Supporting the Conversion of the “Special Didactics for Deaf Students” Course into a Blended- Learning Model Addressed for Teachers in Italy

Project location: ITALY, Rome
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: May 2013
Project number: 2012-060
Beneficiary: Istituto Sordi Roma

ISSR is the first public school for deaf students in Italy and now a Centre for deafness, offering attention to deaf people's needs. It focuses especially on new generations who encounter more difficulties with social complexity interactions.
During the 80ies, the Institute has started a process of transformation in correlation with Law N° 517/1977 about school integration; as required by Law 15 March 1997, art. 21, paragraph 10 - concerning the reformation of special schools and institutes - we are still waiting for an implemented regulation.
Because of the small sponsorship by MIUR - 44,000.00 (forty four thousands) Euros for the entire management - during this long transition period, the Public Institute for the Deaf has developed several fund raising actions through the promotion of regional and National projects concerning deafness.
Among all services, ISSR has instituted an "Information and Counseling Desk" in cooperation with Rome Provincial Administration and also an Information and Documentation Media Centre, the "Mediateca Visuale".
The idea of Mediateca was born in 2003 when ISSR started planning a counseling service about the use of new technologies in didactics and in communication with the deaf. There was a large number of requests so it started collecting an archive of LIS (Italian Sign Language) material, software, and subtitled DVDs in order to guide net surfing and support the use of new technologies in deaf people's education and, thus, teachers' updating.
During these first five years of activity, ISSR responded to 340 counseling demands, the 33% of which in distance by fax or e-mail. Main requests were: advices about adequate didactics material, available education resources, didactics websites, updating opportunities and general information about deaf children. Furthermore, ISSR records 2739 software and DVDs consultations as well as more than 21784 visits to our website in the last year (increase of 44,31%). Because of the particular target of Mediateca's services, it is important to mention the 2397 "friends" on ISSR Facebook page.
Mediateca Visu@le since 2008 periodically organizes cultural events (public projections, meetings, workshops, photograph exhibitions) addressed to deaf people but also to hearing people as an input for reflection about deafness.
Many films and documentaries can be shown, like we did with "Sound and Fury" in 2008 and 2009, using VOICE - a subtitling software.
The presentation of the book "The color of silence", an international biographic dictionary of deaf artists occurred in 2009 as well as "Vedere voci-deaf film in Rome" with projections, meetings and workshops always subtitled for the deaf and translated by LIS interpreters.
The project herein proposed arises from the need to update the formation method of the "Special didactics for deaf students" course as it is now promoted by ISSR. Our goal is to make it innovative and more flexible. In order to satisfy the need for an adequate competence in communicating with deaf students at school, ISSR has launched since 2002 a "Special didactics" course, addressed to teachers, communication assistants and learning support teachers in primary 1st grade schools as well as in secondary 1st and 2nd grade schools.
Involved teachers come from many different regions of Italy. ISSR is actually the only institution in Italy to offer such a specific formation in the field of ability and competence improvement; since the course started, about 400 teachers have been trained.
Before 2002, teachers could hardly find adequate didactic strategies in communicating with deaf students, thus failing to reach a fluent communication with pupils in the prospect of full accessibility. The course launch has provided an excellent response to many teachers who had a generic background in the matter of disabilities, ineffective in treating deaf people's problems.
We estimate a high adhesion to the course, because of its great potential; we offer a personalized formation targeted at non-homogenous needs, both geographical and individual.
We made some researches about target users' profile. First of all, there is a considerable request for the activation of courses not linked to temporal or space obligations. Teachers form actually a specific field in adults' education; they are much involved in their familiar and professional responsibilities and do not have much time available for extra formation.
They do need a formation opportunity which may be adapted to their own needs and everyday job duties. In this course, we also offer a first common stage dealing with preliminary contents and a second stage with different paths to follow. This range of subjects is coherent with those taught at school.
We expect a satisfying response also as far as new technologies in literacy are concerned. Teachers express the necessity for more precise didactic programs, possibly integrated with digital and multimedia resources, essential to be attractive and stimulating to students.
Questionnaires have been distributed to evaluate different areas. There is a testimony of a familiarity with the use of technological tools, CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) systems, computer software and a good disposition to accept changes and knowledge sharing, although they refer low experience in the field of e-learning and FAD.
We propose a new course achievement, based on the actual addresses' requests and on the constructivist learning approach.
This course is a stimulation for teachers' motivation because it provides a specific competence about disabled students integration in class groups and because teachers' professional knowledge can fit these particular problems.
So, today, a necessity to become emancipated from spatial and temporal constrains -typical of classroom based lessons- is strongly felt, together with the need for an updating in respect of a "lifelong learning culture".
It is for this reason that with ISSR we wish to make an incisive investment in formation, trying to combine "multimediality" and usability with the fulfillment of our training goals. We also try to spread technological and methodological skillfulness among teachers to be applied in their everyday teaching activity.
The redefinition of the classroom based course provides a "presence and distance blended learning mode". A renewing of didactic strategies and technological instruments is presupposed.
The importance of offering a course of Special Didactics is connected to the principle that "school is an important place of cultural and social integration"; it's necessary to act in order to increase awareness of diversity.
It is fundamental to recognize this value and also to go in depth to define the skills for deaf children education.
Pedagogical and methodological competences must be reformulated. To reach this target, the Institute will strengthen all updating and formation activities and also increase its services.
ISSR presents itself as a dynamic institution able to offer real answers in the field of methods and didactics in order to achieve appropriate integration.
The first three stages -0. Technological Alignment + Guidelines; 1. Psycho-pedagogical area; 2. Teaching strategies area- are planned in propaedeutic steps, necessary to grant gradual new competence acquisition and personal experience improvement. This is thanks to an interaction among teachers, other students and tutors.
Proposed activities are as follows:
The first activity, entirely classroom based, comprehends technological alignment with IT literacy and a Moodle guidance.
This is very crucial in course opening for it is necessary that students fulfill the same pre-requirements.
On one hand, participants must acquire technical skills in computer mediated communication ways - CMC - (chats, polls, diary, web forums, audio/video streaming, wiki, concept maps, repository) focusing on their limits, characteristics and potential.
On the other hand, students' socialization must be encouraged allowing them to feel part of a social-relational "space" within the Moodle. A motivated group will thus build, like a community able to share experience and negotiate its significance.
The psycho-pedagogical area and that of teaching strategies work as cross steps; they are fundamental to introduce students to basic knowledge by means of multimedia teaching techniques: such as psychological and social aspects of deafness or all difficulties deaf children encounter in social, affective and cognitive areas. With the exception of Activity 0, which is entirely in presence, every single unit will be developed in individual and group studying but also distance and presence studying alternating.

