MEDEA Finalist 2012

MEDEA Awards Finalist 2012

SignMedia is an innovative online learning resource that teaches elements of broadcast media industry-specific English through Sign Language video and interactive tasks, created by the international SignMedia project led by the University of Wolverhampton (UK).

The video narrative and gameplay immerses learners into an alternative reality where learners start to work for the fictional Deaf production company Sunrise Media Productions as the production manager for the soap opera ‘Beautiful Days’.

The showcase video of Signmedia including an interview with Christine Jolly

The learner’s task is to clean up and work with several documents that are based on authentic media production paperwork, such as risk assessments, call sheets, treatments and scripts, thus enabling Deaf users to develop language skills that are directly transferrable to their place of work. There are seven production document scenarios, each including tasks, signed tuition, glossary and supplementary materials. To reinforce the immersive environment each document is related to an episode of ‘Beautiful Days’, and a completed, correct version of the document is released into the employee’s folder when a set of tasks is finished.

In this resource positive Deaf role models are shown in a professional, production office environment using the Sign Languages of England, Austria or Italy. All elements of contextual storytelling, task instructions and general guidance are in Sign Language, with the learning documents in written English. To tackle the challenge of making specialist language items and neologisms accessible, a signed glossary is included with language items that have been selected by Deaf and hearing media industry professionals and that are highly relevant to production processes and paperwork.

The resource has been designed primarily as a vocational tool for Deaf media professionals, but can also benefit Deaf media students and other Sign Language users who wish to develop their written English at an intermediate level or learn media specific signs. Hearing people with a professional or personal interest in sign languages can also benefit from an extensive Sign Language glossary of Media terminology – the first of its kind.

What the judges said about this entry

Screenshot of Signmedia

Screenshot of Signmedia

The judges said the following about Signmedia “This entry tackles an advanced level of vocabulary and grammar in a specific work sector environment and employs well-targeted exercises to achieve this. There is a tight focus at each stage with 'rewards' for successful results. Within an overall structure, students use their discretion to concentrate on the areas in which they need most help, as they are not forced into completing all tasks in a set order. Therefore it is admirably suited for individual learning. The whole concept is very innovative as so far most of the online training tools are not adequate for deaf people who would like to train their English, Austrian or Italian language skills. The course provides a rich set of exercises build around a game setting with a free flow for optimal flexibility. The video and media elements are of excellent quality.”

About the creation of Signmedia

The EU-funded Signmedia project aims to raise the professional and technical knowledge of Deaf participants, challenge stereotypes and raise aspirations with a learning resource that reflects a diverse, creative and professionally successful minority group.

Screenshot of Signmedia

Screenshot of Signmedia

The world of broadcast media offers an increasingly rich source of employment for deaf graduates and professionals across Europe, but the focus on communication through written English still proves to be a barrier for sign language users, for whom Sign Language is their first language (Fleming, 2006). The SignMedia project aims to break down these barriers has pushed boundaries further in e-learning design, bringing video narrative, and an immersive, alternative reality to Deaf online education for the first time. Combined with gameplay this learning environment transports the user away from the traditional classroom environment, where Deaf people were often taught and assessed in a language that is inaccessible, and constantly under-achieving in assessments that are not designed to meet their needs (Hadjikakou & Nikolaraizi, 2006). Our development team used media to place our deaf users in an ‘alternative reality’ - a place where they are motivated, engaged, and where errors become a part of gameplay rather than a reinforcement of personal failure.

It was also particularly important to the team that the user was attributed high status as soon as they entered the resource, which draws the user away from the idea that they are engaged as a ‘mere’ learner who is given knowledge by more educated people.

Screenshot of Signmedia

Screenshot of Signmedia

Choosing an online platform also enabled the SignMedia team to incorporate a variety of media elements such as gameplay, video narrative, and interactive tasks, all framed in an immersive real-world environment. This is a forward-thinking approach that has not previously been used with adult Deaf learners. The use of Sign Language videos and Deaf presenters to teach written English is in itself an innovation. For many years, Deaf people have been taught through the spoken word, but recent developments have seen a rise in sign bilingualism across Europe – a teaching method that promotes Deaf culture and uses sign language as a method of delivery (Gregory & Pickersgill, 1998). Despite progress made by projects such as SignOn and SignOnOne, these innovative developments in educational philosophy are still widely under-represented online. (Hilzensauer et al, 2007).

For Sign Language users who wish to break into the media industry print dictionaries and specialist language items and neologisms present an obvious disadvantage, especially as many of their interpreters also lack access to this specialist language. SignMedia addresses this need with the inclusion of a signed glossary with language items that have been selected by Deaf and hearing media industry professionals and that are highly relevant to production processes and paperwork.

Screenshot of Signmedia

Screenshot of Signmedia

The SignMedia project recognises the immense potential of combining the shared visual modalities of e-learning, media and Sign Language. The result is a product that uses contemporary media developments to reflect the vibrancy, creativity and professional aspirations of the deaf community. This learning resource was primarily designed for informal learning outside of the classroom, or in the workplace, and a hearing Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) piloted the materials during one to one English tutorials with Deaf media professionals. Since the launch of SignMedia in May 2012, we have been approached by several Deaf college tutors who wish to use the tool as part of their English tuition programme.

In 2012 the Film and TV festival ‘Deaffest UK’ was attended by over 800 people and has showcased films by Deaf filmmakers from Spain, France, UK, The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. It is hardly surprising that the visually expressive world of media has attracted so many Deaf people across Europe, and we hope this learning resource continues to raise aspirations and break down barriers.

The SignMedia project is a collaboration between the University of Wolverhampton (UK), the University of Klagenfurt - inc. ZGH Deaf-Led Production Unit (Austria), the University of Turin (Italy), and the UK Deaf-Led Production Company Mutt & Jeff. Other parties involved in the creation of the learning resource were ALBA Cooperative, an Italian Deaf-Led Production Company, and Bellyfeel, a UK Interactive Design Company.

About Christine Jolly

Christine Jolly

Christine Jolly

Christine Jolly works in the Institute of Media Arts at the University of Wolverhampton. She has been a Senior Lecturer within the Deaf Studies and Interpreting Department for 8 years, teaching language and theory to a diverse range of deaf and hearing adult learners. Christine is experienced in curriculum development, including "Sign-in- School”, a teaching and learning project within West Midlands secondary schools. She has presented papers on aspects of e-learning at various conferences and has designed online British Sign Language materials used interactively by deaf and hearing students.

Before joining the team, Christine was a Drama practitioner touring mainland Europe, organising and performing theatrical productions for schools, prisons and community centres. She has experience in directing productions and running drama workshops for adults and young people. Christine is currently Senior Researcher and Material Developer on the SignMedia Leonardo Development of Innovation project, creating an online learning resource for Deaf media professionals.

Christine talked in further detail about SignMedia during a presentation at the Media & Learning Conference 2012 Brussels and represented this entry at the MEDEA Awards 2012 Ceremony, where she received a MEDEA commemorative medal and a Camtasia & Snagit software bundle.

Project website