Video Remote Interpreting in Education

Last week, Amber and I went to the C2C Spring Forum 2011 in Parkville, Missouri. The topic of the day was something I have been learning about and sharing with you a lot recently: Universal Design in Learning

For my money, the best presentation was Alyson Pickus from SignOn. As she explained it, SignOn is a group of thirty folks in Seattle who provide services like signing and captioning remotely and in real-time. During an hour-long slideshow, she summarized her recent experience being a video remote interpreter for a Deaf undergraduate student.

VRI in the Classroom

MobileASL – University of Washington

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is a substitute or alternative to an on-site interpreter. A typical VRI classroom setup involves:

  • A laptop with a webcam for the student and interpreter to communicate with
  • A lapel microphone on the teacher for the interpreter to hear with
  • External computer speakers for the interpreter to be heard with, e.g. for asking the teacher questions from the student

The benefits of VRI over remote captioning or on-site interpreters include:

  • The Deaf student learns in their own language with the appropriate cultural expressions and dynamics
  • Cheaper, more timely and better interpreters than might otherwise be available locally
  • Students are excited and engaged to use video chat software they already use like Skype and iChat
  • Less distracting to the teacher and hearing classmates

The challenges of using VRI in the classroom include:

  • Even with advance materials and preparation, conceptually accurate signing requires a high-level of subject matter awareness from the interpreter
  • Younger students may have difficulty staying on camera
  • The coordinator may run into problems receiving not only initial, but continued technical support
  • The teacher might be uncomfortable with being listened to by someone unseen and far outside the classroom
  • Trouble maintaining the bandwidth necessary for signing (especially fingerspelling)
  • The interpreter has a very limited view of the classroom and does not see the teacher, projector screen, blackboard and classmates
  • Classroom discussion is off-mic, so any classmates’ questions and comments must be repeated by the teacher

As a population with a rich and distinct history with technology, I am finding a tremendous amount to be learned from Deaf education and culture.

Further reading

If you’re interested in learning more about both the technical and sociological issues of interpreting American Sign Language, I highly recommend Reading Between the Signs by Anna Mindess. I found it to be a practical and anthropological look at Deaf culture.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a near-exhaustive multicultural curriculum full of some heartbreaking case studies, consider perusing the National Multicultural Interpretation Project.


Related posts:

  1. Tips for remote collaboration
  2. From last week: RockMelt, interpretation, video,, and iPhone apps
  3. Skimling pays teachers to review students’ papers
  4. Use video to redefine time spent in the classroom
  5. Video tutorials from Khan Academy to appear in digital textbooks