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A Communication and Interaction Toolkit – Training Students to Meet People with Special Communication Needs

The DVINE project produced a toolkit to help teachers to train students studying Health Care and Social Work Services to meet people with special communication needs. This article looks at how the toolkit was evaluated by the target groups.

Communication is at the heart of who we are as human beings. We connect and interact, and we exchange information and ideas, all of which is made possible through communication.

The concept of communication varies between the countries in which the writers of this article live, study and work. This article is a combination of Asian and European cultures of communication, curriculum planning and ways of teaching and studying interaction.

The users of social and health care services are a diverse group in terms of their cultural, linguistic and personal perspectives.

The users of social and health care services are a diverse group in terms of their cultural, linguistic and personal perspectives. The group includes people who communicate in a way that is different from the way social and health care professionals communicate. When receiving care and help, interaction with other people is a basic human right and a prerequisite for mental wellbeing. Everyone should be able to understand communication between the authorities and themselves (Karjalainen & Wallenius-Penttilä, 2020, pp. 5–6).

Methods of collecting information for the toolkit

Material for preparing the toolkit was collected by Ulla Niittyinperä, an author of this article, from DVINE intensive courses that were held in 2019 in Kathmandu Lalitpur Nursing College, Nepal, St Xavier University, India, and Hue University of Science (HUSC), Vietnam.

During the research we interviewed trainee teachers in Vietnam (3 persons) and students in Nepal (5 persons) to get feedback on the toolkit. Our research questions were: a) Is the toolkit useable and suitable in the Nepalese or Vietnamese context? b) What kinds of materials are motivating for students? c) What do students not want to study or know more about? d) What could be done in a different way to develop our curriculum planning?

The toolkit was made during curriculum planning in autumn 2020, and it is available on the internet on the Blogger platform as ‘DVINE Toolkit for Teachers Group 4, 2020’. The idea for the toolkit came from the teachers in Lalitpur Nursing College, Nepal, when they asked for help in preparing materials in that study case. The materials were collected from literature, by libraries, by searching the internet and by following the publications and videos of national associations. The Blogger platform was selected because it is technically available in Finland, Nepal and Vietnam, it is visual and it is free of charge to use.

The toolkit includes literature in English and video materials in English, Vietnamese and Nepalese. Some videos are in Vietnamese Sign language (VSL) and some in Nepal Sign language (NSL). All the materials are available on YouTube or other free video services. The video materials have been evaluated as being suitable for projects, planning and teaching, and they are linked from various original producers.

The main idea of the toolkit is to help the teacher plan study units and classes.

The main idea of the toolkit is to help the teacher plan study units and classes. A teacher is very much needed to guide students and explain the materials. The toolkit is not suitable for self-study; it needs a teacher to use and explain the content to the students. Furthermore, teachers need to select material that is suitable for their own class and country.

The Importance of Communication

The toolkit promotes the meaning and importance of communication. Interaction is so important in social work and health care situations; if it fails, there are severe consequences.

People with communication challenges are at risk of not being heard. We can help them to be heard by supporting various ways of communication and the recognition of their dignity.

Sign languages and different ways of communicating

Sign language is a native language for deaf persons who live in a specific country. Sign languages are different around the world. Many countries have several sign languages.

There are also varieties of sign languages. Tactile sign language involves touching hands when communicating with people with visual impairments and those who are deafblind. Sign languages are not international, but there is a method of communication called international signing. International signing can be used when deaf people from different parts of the world meet.

If a person is not deaf, but has challenges in communicating with typical speech, then there are various ways of communicating. There is a range of reasons for clients’ and patients’ speech disabilities.

If a person does not use typical speech, then they need assistance and communication models and tools to help them communicate. Communication tools and augmentative and alternative communication methods (AAC) help in understanding. Speech is always used with AAC methods. These methods can use objects, photos or symbols to make the meaning of the utterance clearer.

There has been a growing awareness in recent years of the need to provide augmentative and alternative communication for people who have complex communication needs.

There has been a growing awareness in recent years of the need to provide augmentative and alternative communication for people who have complex communication needs. Those with autism, cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome benefit from using AAC that may include the use of manual signs, communication boards and books, high-tech electronic devices and other forms of unaided and aided communication.

