UMD Deaf Studies Program Adjusting to Virtual Learning

The deaf studies minor at UMD has the second largest enrollment in the school.

DULUTH, Minn. – After starting his new job at UMD at the beginning of the semester, Professor Christopher Johnson is learning how to transform his classwork online.

“It’s really different settings. You know, how to support different students and the different things that they need in the midst of all of this,” UMD Deaf Studies Professor, Christopher Johnson signed in ASL.

Students and professors are adjusting to courses being taught over zoom and without in-person learning, 2-D learning isn’t easy for the deaf community without the three dimensional depth.

“So that you can see a sign like black. You can see how it’s created by seeing it more in three dimensions and it’s also important to have that repetition so that’s a really important component as well,” Johnson signed.

The ASL Lab is one of the ways students get extra help.

“We have three TA’s, teaching assistants who are in there and I am really inspired by their work and there continued support,” Johnson signed.

One of those TA’s is Isabel Dokhanchi, a senior who remembers what being inside the classroom was like before the pandemic.

“We had different games we could play. Being able to chat. You know, easily ask signs. But now you’re in a setting where it’s a computer screen full of people and it can be difficult especially for beginners that aren’t used to this process,” UMD Senior, Isabel Dokhanchi says.

With the difficulties students now face learning in 2-D, there is one aspect of learning virtually that makes problem solving easier.

“Luckily zoom has the typing feature which has also been really helpful in classes,” Dokhanchi says. “Being able to immediately ask the question or answer the question from both the teaching and the student side.”

“In person you would have something to write it down or try to finger spell the whole thing which takes a long time and can be a bit confusing.”

And tools like wearing a clear mask during the pandemic makes communication clearer, forming relationships easier and having a connection to one another more human.

“With a clear mask, that’s so critical with facial expression,” Professor Johnson signed. “So with me, you can still see how I’m using my mouth and my mouth movements.”

“So that kind of gives you different information like adjectives and adverbs. So all of that information is shown on the face to help make sure people understand it.”


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