ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — College professors teaching specialty courses have had a tough time shifting to a new learning model in the face of COVID-19.

What You Need To Know

  • Deaf professor dealing with the difficulty of teaching sign language virtually

  • Bill Cooper teaches about 230 sign language students at UCF

  • An interpreter helps him teach his virtual classes

But one University of Central Florida professor had some extra hurdles to jump through,

“I didn’t know how to be able to communicate with my students directly," signed American Sign Language professor Bill Cooper. "It was pretty frustrating, very frustrating."

Cooper not only teaches ASL, he lives by it because he is deaf.

For this interview, he was joined by interpreter Christina Trout, and one of his students, Abbie Brown.

“It’s definitely been difficult," said Brown. "So much of ASL is facial expressions, being able to see someone in person, not just on a tiny little box on a zoom call."

Cooper teaches seven different sign language classes, ASL levels 1-4, with about 230 students.

Now, he’s teaching online, with an interpreter, and any resource he can think of to make the new format easier.

It came with a lot of troubleshooting.

“Suppose a student had a problem with their computer, internet, or whatever," Cooper said. "I’ll have the zoom call recording so you don’t have to miss anything. So after class is finished you can save the class, and find the portion that was missed.”

Plus, he’s added breakout groups, so students can split up and sign with only a handful of others on the call to practice.

Cooper says it took months to get the hang of it, but now he’s got a system he’ll hang on to.

“The students feel like they’re able to sign," Cooper said. "Of course it has taken some time and training to practice. But the more training, the better things will get. But I am confident that they will be able to progress and keep going and become successful.”

Brown says even though virtual learning for ASL is new to her, she feels like she’s still getting a great learning experience.

 “It was really amazing to be able to take sign language with professor Cooper because he’s deaf," she said. "A deaf person teaching sign language is really important and really vital in truly capturing the essence of sign language.” ​

Cooper said that the deaf community in Central Florida is larger than most people think and there is a need for more sign language interpreters, especially now during the pandemic.​