night out” with her friends who are also Deaf, as well as game nights, New Year Eve’s parties and trips to bars. “They rented out a little space for all the Deaf people so not everyone in the bar is walking between conversations,” said Fabris.

“It was so nice to get out and interact with people who you’re going to be working for in your life,” said Fabris. “The Deaf community is not that big so you’re going to interpret for people that you met at your school or different events.”

She said she would go to plays, downtown Chicago or even volunteer for events. An interpreter agency called Chicago Hearing Society (CHS) would create opportunities to volunteer and experience signing and meet different people in the Deaf community.

“Now I go onto websites and look for webinars, which are really cool and informative but it’s not the same.”

I really miss the people. I didn’t realize how big I’m very much a people person. I love to talk and be around other people, I love to mess around with signs in class or sign secretly in class, so a large part of that struggle too is kinda learning how to be on my own and how to function.

Madeline Fabris, student

ASL even made Fabris become invested in watching interpreters on the news like the DNC, RNC and politics.

“It differently made me a lot more informed in general because you just have to be prepared for different conversations and different topics that people want to talk about,” she said. 

She was even able to meet Michael Albert, the interpreter for Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker. She says getting out to meet different people has been awesome and helpful. Instead, she presently finds herself watching a video from four years ago. “It’s definitely not as exciting as it was before.” 

Because Fabris has ADHD, she sometimes feels confused about her schoolwork, she says. So keeping her desk organized can help her focus better. 

“It’s such a weird little change but it’s helped me so much to actually sit down and focus and feel like I’m in school,” said Fabris. 

Challenges arise when it comes to her internet too. She describes how her internet would fail while taking her final and at times she thought she was going to fail her classes. She later found a bird’s nest on her internet box.

ASL has made Fabris become more confident. Learning a new language at first can be terrifying, but she is continuing to grow, not focusing too much on being wrong on signing and understanding that she’s still a student and mistakes happen. 

“I know my teachers are also trying their best to make sure they are as open with us as they can be and as available to us as they can be,”Fabris said. “She [Hedding] will totally offer her own time setting up a Zoom meeting to be with me which is really nice.”

Professor Teri Hedding misses interacting with her students in person

Hedding makes ASL course work online

Professor Teri Hedding teaches American Sign Language, a course that normally includes events for students to meet with the Deaf community and practice their signing skills in groups. With events canceled due to COVID-19, Hedding had to take a new approach.

“Instead of attending events in the Deaf community, the students meet with ASL tutors who are deaf themselves through the Zoom platform to practice their ASL skills,” Hedding said. 

Hedding’s first challenge was trying to teach online in the most effective way for her students.

“Unlike traditional classes where I would be able to demonstrate visually how to navigate in Canvas and apps to learn ASL, I find it challenging to explain remotely how to use the technology to learn ASL,” she said. 

However, the online environment has its advantages, Hedding says. She recorded lessons demonstrating ASL signs for students to memorize.

“Although making the pre-recorded videos can be really time-consuming, once the videos are uploaded and the students understand how to use the technology, I find it enjoyable to teach the ASL classes online,” she said. “The biggest advantage in the online platform is that the students were able watch my ASL videos repeatedly until they became comfortable in demonstrating the signs that they learned.”

Performance assignments have also changed as students are required to record and demonstrate their ASL skills on camera.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that most students did very well using the online format,” Hedding said.

Hedding felt fortunate to learn how to develop a course into an online format through training provided by Moraine Valley before the pandemic. She had taught online for three semesters and is learning how to make the format more user-friendly, manageable, and understandable. 

Before the pandemic, ASL tutoring was an option for students, but it has become mandatory this semester as ASL clubs have been shut down.  

 “Since the pandemic started, the students have not had opportunities to participate in the ASL club where they could practice their signs with their peers and to meet other Deaf people outside of their classes,” Hedding said.

Traditionally, Hedding would call on the students to assist her in modeling conversations in ASL to help them practice their signing skills.

“With the online format, I contacted Deaf people in the community to help me out with the ASL demonstration, she said. “They were very happy to help me, so we would meet in the Zoom platform where we would demonstrate some conversations for the students to watch and practice in their assigned groups.”

Hedding depends on her students to share their ideas and concerns to help her make changes to the course. She expects changes to continue this semester after hearing feedback from her current students.

“I really miss the student interaction, so if I had the choice between teaching the traditional class or the online class, I definitely would want to return to the main campus to see the students’ faces again in the classes,” she said. “However, since I developed some material for online learning, I would be happy to offer both options in teaching ASL through the traditional and online formats.”

No home internet creates challenge

Starting an online learning system without internet at home had Jocelyn Orozco, 27, already facing challenges before class even began.

“Normally no one’s home so we don’t have a need to have an internet there because we have our phones,” said Orozco. “After we got sent home it was like your day is clear because usually you’re expected to go to school and when you’re not there, you’re expected to stay home during that time.”

Orozco explains when at campus, there is instant feedback from Hedding on her signing skills, whereas when digital, she had to wait for that feedback.

Orozco, a sophomore works full time jobs at two different restaurants from 10:30am to 10 at night.

She says she was able to gain more hours at work because she didn’t need to go to campus, which has helped since she pays her own tuition. The convenience of completing her homework from work has also helped her, she says.

Taking ASL allows her to communicate with her Deaf customers. “A couple of customers will come in and they’re Deaf, and it’s a surprise,” she said. 

She explains how a former co-worker didn’t have his hearing aid and became apologetic after telling Orozco to repeat herself. She asked him if he could sign. Having the ability to connect with people who are Deaf or have hearing disabilities has helped Orozco create a better communication environment for all.

“It [ASL] comes in handy every now and then,” she said. 

Completing group assignments in the online environment has been a challenge.

“Some people are still working; some people just don’t answer. It’s easier in the classroom because you’re already there,” Orozco said. “You literally just turn around and just do your assignment and you’re done and leave but now it kinda driffs over to outside class time frames.”

Since the online switch, Orozco has felt unmotivated to do her classes. She prefers being at campus, as she feels she learns better in a classroom.

“Going to the library to study wasn’t an option anymore, so there was the whole adjustment of having a study area in my room or being able to cram everything while I’m working,” she said. 

In the end, the online environment has helped, she said. “Being online helped me because I don’t struggle to cut my hours to go to work and I don’t have to go to school.” 

Working full time at two restaurants has made online learning a convenience for Jocelyn Orozco

“Being online helped me because I don’t struggle to cut my hours to go to work and I don’t have to go to school,” she said.

Jocelyn Orozco