Virtual auditory practice: Q&A with CID audiologists

by Kathy Holtman, AuD, CCC-A

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators worldwide to completely change their ways of teaching, moving from direct, classroom instruction to virtual teaching. While difficult and less-than-ideal, teachers everywhere are adjusting to ways to instruct reading, math, writing and more through e-learning. Professionals serving children who are deaf and hard of hearing who are learning listening and spoken language skills have an added component to consider: auditory training. Their students need to develop foundational listening skills in order for them to access auditory learning, but how can this best be done virtually? We reached out to our experts, CID audiologists, on this topic. Here is what they had to say:

Should we start each lesson with the LING check as we would in school?

Starting any session with LINGs is a smart idea. However, there are multiple factors that affect audibility in the e-learning environment such as: speaker fidelity, internet bandwidth, distraction, distance from the speaker and noise/reverberation in the listening environment. Due to these factors, doing the LINGs in a virtual session may produce unpredictable or inaccurate outcomes. This is a great time to build caregiver capacity for doing the LINGs at home. Send the CID quick tip video on LINGs, spend a session (or part of one) coaching the caregiver(s) or demonstrate if you can. Empower the caregiver(s). The feedback they provide will lend itself to excellent talking points throughout your sessions.

Can we do auditory training via e-learning?

Auditory training programs are offered widely by device manufacturers and other sources to encourage computer-based learning (visit your student’s device manufacturer’s website to see what they offer).  These e-learning programs are valuable tools, but experts remind us that face to face auditory training is always the best! Rather than auditory training, consider this a great time for auditory practice.

What is auditory practice?

When we engage students in auditory training tasks, we have control over a variety of factors (e.g. background noise, proximity of the student, integrity of the auditory signal). We need to have control over these factors to make the training effective. Working with students remotely takes away our control of these factors, which makes engaging in true auditory training impossible. Auditory practice is a way in which students can still be encouraged to practice their listening skills while in a less than optimal listening environment. It is a way to practice new listening strategies, encourage self-advocacy skills and determine what methods are effective for your student.

Auditory practice can include:

  • Introducing or re-familiarizing strategies for listening and self-advocacy skills.
  • Teaching the student (and caregiver) to find a quiet listening spot. Small rooms with little reverberation are best. This includes carpeted rooms or those with soft furnishings/curtains.
  • Reminding the student to ask for repetitions if needed or use other repair strategies such as repeating what they heard (e.g., “I heard you say …,” “Could you repeat what you said after ‘xxx’”) and asking for specific clarification.
  • Building strategies for supplementing listening with devices, such as streaming via Bluetooth.

Are there elements of the SPICE or SPICE for Life we can use with e-learning? 

The SPICE and SPICE for Life are based on the foundation of optimal access to sound. If a child is doing well following along in the session, providers could use parts of SPICE/SFL as auditory practice. Providers typically have previous knowledge of the student’s present levels. Keep in mind that error patterns, especially unusual ones from the provider’s perspective, may be a product of the e-learning element and should be taken into consideration. Elements of these curricula, however, could be coached and perhaps with the help of a caregiver, practiced in an e-learning environment.

Some skills that can be practiced from these curricula include:

  • listening to a story and answering questions about it
  • engaging in a conversation (practice repair strategies)
  • recalling a set of spoken words (avoid working on plural s/z and past tense d/t as these morphemes are especially difficult to perceive through technology)
  • following directions to draw a picture (e.g., “draw a round face with a two blue eyes.”)

Any summaries or statements about the skill or activity would need to include a caveat that these were observed during e-learning. It is feasible that the provider could encourage the caregiver(s) to find props, pictures and/or supplies in the home (or send via email such as a PowerPoint) that are relevant to the child’s skill level. The provider could then coach the caregiver toward eliciting student practice. The SPICE for Life does include Home Practice pages in the Resource Manual that may be shared with parents.

What are some ways that we can ensure students have optimal access to sound when engaging in e-leaning?

  • Identify what technology is available to the student and if there are options for setting him up with other equipment (e.g.,Bluetooth speaker, streamers, direct connections or a hard-wired speaker to plug into the technology for louder, clearer sound). Contact your audiologist with any sound-related questions.
  • Do a device listening check at the start of the day – either via LINGs or with monitor earphones/stethosets
  • Make sure fresh batteries are in place. Using technology does tend to drain batteries faster than usual.
  • Charge streamers or FM/DM systems nightly.
  • Use dehumidifiers for the devices so that they are working optimally.
  • Maximize the volume on devices as needed for best sound.

Computer-based learning is now a reality for students. Although this may not be ideal for students with hearing loss, it is an opportunity to build their capacity for listening with technology. Teaching them ways that their device(s) can be tiered with technology, focusing on self-advocacy skills and engaging them in real-world listening situations are all skills that will be beneficial, even when typical classroom learning resumes.

Kathy Holtman

Kathy Holtman currently serves as a pediatric audiologist at CID-Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri.

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