Easy language is a spoken or written specific form of language. The term ‘easy language’ (easy-to-read language) refers to a simple form of language used for communication with the following user groups: a) people with intellectual or neurological disabilities; b) immigrants; and c) people with memory disorders. Professionals can study easy language and learn it to at least basic level.

Communication models

Communication models are very important in the conversation situation. A communication model is a person who is more talented in certain communication situations. Professionals in social and health care services are in such a position when they meet people who communicate in other ways than typical speech.

In the DVINE project, three videos were produced as pre-course materials in autumn 2019. They were intended to enhance students’ knowledge about sign languages, communication and AAC. The videos about sign language and communication are short, lasting about 5 minutes. The video about AAC is longer, at 48 minutes. The teacher can employ a flipped learning method when using these videos, by asking the students to watch them before the lessons or by using simulations in the classroom. The videos were made in Finland in 2019 (Hietala 2020, Sign language 2020, Communication 2020, AAC 2020). The teacher can use the Kahoot! game to evaluate whether students have watched the videos: the authors of this article writers have prepared some model questions and guidelines for this purpose.

Results of the interviews

In the interview we asked teachers (3) from Vietnam to evaluate the toolkit regarding its usability and suitability in the Vietnamese context.

Most of those interviewed agreed that all the materials are usable and suitable for teaching in Vietnam.

The results were thematized in three groups:

Figure 1. Results of teachers’ interviews in Vietnam

The main concern was that the toolkit presents language barriers in Vietnam. This is important to take note of. In addition, teachers in Vietnam need translations and sign language experts to help them to develop the toolkit.

The interviewed teachers had suggestions and ideas for developing the toolkit: a) translating some of the materials into Vietnamese; b) designing a sign language handbook for teachers and students; c) the need for careful and specific guidance on using AAC and sign language; d) inviting deaf people to join the process of building the toolkit and inviting them to participate in the course for some hours.

In the interview we asked students (5) from Nepal to evaluate the toolkit regarding its usability and suitability for the Nepalese context. We also asked them to describe the kinds of materials that are motivating for students, what they do not want to study or know about and what could be done in a different way.

The students responded positively to the diverse range of communication and interaction that the toolkit for teachers enables when training students to meet persons who communicate in ways other than typical speech in health care and social work services. However, their main concern was whether the toolkit will be adapted in Nepal or not.

The results were thematized in three groups:

Figure 2. Results of students’ interviews in Nepal

The positive effects were that the toolkit adds a diverse range of communication and the students were optimistic about the use of the toolkit. The students also reported that the visual toolkit motivates students and, in that platform, the content is clearer and easier to deliver.

One positive effect was surprising for the authors of this article: it described attitudes and feelings, and students said that the toolkit delivers content in an empathetic way.

The main concern was adaptation of the toolkit for Nepal. That is important to take note of. Teachers in Nepal need to develop the toolkit to better suit the Nepalese context. Students need also proper guidance and support for studying the content. Experienced lecturers are needed to teach this course.


The situations that students and teachers are in vary a lot between Finland, Nepal and Vietnam. During the DVINE project we have had an opportunity to learn from each other in linguistic and cultural matters, and on subjects that affect interaction between people.

In future we need more discussion about and evaluation of our curricula and teaching methods and materials. This article shows one method which was planned to support teachers when teaching about issues concerning communication and interaction. We will develop the toolkit with more AAC materials and open-access books.

Both countries need trained sign language experts and educated deaf persons to take part in the planning and teaching of courses in communication. The toolkit and simulation as a pedagogical solution might open the way to multidisciplinary cooperation in the future.


AAC. (2020).

Communication. (2020).

DVINE Toolkit for Teachers Group 4. (2020). Study Unit 4 Sign language and AAC.

Hietala, I. (2020). Teaching Materials for Studying Communication and Sign Language – graduation via project participation.

Karjalainen A. & Wallenius-Penttilä K. (2020). Eri tavoin kommunikoivien kohtaaminen sosiaali- ja terveysalan työssä. In: Diak Opetus 5, Diakonia-ammattikorkeakoulu.

Sign language. (2020).

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