Students studying American Sign Language at Brainerd High School and Central Lakes College are learning the language in a whole new way, thanks to a pilot program at both the schools.
SignAll, a Hungary-based business, developed an artificial intelligence system designed to help educate students and improve business relations. Because ASL teachers at CLC and the high school are members of the ASL Honor Society, the schools get to be part of a pilot program to test out the new technology.
BHS is the first high school in the nation to receive the equipment, while CLC is the fourth college in the U.S.
It’s new artificial intelligence, which allows ASL students to use this as a tool to make sure they’re signing things correctly, to make sure their finger spelling is accurate and their hand shapes perhaps are accurate as well,” said CLC ASL instructor Tanya Hoting Mrazek Thursday, Jan. 30, as students in one of her classes demonstrated the system.
While wearing special gloves, students sign into a camera, which picks up their hand movements and determines if the word they attempted to sign is correct.
“The artificial intelligence actually calibrates their specific body and their movements to their account, so then every time they sign in, their account pops up with their specific calibration, and then the system is able to read the gloves,” Hoting Mrazek said.
Different exercises on the machine give students a variety of words to sign. If they are correct, a star will pop up. If they’re incorrect, a video will play showing the correct sign, and the students will have to do it again until they get it right.
“I like that it gives you instant feedback,” CLC student Lindsey Juers said. “So you don’t have to have another person that knows ASL to practice.”
Teachers receive feedback as well, letting them know how their students are doing. Both Hoting Mrazek and BHS ASL teacher Jody Converse said this feature is useful for them.
“So if a majority of the class is struggling with a specific sign, then I can improve my teaching by going back and reteaching those sections,” Converse said during an ASL 2 class Friday, Jan. 31. “So it’s been wonderful technology to have.”
It helps a lot for Converse’s larger classes, too.
“With the classes as large as I have in here, sometimes it’s hard to catch every little thing that the students are doing. So they can go in the SignAll lab and independently study and improve their signing skills,” she said.
And with limited classroom time, students are able to use the equipment on their own time outside of class to get even more practice in if they want.
For Emily Smith-Lundberg, the technology is groundbreaking. Smith-Lundberg is an ASL mentor at CLC who helps out in Hoting Mrazek’s classes. As a deaf person herself, she’s able to give hearing kids experiences with native signers.
“Artificial intelligence is not something that will replace a teacher in a classroom, of course, or replace interaction with deaf and hard of hearing people, but it’s a wonderful tool to use to improve their sign skills,” she said, noting the system uses native ASL signers as their sign models.
“SignAll was created in collaboration with hearing and deaf people, so they are producing language models from native ASL users,” Smith-Lundberg added. “So many times when these things are developed, they are not developed with deaf people in mind, and this was developed in collaboration, in conjunction with the deaf community.”
BHS student Aden Crabb appreciates that collaboration as well.
“I think it’s very innovative, as far as the difference between two cultures, the hearing and non-hearing,” Crabb said. “This would easily break the threshold between them because this, it teaches you signs, but you don’t need anyone else. You can just do this.”
As part of the pilot program, Hoting Mrazek and Converse get to make suggestions and send their feedback to SignAll.
“This company has been amazing to work with,” Hoting Mrazek said. “SignAll is very innovative, and it’s very receptive to the needs of the folks that are using their equipment. So they’ve been really great about making changes and improving their system, and they do updates all the time.”
Both teachers are excited to be testing out the SignAll technology and said it has significantly impacted their classrooms.