Contents and organization of every area are formulated as follows:
Face to face interaction phase. Teachers will help students' learning simulating real problems they might encounter at school and that they must try to solve. Furthermore, teachers will encourage students' reflection about problems deaf pupils meet in class.
Section 1. Individual studying and exercises
Activation of acquired skills in order to get ready for next Section 2.
It must be demonstrated to students (not only with words) which methods are effective to achieve teaching goals. It's important to install educational materials in the moodle in order to let students understand all problematic aspects which are involved in the communicative and social barriers of each area.
Section 2. Group activities
Students will be instructed on how to promote and support the participation in a context that must be of the most cooperative kind.
Groups will form for a greater sharing of personal past experience and of present work to be done and presented all together.
There will be different occasions for" cooperative learning" supported by tutors. In this phase, students must be involved in rules and criteria definition (times, interaction turns, roles in interaction):
• decision tools (chats, polls, notice board, diary);
• dialogic building tools ( web forums, audio/video streaming);
• collaborative filling tools (wiki);
• graphic tools (concept maps, interactive board);
• produced works repository (group works either ongoing or as final works).
Section 3. meta-cognitive reflection
During this section, students will acquire information about the learning process, such as links to the most popular messages/threads, relevant events, indications on group's conformity to their self-given rules. Tutors will stimulate communication activities by means of active learning conversation hints; as an example they may encourage students to solve problems expressing their own point of view to their colleagues and justifying their opinion.
In cooperative learning, the goal is to allow students to understand their team members' ideas, questions, explanations and then to solve problems.
In this phase, students will put into practice all experience gained; groups division will be maintained (see Section 2. group activity). This final step will see students acting in the practical context; there will be occasions for sharing knowledge and acquired skills and also for cooperation in case studies (cooperative learning) that teachers will present supporting all mentioned strategies.

