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DeSIGN: Guided Practice for Sign Language

Children learn and practice their vocabulary through interaction with parents and friends as well as through formal instruction at school. However, for deaf children, sign language is the main method of communication. Despite the importance of strong vocabulary skills for understanding text, effective verbal communication and integration into society, the average deaf student graduates from American high schools with a fourth grade reading level. This can be partially attributed to the fact that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who are rarely fluent in sign language.
This limits the opportunity for students to learn and practice vocabulary and sign language communication. Our work focuses on the use of technology to create educational tools that aim to help students with hearing disabilities develop their vocabulary and communication skills in a fun and interactive manner. 
DeSIGN is an educational software application for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, which provides guided communication practice using sign language. The DeSIGN tutor aims to increase the reading level of students by reinforcing the mapping between vocabulary and signs through lessons, tests and games. The DeSIGN tutor utilizes a knowledge-tracing algorithm to adapt its tests to the learning level of the students. 
In addition, the tutor has an interactive game which provides teachers with a customizable tool for motivating students to practice the relation between the vocabulary of the language they are using and the corresponding sign language. The game has three levels: the first level tests the association of words and phrases to signs; the second level tests the association of signs with definitions; and the third level tests the association of definitions with words and phrases.
The DeSIGN tutor has been field tested at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in the United States. Through the Assistive Educational Technology project (NPRP 30-6-7-91), the DeSIGN tutor is available with an English and Arabic interface and is compatible with Windows and Macintosh platforms. 
Work is ongoing for the field-testing of DeSIGN at the Educational Hearing Girls School (EHGS) in Qatar with students at primary school level. The Arabic interface has gone through various iterations that adapted the language based on feedback from EHGS. DeSIGN will be ready for field-testing this fall. Plans are underway for evaluating the applicability of this software to aide in the instruction of Arabic sign language and vocabulary, the cultural relevance of the games and the long-term effect on student motivation. 

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