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Helping Deaf Action Deliver Higher Level British Sign Language Courses

Deaf Action (DA) is a charity dedicated to improving the quality and conditions of life for deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as building links and bridges between the deaf and hearing communities in Scotland. DA also teaches British Sign Language (BSL) and since the start of the pandemic, has delivered an online BSL teaching programme and offered online meeting interpreting services.

The Open University’s (OU’s) Knowledge Transfer Voucher (KTV) scheme enabled the DA and the OU to identify gaps in BSL provision and teacher training and co-organise an on-line BSL curriculum. This allowed the DA to extend its reach beyond Scotland, enhancing its financial sustainability, as well as enhancing the teaching and digital literacy skills of its BSL teaching staff.

Working with an organisation that has such standing and reach is a great opportunity. We want to work with the OU to keep pushing so we have a BA Degree in BSL that everybody can gain, including deaf people. I think this will be a big step forward for BSL as it will enable people with this Degree to move on to become BSL teachers, Sign language linguistics experts or BSL/English interpreters.

Mark McQueen
BSL course author

Deaf Action’s Needs

Despite its position as a key provider of BSL teaching, DA lacked appropriate digital infrastructure and expertise in delivering substantive BSL learning and teaching online. In addition, although DA already taught BSL levels 1 to 3 it did not have the capacity to develop and teach higher level courses. DA drew on the expertise of OU experts to develop innovative on-line teaching to help deliver BSL learning and teaching on-line. New target audiences in the four UK nations were also needed and collaborating with the OU facilitated this.

The Solution

This project enabled the OU and DA to run two on-line focus groups, one with profoundly deaf BSL tutors, and one with deaf community members from across the UK. These explored the needs of deaf people and gaps in provision, specifically with a focus on language learning, public services and education. DA recruited the focus group participants through its networks and provided BSL interpreters who co-facilitated the online meetings. A consultant recruited by the OU undertook multi-modal transcription of the focus groups and is producing a report summarising key recommendations for policy makers. With the support of DA, the OU recruited two profoundly deaf BSL tutors who are writing a BSL level 4 course. DA will market this to their learners creating a new study pathway to higher level BSL proficiency.

This KTV project is of high strategic importance internally and externally. It has opened many new doors for the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics’ work in this area. The fruitful collaboration with Deaf Action enables us to develop BSL curriculum that is community-grounded and directly addresses the needs of people in the deaf community.

Dr Sylvia Warnecke
Faculty of Wellbeing Education and Language Studies

Results and Benefits

The collaboration resulted in the creation of a novel level 4 BSL curriculum, informed and produced by and with the deaf community that is delivered flexibly online. Through the OU, DA’s offering will reach larger audiences and allow learners to reach higher levels of proficiency. The partnership establishes a study pathway where DA students continue their journey in the OU context. In addition, the development of higher-level curriculum delivered through flexible online learning enables more learners to access BSL tutor and interpreter training as a career pathway. The KTV project helped OU academics gain invaluable insights into the multiple challenges faced by the deaf community in Scotland and to develop close links with DA, supporting an ongoing research project on BSL teacher development.