The methodological model proposed for this course's redefinition determines adequate methods for effective learning, based on real cases and problems, focusing on an active building of knowledge and not a mere knowledge transmission and reproduction.
The theoretical direction has its roots in constructivism ; its final goal is the constitution of a community of learners.
Used methodological strategies are:
• Problem based learning. It suggests knowledge deriving from problems' solution. Participants must express school problems as well as relational and cognitive difficulties observed in class. In this phase, deaf children's background must emerge, together with recovery chances - in order to understand what goals can be achieved.
• Learning by doing. Teachers must encourage the learning process by means of direct experience. It is necessary to consider actions and get deeply aware, before students can interiorize their knowledge.
Action and thought must come together, discussing within themselves (self-reflexivity) and with others (cooperative learning).
• Role playing. It is the simulation of a real situation, defining and then playing the different involved roles. It is based on the awareness that problems' dramatization can make those behavioral aspects emerge that wouldn't be otherwise expressed, neither verbally nor rationally.
• Case study. This strategy too is highly participatory and actions are connected to real experience. The goal is to make students face settings close to real situations, presenting real problems.
• Problem solving. This strategy is based on problem solving; it promotes a kind of "guided discovery" which means an exact problem definition facilitated by tutors and mutual help among students.
The blended learning course needs investments on human resources.
Figures with competence in multimedia learning and with formative experiences in the communication mediated by computer (CMC) filed are required.
For this reason a skilled tutor is highly needed. He/she will accompany course attendees during the entire training process. He/she is thought of as a support because we think that attendees could learn more and better if appropriately assisted (scaffolding). He/she has a fundamental role in involving the whole class in definite activities (chat session, forum, team exercises). He/she also supports less competent attendees, avoiding technological obstacles or anxiety that could limit this training process.
The tutor will have the following tasks:
- course planning and course managing activities
- site development using Moodle
- insert in the site all teaching materials
- forum opening and managing in order to make easier the sharing among attendees
- constant distance learning activities evaluation
- online evaluation questionnaires production
Another functional figure to the development of the digital platform is the instructional designer who offers information on how make learning and people's cognitive, emotional and social development easier. His/her professional role is to focus on the ways through which students can reach determined learning goals.
The suggested teaching method is the collaborative learning (wrap around) that is based on cooperative activities in each group of students: people interact in order to reach a common goal and consequently individual learning is seen as the result of a team process. In this case the "teaching mediation" is totally given to skilled human resources and the activity focus moves on the interaction among involved people, that are attendees, tutors, teachers and experts.
Planning, organization and selection of activities and contents must be done putting in action exchange and collaborative process among students.
For this reason we ask to all teachers to be on students disposal also after the frontal lessons with the aim of invest their own technical and professional skills in order to produce online materials, but also the opportunity to give their time in managing the interaction with all the attendees.
That will improve the interaction with students and the so called peer-to-peer education, and it will promote not only the learning but also the support to teaching activities.
Attendees' sharing activities will be also supported by the addiction in the web platform of supporting materials such as CDs, DVDs, multimedia materials and all the other working tools necessary to reach the final goals.

The ultimate goal of this new formation course is providing teachers with tools and strategies to be applied in class with a deaf child. The formation proposal is addressed to teachers of every level and order and from the whole national territory. The aim is the spread of a culture of integration, to offer a real participation opportunity to deaf children in their class groups.
Inclusive didactic actions are planned to allow all pupils learn together, with no isolation and -at the same time- each pupil's potential must be evaluated. Different paths will be defined and teaching materials adapted to them.
This goal achievement is also required by an effective application of Law 517/1977 which has determined the closing of special schools encouraging the institution of inclusive integrated classes.
Two editions of the course can be started every year, which means 60 submissions per year.

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