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Give us a sign

A versatile sign language CD is more than a useful tool for students. Linda Blackburne reports

Teachers at one of the smallest colleges in the country have developed a pioneering CD on British sign language. Bede college in Billingham, Cleveland, developed the CD as a revision tool for health and social care students, and as a special project to enhance staff information technology skills.

But the CD, which features video clips of former Bede student Gemma Robinson using sign language, is also a useful tool for parents of children with communication problems, air hostesses on international flights, hospital staff and even primary school children learning the signs for a church hymn.

Bede staff made the CD with the help of pound;1,000 for staff cover from the national "Q" projects scheme.

The scheme, which is run by the Learning Skills and Development Agency (LSDA), is designed to help teachers get to grips with IT for the benefit of learners. It is for small-scale development projects that allow time for staff to develop their ILT skills within their colleges and introduce e-learning techniques into classrooms and beyond.

The "high standard" of the CD has been praised by Carol Baker, northern co-ordinator of "Q" projects, who is based at City of Sunderland college.

She said the pound;1,000 was sufficient money to give staff a small amount of time to develop their skills.

For their part, the Bede innovators would like to develop the CD and use more students to demonstrate the sign language. When the CD was first made, Gemma was the only student brave enough to appear on a video clip.

With only 600 students in an outdated college building in the middle of a suburban housing estate, Bede staff believe students choose their institution for its quality of work rather than its hip appeal.

That may well be the case if the college's busy learning centre is a good indicator. Bede's user-friendly website - www.bede.ac.uk - received 2,500 hits in September, and, by mid-October hits had reached 500. Sales of USB key drives - the modern equivalent of floppy disks - are brisk at pound;10 a drive, and a significant number of students now apply for Bede college places online.

Christine Prudhoe, Bede's vice-principal, says: "The CD has been requested by the Rievaulx centre for day care in Billingham to use with their special needs students. These students are adults with learning difficulties and attend the college two or three days a week. By use of the CD here in the classroom, the learning can be continued and reinforced once students get back to the centre. I think this shows how accessible the CD is to learners across the range of abilities."

The CD is primarily aimed at students revising for a British Sign Language level 1 certificate. It shows the alphabet, and words grouped into themes, such as animals, colours, date and time, food and drink, numbers and people.

Pat Crowe, a teacher at St Cuthbert's Roman Catholic primary school in nearby Hartlepool, believes the CD will support the work one of her classes is doing with their sign language tutor Alison Porritis - pupils are learning sign language for a church hymn.

Mrs Crowe has a personal interest in learning sign language because she has a handicapped grand-daughter, but she also believes it is a useful skill for children with communication problems.

And sign language skills could even come in handy next time you go down the fish 'n chip shop - simply bang your hands on your lap and mime sprinkling salt on your plate and it could get you to the front of the queue.

Anyone interested in the sign language CD can contact Carol Baker on 0191 511 6868 or at carol.baker@citysun.ac.uk

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