WWU Adopts New Learning Community for ASL Students

Students in one of the residence halls at William Woods University are a lot quieter than their counterparts in other halls. That’s because they communicate with sign language.

The American Sign Language Learning Community is a new feature at William Woods this year. The idea is to help students in the American Sign Language/Interpreting program improve their signing abilities.

Rhea Shirley, a freshman from Watson, Ill., said, “I like living in the learning community. It has made learning sign language and reviewing for lessons a lot easier.”

The learning community has a number of different characteristics and is a great resource tool. Students take the same ASL classes and study together. Outside speakers come to their hall to teach them language and culture. The community advisors are ASL majors so they are available to answer questions or provide help with homework or other projects.

Even their lounge is different, with a white board set up for students to work on projects and white board calendar set up where students can write down important events. There’s also deaf art work on the walls. Students can work on their videos and homework without having to go to the ASL lab. This comes in especially handy late at night or on the weekends when the ASL lab is closed.

Bowling Green, Mo., freshman Eric Dunn said, “I love living in the learning community. It allows me to be with other ASL majors that are starting out like I am.” Dunn said he didn’t know any ASL before he came to school this year but living in the learning community has helped him a lot.

There are currently 10 active members of the community, which is located in Swearingen Hall. Students living in the community are mostly freshmen, and have been doing well in their classes. They are interacting with each other and using one another as resources.

Linn, Mo., freshman Justin Beyer said, “I like the ASL learning community, because it puts my ASL friends and I together in the same hall, so if I need any information or help in my classes, I can go down the hall and ask them.”

He added, “I think the learning community is a great idea and I hope they keep it next year so I can be in it again!”

To have learning communities at a smaller, private university like William Woods is unique, but they are more common at larger institutions.

Carolyn Ball, associate professor and director of the ASL/Interpreting program, said, “I think it’s a great idea to have the learning community. I’ve never heard of a bachelor program done like this before.”

Ashley Jeralds, a senior from Maryland Heights, Mo., is head community advisor of Swearingen Hall and coordinator of the learning community. She said many goals have been established for the community, but the most important one is for the ASL/Interpreting students to interact and have a place to get help if needed.

She added, “The students will adapt the community to fit their needs because the members of the community are diverse. I think the current students will take this community and run with it.”


Ashley Jeralds (front left) of Maryland Heights, Mo., signs to Rhea Shirley of Watson, Ill., while Eric Dunn (middle left) of Bowling Green, Mo.; Justin Beyer of Linn, Mo.; Brynn Elliott (back left) of New Castle, Wyo., and Alix Owens of Eureka, Mo., practice signing in the ASL Learning Community at William Woods University.