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Hooper and Colleagues Develop Technique that Improves Assessment of American Sign Language Students

Article about Simon Hooper's work in developing software for ASL training

by Joe Savrock (February 2009)

Hooper_Simon.JPGThe demand for courses in American Sign Language (ASL) at the postsecondary level has greatly increased over the past ten years. In response to higher demand, a large number of universities now offer ASL as part of their curricula.

Assessing and documenting the performance of ASL learners can be a burdensome task for instructors. Assessment often involves a time-consuming evaluation of video recordings of the students. The duration of the process often delays feedback from the instructors and limits learners’ self-reflection time.

A Penn State researcher and colleagues from the University of Minnesota have developed an innovative software program that streamlines the process of assessing ASL learner comprehension. The technology, known as Avenue ASL, improves the analysis of student-performance videos.

Simon Hooper, Penn State associate professor of instructional systems, worked with University of Minnesota researchers Charles Miller and Susan Rose and Penn State graduate student Michale Montalto-Rook to develop the innovative software package. Avenue ASL is an Internet-based system designed to capture, evaluate, and manage ASL learner performance. The system promises to transform the practice of e-assessing ASL learners.

Avenue ASL offers a distinct advantage over traditional assessment methods. “Instead of waiting for weeks to receive feedback, students can now receive feedback in days, if not hours,” explains Hooper. “That feedback is often ‘signed’ by the instructor, instead of being written in English on note cards, which reinforces the notion of the ‘immersion experience’ in language education.”

Miller, Hooper, and Rose describe the Avenue ASL e-assessment environment in an article published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Learning, Media and Technology (vol. 33, no. 3, 2008). The article recaps a prototype study conducted in 2006, in which Hooper and his colleagues implemented the software package to assess 640 ASL students at the University of Minnesota.

The Avenue ASL accommodates both the students and the instructor in four different layers of the software environment:

Capture layer: In a video recording phase, the student undertakes one of three assessment tasks: story-retell, photo description, or picture naming. In a story retell, the student watches a short ASL video narrative that is signed by an expert ASL actor. The student then signs the story back to a webcam for archival and evaluation.

Evaluation layer: The instructor uses an assessment screen that simultaneously displays three videos: a task-media video, a student-performance video, and an instructor-feedback video. In addition, numerical and textual evaluation data are displayed on screen.

Coordination layer: This course-management and student-management tool features a newly developed Learner Management System (LMS). The LMS allows the instructor of each course to create multiple course sections, and within each section to add multiple students. The LMS effectively sets up an integrated electronic grade book that helps instructors access student performance videos and record assessment data and feedback.

Student portfolio layer: Using a newly designed Progress Visualization Tool (PVT), students can view a record of their ongoing performance. They can check their progress relative to their prior performances; they also can compare their work with the performance of classmates as well as students enrolled in other current and previous ASL sections.

In a follow-up survey, the students reported greater satisfaction with the Avenue ASL package than with traditional videotaping approaches. They felt that the software is more efficient; they stated that they would recommend the software to students of future ASL classrooms.

“Although Avenue ASL was initially designed to improve assessment efficiency, it has evolved into a system that provides students with the opportunity to practice ASL in a way that has not been previously possible,” notes Hooper. “We are finding that use of the system transforms the way ASL is taught.”

Avenue ASL has been gaining attention at universities nationwide. Hooper notes that more than 1 million videos now have been used in student assessments.

Hooper sees a growing demand for Internet-based ASL e-assessments. “Technology allows not simply for tests to be administered and assessed efficiently,” he says. “Considerable power comes from the ability to capture and track data on student performance. These data can be used to make important instructional decisions that impact student progress. Technology allows students to be monitored closely and support to be provided where appropriate to enhance student learning.”