An authentic ASL curriculum that’s 100% digital
In today’s evolving global landscape, there continue to be new methods and opportunities to learn ASL – both inside the classroom and out. TRUE+WAY ASL (TWA) sets the gold standard of teaching authentic ASL that keeps pace with rapidly changing needs of students and teachers.
TWA offers a 100% digital experience instead of providing ASL teachers with an inflexible curriculum that becomes stagnant with its print materials. This positions TWA to become more responsive to student and teacher feedback and as well as encouraging greater autonomy among teachers and students.
Most existing ASL curricula offer high production values, with large investments made in studios and crew to produce expensive video content. The TWA team found this approach to be artificial, and research validates this thinking. Studies show a correlation between greater production values and lower student engagement. (Sources: The Conversation and Association for Computer Machinery) With this in mind, TWA opted to film all kinds of deaf people signing in their natural form, even if some perceive the signing to appear casual or unclear.
“We want real. Because that’s who the students are going to be meeting outside the classroom– real deaf people,” said Raychelle Harris, one of five TWA authors. The cost-effective production budgets not only improves student outcomes, but it also allows for frequent creation and iteration of relevant content.
Organic growth demands more
TWA was created in 2011 by three Deaf community college professors – Dr. Nathie L. Marbury, Ritchie Bryant, and Lisa Gelineau – because they couldn’t find an ASL curriculum that delivered what they needed in their own classrooms. They started filming videos in their garages with signers of all ages and backgrounds. Over the next few years TWA was piloted at Austin Community College, before piquing the interest of other ASL teachers and officially becoming available to others in 2017. Demand quickly rose through word of mouth, or rather word of hand.
TWA was experiencing an influx of requests, they realized it was time to hire a company to build a website. They chose CHILMARKeting, a Deaf-owned website development company.
“Being able to channel and route inquiries to the right people was tremendously helpful,” says Harris. “We’re dealing with hundreds of inquiries at the beginning of each semester.”
CHILMARKeting’s ability to keep pace with TWA’s growing needs has to do with the foundation of its web architecture, designed to be iterative in nature.
What’s The Sign?: An online bilingual dictionary
TWA has always included an online bilingual dictionary for its students, an essential component of any foreign language curriculum. But students who are not currently enrolled in an ASL course do not have access to that dictionary. Some had taken a semester off between classes and wanted to brush up on their ASL vocabulary; others wanted to continue learning after passing their classes.
In the spring of 2022 TWA decided to spin out the dictionary to its own product.
TWA needed a landing page to lead the public to their online dictionary, which was heavily reliant on video hosting and playback due to the volume of video included. TWA first worked with a local hearing-owned company to create the landing page. However, Language and cultural misunderstandings left the TWA team members in a situation where they did not feel ready just a day before they were set to launch it at a conference.
“We decided to reach out and ask CHILMARKeting if they could rebuild the What’s the Sign? landing page for us in 24 hours, which was a preposterous request,” Harris explains. “But they did it. It made all the difference to work with a Deaf-owned agency that understood exactly what we needed.”
TWA was able to launch What’s The Sign? as planned and today, anyone can subscribe to search over 10,000 signs (and counting) in the dictionary. What’s The Sign? remains available as part of the TWA curriculum.
Continuing to build off student feedback, TWA has plans to spin out its curriculum in an online self-paced initiative for students looking for more independent learning. TWA is also deeply committed to giving back to Black and Brown Deaf folx, a core value instilled in the TWA team by the late Dr. Nathie L. Marbury.
What’s The Sign?: An online bilingual dictionary
As TWA continues to grow the number of people using their curriculum and offer new products to learn ASL, CHILMARKeting is positioned to support every decision made by TWA. CHILMARKeting’s process is responsive to what each individual situation calls for. It actually is possible to build a quality service like a website in a very short period of time. The key is keeping everyone on the same page and working toward the same goals.
If your organization is spending too much time worrying about its website, or your website does not reflect your goals, perhaps it’s time to consider your approach to development. Like TWA has discovered in the creation of its online videos, a large budget and complex production does not always correlate to greater success. The right approach and strategy however, does.