button-download-workshop-filesStrand: Strategies for Equitable Learning Environments
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Session VI: 9:45 – 11:00 AM


Throughout the day, students gain critical information from informal interactions both inside and outside of the classroom. These interactions rely on spoken language to which deaf students do not have access. These informal interactions result in what researchers call “incidental learning.” We will discuss a study comparing incidental learning for deaf students compared to their hearing peers, identify the barriers they face to incidental learning, and the strategies to overcome those barriers.


HOPPER_Mindy 2017Mindy Hopper, Ph.D.

Faculty, Department of Liberal Studies
National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology

Biography: Dr. Mindy J. Hopper is now entering her 35th year of teaching. She earned her Masters in Education at the Illinois State University and Doctor of Philosophy in Education at the University of Rochester.  Dr. Hopper’s pedagogy is based on access to language and students’ motivation to participate in a community of scaffolding events.  A professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, she asserts that Deaf students have been positioned as relegated bystanders due to spoken language privileges and embedded institutional ideologies. Professor Hopper reminds her colleagues that incidental learning, in addition to formal and informal learning, is a vast and critical component of daily learning. Finally, she argues that schools are accountable for ensuring that their environments be conducive to deaf students’ access to incidental learning opportunities.

Denise Kavin, Ed.D.

Co-principal investigator

Biography: Denise Kavin is a Co-PI for DeafTEC at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. DeafTEC is a National Center of Excellence funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition, Denise has been teaching at RIT/NTID for over seven years. As an instructional faculty member in the NTID Department of Liberal Studies, Denise teaches a variety of developmental English courses to deaf students in associate-level programs. Finally, she serves as the Special Assistant to the President of NTID for Strategic Decisions 2020.


Both speakers are deaf, and Dr. Hopper conducted her dissertation on incidental learning. The term “incidental learning” is widely used by Deaf Academics. Their deaf epistemologies inform and elicit a common concern. There is a growing trend among deaf students attending schools with hearing peers, and it is typical to find only one deaf student in a class, often isolated even when receiving access services such as sign language interpreting and notetaking. Research has indicated that deaf adults or college students do not realize how much learning through incidental learning they have missed until later in life, often after completing school, including college.

The key is access to incidental information. The research question for the dissertation was posed as “What do deaf students say about the informal interactions that happen at their schools?” This phenomenological study involved middle-school-aged deaf students who attended school with their hearing peers. This qualitative inquiry interpretive study involved a triangulation of seven data sources. Utilizing a constructivist grounded theory analytical approach enabled a discovery of pertinent themes, relationships, and a theory.

Poignant pieces of data from each theme will be shared. The findings asserted that the deaf students have been positioned as relegated bystanders, thus limiting their access to incidental learning and scaffolding opportunities. Moreover, the deaf students in the study argued that they did not have equal access and prefer to have immediate access in order to have a sense of membership with their hearing friends when they convene and engage in discourses. The overall and main theme was that the deaf students have been savvy navigators. It was confirmed that the deaf students transcended the covert challenges through their patterns of resilience and navigation. The Access-Participation Theory explains how the deaf students were positioned as relegated bystanders. The theory calls for a simple principle: The more increased and immediate access one has to incidental information, the more choices that person has for participation. Deaf students have been excluded from participating and learning from informal interactions, crucial dimensions of school learning–the informal curriculum.

It is often that schools overlook the benefits of informal curricula, and it is proven that school environments are often not conducive for deaf students’ access to incidental learning opportunities. Because deaf students are denied access to the wealth of incidental information and scaffolding opportunities because the spoken language is privileged and not accessible, are our educational systems accountable for this dilemma?

Because implications of accessing incidental learning opportunities will be highlighted, some strategies or ideas will be suggested for educators, vocational rehabilitation, mental health providers, and school personnel to consider and attempt in order to support deaf students’ access to such emergent surrounding interactions.

Learning Objectives

o Participants will learn and identify the difference between formal, informal, and incidental learning.
o Participants will learn how incidental learning is defined.
o Participants will be able to identify the barriers to incidental learning for Deaf/HH individuals
o Participants will learn about strategies to open up incidental learning opportunities for individuals who are Deaf/HH


People who work with individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals would benefit from this presentation. It is not enough to simply provide access services (e.g., sign language interpreting, real-time captioning, and/or notetaking) in formal settings (e.g., the classroom) to ensure that members of the above identified groups have access to the material that is being shared. Much information is obtained through incidental learning–informal conversations that take place outside of the classroom or other formal settings.