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Coursework & resources

The course is self-paced; however, it is designed to take you four weeks to complete at a rate of one module per week. 

Each module is made up of about ten sections. Each section includes lectures, tutorials with text, graphics, video demonstrations, and a few homework exercises. These exercises will give you hands-on practice to reinforce concepts presented in the lectures and tutorials. 

In most sections, there is also a quiz with multiple choice and true-false questions that cover the lecture content of the section in which it appears.

Please view the full syllabus for the course here.


Grading and certificates of completion

Your performance in the course will be based on homework exercises and quizzes. Please note that your first answer submissions/attempts count toward your grade.

The answers you submit for both homework and quizzes will be automatically checked, allowing you to see whether your responses are correct immediately after submitting them.  To maximize your learning, we encourage you to click the "Check Answers" box in the lower right of the question to reveal the correct answers to questions you marked incorrectly. 

Certificates of completion (Verified Certificates) are available through edX. If you would like a Verified Certificate for taking this course and completing it with a passing grade, please see these instructions from edX.

Required material

Throughout the course, you will have to use the online Historical Sign Language Database (HSLDB) for direct access to historical sign language documents. This is a required resource for the course, and is available for public use at no charge by the Sign Language Research Lab at Georgetown University with grant support from the National Science Foundation.

The Historical Sign Language Database contains content from various sign language dictionaries published in the early twentieth century, and 14 films commissioned by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), filmed from 1910 through the 1920s. The dictionaries include a list of concepts and descriptions of signs, sometimes accompanied by pictures. The films include a variety of rhetorical styles and topics.  There is an explanation of the discovery of chloroform, a narrative which paints a picturesque scene of the setting of Lorna Doone in England, a rendition of the Gettysburg Address, and a performance of the song Yankee Doodle.

The original copies of the NAD films are stored in the archives of Gallaudet University and in the Library of Congress. In 1997, Sign Media, Inc. produced a videocassette VHS copy of the NAD films.  These sign language books and films are now available in the public domain and are accessible online at

This searchable database provides a complete transcript of each film, with individual sign tokens listed for easier viewing.  Instructions for using the HSLDB are included in the coursework, but there are also guides for how to navigate, read, and understand the database at the bottom of the home page. The video below offers a quick introduction to how to navigate and access the sign language corpus of the NAD historical films.

Supplementary material

We recommend Sign Language Archaeology: Understanding the historical roots of American Sign Language by Ted Supalla and Patricia Clark (2014) as supplementary reading after completion of this course. The book may be of particular interest for those who desire further study of the historical linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of ASL. It is not required reading for the course.

Alternate text for screenreaders

Publisher: Gallaudet University Press

Click for further information in the publisher website

Note: This website provides access to the table of contents and excerpts from the book

The course integrates much information from the book along with materials Professor Supalla has developed for upper-level undergraduate courses such as The Brain and Language and the Structure of ASL for the departments of Cognitive Science, Linguistics and ASL at various universities.

We look forward to teaching and working with you!