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10/07/2017

Think back to when you were a child, learning to read. The strange squiggles on the page came alive when you learned that each represented a familiar sound. When you sounded out each letter, familiar words were formed. When you put the words together, there were sentences.

Now imagine trying to go through that same learning process without being able to hear. Letters cannot be brought to life with sound. They remain squiggles on a page.

Sound plays a critical role in how hearing children learn to read or write. Deaf children cannot learn in the same way.

Within the Centre for Community Technologies (CCT), several postgraduate students are working under the supervision of Centre Director Prof Darelle van Greunen, to develop tech-based programmes to assist the disabled.

“The most impactful one is a programme curriculum using sign language for the deaf,” says Van Greunen. “We received permission from the Gauteng education department for the project to be piloted at a school for the deaf in Pretoria. If it is successful, we are hoping it will be expanded to become a fully-integrated curriculum, and will enlist the assistance of Cyprus University [recognised for its pioneering tech-based work, to support the disabled] to work with us.”

Focusing on the unique learning needs of hearing-impaired learners, the master’s student, Ulza Wasserman, has developed a blended learning approach [a combination of traditional and tech-based teaching], available on a PC. She makes use of PowerPoint with a programme tool called Scratch, along with videos for sign language. 

The purpose of the PowerPoint lessons is to assist the teachers in preparing lessons that include the use of technology in their everyday teaching.  In addition, the PowerPoint slides are used to build a lexicon of vocabulary that is shown in sign language as well as text on the screen.  This assists the learner to recognise words and sounds through association, using South African sign language, pictures and colours.

 “Ulza spent many hours at the school observing how the teachers teach and how you should present content … She also had a tremendous number of focused interviews with the teachers,” said Van Greunen.

“When it comes to teaching hearing-impaired learners, it’s not just a question of taking normal content and signing it … And this project is more than just using technology to teach. There is a whole pedagogy [way of teaching] that accompanies it.”

Another of Van Greunen’s students, Dr Alexis Yeratziotis, who is based in Cyprus but is a research associate at NMMU, developed a sign language app with his brother, which is available on the Play Store and is being used by 30 000 people.

“This app translates text into sign language spelling … The visio-spatial ability of people with hearing impairment is far better than their ability with words and text.

“We’re not just churning out apps – there is a strong theoretical research base to all this. We have to understand the context and the needs.”

Technology to manage drug-resistant TB

A Tuberculosis (TB) mapper app – which enables clinics to pinpoint TB hotspots, and help prevent the onset of drug-resistant TB – has been developed by the CCT.

The app - which allows clinicians to record, in the form of dots plotted on a map of the city, the areas where their TB patients live – is being user-tested at different public healthcare facilities, prior to its inclusion in the App Store.

“The app will enable clinicians to see where TB hot spots are. If patients don’t reappear to collect their medicine from clinics, clinicians will know which areas to focus on, to try to prevent the onset of multiple drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB).

“Ultimately, what we are hoping to do is to see how we can use the app for other communicable diseases, such as HIV.”

For more about the CCT’s other projects in health and other areas, see http://cct.nmmu.ac.za

Contact information
Professor Darelle Van Greunen
Director: Centre for Community Technologies
Tel: 27 41 504 2090
Darelle.vanGreunen@mandela.ac.za