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American Annals of the Deaf

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Service Learning in Interpreter Education: Strategies for Extending Student Involvement in the Deaf Community
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Collaboration

Deaf-Blind communities have a very real need for SSPs/interpreters for leisure activities and events such as camps or excursions, and their involvement is essential to the collaborative process. With the UALR program, the Deaf-Blind community is involved in a variety of ways because it views the service-learning requirement as an opportunity to increase the availability of qualified SSPs. Arkansas Deaf-Blind Community (ADBC) members observe the new students every year and take great pride in providing tips and advice. Oftentimes ADBC members may have only one SSP for a social event. At camps, the presence of service-learning students means increased personnel, and the students most often are paired with experienced SSPs. During and after events, faculty members solicit comments and feedback from community members regarding the quality of service they received from the students.

Initially, the UALR program transported students from Arkansas to Louisiana to provide SSP/interpreting services at a retreat for Deaf-Blind adults sponsored by the Louisiana Career Development Center for the Deaf and Deafblind (LCDC). Program faculty members initiated contact with LCDC and discussed the appropriateness and limitations of student involvement with the retreat. Students completed SSP application forms, which included information about current skill and comfort levels interpreting in different modes. Faculty mentors met with and worked closely with the event’s SSP coordinator to ensure the needs of each Deaf-Blind individual would be met. Subsequently, the Arkansas Deaf-Blind Community members began participating in Louisiana’s retreat and now travel with the UALR students and faculty. When ADBC started hosting biennial camps in Arkansas, the faculty members managed the SSP assignments and coordination, again pairing students with experienced SSPs/interpreters from the community who were donating their services to the camp.

Student Resistance

Although the students are often nervous about engaging in the project, we have not had anyone refuse. When issues of personal space arise or personality conflicts or underdeveloped skills become an issue before or during the service-learning activity, the faculty members adjust the assignments to ensure the student and the camper both have a positive experience. Such adjustments may include a change from working with tactile interpreting to restricted visual field or reassignment to a camper with a personality that better fits the student’s. At UALR, failure to complete service-learning activities does not result in course failure; however, due to the grading structure, a student cannot achieve an “A” in the course without successful completion of the service-learning requirement.

This course is situated ideally between the first and the last interpreting courses. Students, though nervous, are often eager to put their skills to work and see how they do. Faculty observation, feedback, and support during class-simulation activities assures them that they will receive the same level of support during their service-learning project. Program faculty have learned over the years that students need to be reminded they are not going to be forced to sink or swim. The faculty mentors will be their guides, telling them what they are doing well and suggesting how they can do better. Initial feedback while engaging in service learning helps build confidence, as students initially need affirmation and increased confidence. A group debriefing session is held at the end of each camp day, and there is a marked difference in how the students view themselves and the task before them on Thursdays as compared to Sundays.

Impact Measurement

A variety of measurements are used at UALR to determine the impact of service learning on the students and the community members:

    1. Students complete a survey no later than two weeks after the completion of their project.
    2. The content of the reflective journals is evaluated for evidence that students are making the connection between what they learn and do in the classroom and what they are doing in their real-world experiences.
    3. Faculty members meet with Deaf-Blind community members whose perceptions and experiences are shared with the students.
    4. During “Meet the Students” socials, Deaf-Blind community members are very candid in their advice and tips for students. Discussions such as these give the faculty insight into the effectiveness of classroom instruction and indicate where more emphasis is needed in instruction and classroom practice. This is something that has evolved over the 12 years we have been including service learning.
    5. The first day of class discussions provides enlightening preterm data. Students hear about service learning from upper-level students long before they take the class. The final exam includes reflective writing on comparing the first day of class thoughts and expectations with those at the end of the semester.
    6. Faculty have developed long-standing, collaborative relationships with the external organizations. Faculty supervisors meet with the director of Deaf-Blind retreats to discuss the students’ effectiveness.


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