Increasing Undergraduate Student Interpreters’ Fluency and Accuracy in Interpreting STEM Content

Judy Vesel
Principal Investigator
TERC, Inc.

Need: Supporting the undergraduate education of the next generation of emerging scientists who are deaf or hard of hearing requires increasing the pool of interpreters who can convey STEM content much of which includes fingerspelling of scientific terminology for which there are no signs. The project is important because it addresses this need. To accomplish this, TERC and Lamar University are researching and developing a unique set of teaching and learning materials to improve the sign effectiveness of student interpreters enrolled in Lamar’s four-year undergraduate interpreter training program. The project builds on outcomes of an IUSE Exploration and Design project.

Guiding Questions: The design of the project is based upon a multi-step plan that includes preparing a beta version of a Signing Bioscience Dictionary (SBD); creating summaries of core biology content incorporated into the SBD terms for a unit on heredity and genetics; and producing videos of fingerspelling principles and an explanation of fingerspelling. The plan also includes conducting a formative evaluation. The evaluation incorporates a two-phase design that enables collection of data to answer the following research questions: 1) How do Lamar undergraduate ITP students use the SBD, biology content summaries, and videos? 2) How effective are the materials in increasing Lamar undergraduate ITP students’ capacity to accurately and clearly interpret heredity and genetics terms included in the SBD? 3) What additions and/or changes would make the materials more effective?

Outcomes: Outcomes to date include preparation of the SBD, creation of the content summaries, production of the videos and testing with 15 students. Testing with another 18 is in progress and will be completed at the end of the academic year. Key findings from analysis of the data are as follows: Understanding the linguistic principles of fingerspelling increases students’ signing fluency and ability to smoothly produce scientific terms needed in STEM fields. They also point to the need for a revised version of the signing dictionary developed specifically for use with interpreting students that incorporates use of these linguistic principles.

Broader Impacts: The resources being developed and tested will enable Lamar student interpreters to develop an ASL STEM vocabulary and ability to understand fingerspelling space and the principles where letters are blended through this space in a fluent motion. This will increase readability of scientific terms that are fingerspelled and enable interpreters to more effectively interpret STEM content for all deaf or hard of hearing students. At the project’s end, products will be available free from the TERC Web site. Findings will be presented and published.


M. Diane Clark, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX