The Past Becomes Prologue

Bringing history home to Deaf students using technology as an exploration for the future

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By Adrianne Grant and Dr. Katherine Aquino

This time last year, well in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rush to transition the educational environment to a fully remote academic setting, Dr. Katherine Aquino, an assistant professor in the School of Education at St. John’s University, and I engaged in a conversation about the importance of technology for student learning and the development of technology skills for student college and career readiness. Knowing how device use is becoming the norm for nearly every professional setting and occupation, we discussed the urgency for students — including Deaf and hard of hearing students — to acquire necessary skills to support their future and aid in their college and career choices.

The concept took flight as the senior teacher, Virginia McNamara at St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf, Dr. Shawna Bu Shell, and I discussed and developed a program that would integrate technology into subject areas. The process would incorporate virtual tours of museums, personal meetings with curators, and SKYPE visits with students from St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf to various parts of the country. As students may not be able to visit these locations in person, the increased use of technology in the classroom activities allowed them to participate in new environments and communities. Students actively engaged with World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War Veterans. They visited Abraham Lincoln, World War II, and Intrepid Museums from the comfort of the school. Students learned history from persons who lived it, such as 99-year old U.S. Air Force Veteran Art Leach! The students were captivated by Leach who shared a detailed account of his service during the war. The interactive learning opportunities allowed for a new type of academic engagement. As a whole, the events were very rewarding learning experiences. 

Following the success of the “technology-driven history lessons,” I wanted to explore more partnerships to assist in influencing students’ technology use for their future professional needs. Expanding on our initial discussions, I reached out to Katherine, who focuses her research work on the transition into and within the higher education environment for students with disabilities. After several conversations and subsequent grant funding, we began to plan a technology-driven college and career readiness workshop program for middle school students. 

Over the spring 2021 semester, we started to host two workshops to begin a conversation with students on the postsecondary environment and how to use technology in their future. Katherine is actively seeking additional funding so that we can expand workshop opportunities and increase technology access for our students. 

Ideally, we hope to continue the support of the middle school students at St. Joseph’s as they complete high school and prepare for postsecondary opportunities. Over the next few months, we hope to explore updates on the workshops, as well as some initial findings from this development project. 

We are expanding the students’ exposure to the possibilities of future choices as their skill sets are enhanced. Technology provides the catalyst for them as an accessible means to create positive outcomes for our students in their career choices.

Students “tour” World War II Museum via Skype
Students at St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf learn about wartime aircraft during a virtual history lesson

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