How to Integrate Hearing Assistive Technology in the Classroom
The sounds of desks and chairs on the move combined with conversations between classmates and other background noises can make it extremely difficult for a student with hearing loss to hear the teacher. A child can miss a lot of what the teacher is saying if the teacher does not use proper communication techniques, such as looking at the child when speaking and speaking clearly. However, new technologies exist that, when integrated appropriately, can improve a student’s learning experience at school.
Building the Right Team Improves Student Performance
A first step for student success is to build a team of qualified professionals who understand all the necessary components for receiving auditory information, which is the ability to perceive sounds by detecting vibrations in the ear.
Educational audiologists are key members of the multidisciplinary team who provide hearing services in a school setting. Educational audiologists are not only trained to diagnose and treat hearing problems but also to understand how to integrate Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) in a learning environment.
For example, a student who wears hearing aids may need to access different programming options on his or her technology in various learning environments. An educational audiologist can also determine that a better signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) is needed to learn in the classroom by assessing the environment and by analyzing how the student participates in class.
Communication and Collaboration Are Key
Collaboration is key when integrating HAT for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the classroom. School officials, teachers, and a team of professionals, such as educational and clinical audiologists, should work together in order to maximize benefits for students.
Communication is also vital among school officials and medical professionals. For example, educational and clinical audiologists work to ensure appropriate programming for hearing aids and cochlear implants that allows access to frequency modulated (FM) or digitally modulated (DM) hearing assistive technology, ensuring acoustic access for the student inside and outside the classroom. This type of collaboration allows for proper communication between the teacher, child, and his or her classmates by allowing sound (auditory information) to get to the child’s processing centers of the brain.
“Academic and social information needs to be accessible to the child with hearing loss, and that accessibility requires using many different technologies in various educational settings, “ said Carrie Spangler, an educational audiologist at the Summit Educational Service Center. “Becoming familiar and confident in handling technology helps students to maximize the auditory environment, such as listening to a lecture, viewing a video with captioning and direct audio streaming, shoulder to shoulder peer interactions, small group instruction, gym, recess, and other elective classes. It is also critical that students develop strong self-advocacy and technology skills.”
Create a “Listening Map”
A student’s sound environment changes every school year and as they age. This environment becomes more complex as children navigate their educational settings. Audiologists Dr. Carol Flexer and Carrie Spangler recommend creating a “Listening Map,” which helps the student’s educational team match learning needs to technology access in the classroom. These “maps” help a student navigate acoustic barriers as he or she goes from one setting to the next.
“The classroom is a dynamic environment that creates a myriad of acoustical changes throughout the day,” said Dr. Carol Flexer, a certified audiologist and listening and spoken language specialist, auditory-verbal therapist through the AG Bell Academy. “We think about hearing as a sense that occurs completely in ‘the ear.’ However, the ear is the pathway for auditory information, such as hearing teachers’ voices, to travel from the environment to the child’s brain where deciphering and attaching meaning to those voices occurs. It is now recognized that hearing occurs in the brain, and that hearing is the ‘brain’s perception of auditory information.’”
New Technology Tools in the Classroom
Cochlear implants and hearing aids revolutionized how kids with hearing loss learn in today’s school systems. In fact, more children who are deaf or hard of hearing are attending mainstream schools than ever before. However, ambient noise, reverberation, and distance from the desired sound source can affect how a student hears. For these reasons alone, it is important that the right technology and tools are in place and implemented correctly to ensure academic success.
Classroom Audio Distribution Systems (CADS) and Soundfield Systems
Similar to high fidelity PA systems, these sound systems, through one or more strategically positioned loudspeakers, amplify the speech of the person wearing the microphone for everyone present in the learning space and give an added boost to those who use cochlear implants and hearing aids.
Personal Frequency Modulation (FM) and Digital Modulation (DM) Systems
FM and DM Systems are wireless personal listening devices that include a remote microphone placed near the desired sound source (usually the speaker’s mouth but could also be a TV, computer, or other audio device) and a receiver for the listener that is designed to fit in the student’s hearing aid, cochlear implant, or headphones. These systems are engineered to combat the negative effects of ambient noise by bringing the speaker’s voice directly into the student’s ear. The placement of the remote microphone system allows for sound to be picked up close to the talker or the sound source, which provides improved speech clarity and reduces the negative effect of ambient noise.
Hearing Loop (or Induction Loop) Systems
Hearing or Induction Loop systems use electromagnetic energy to transmit sound. These devices are composed of:
- A sound source, such as a TV or a microphone
- An amplifier
- A thin loop of wire installed in a classroom
- A receiver worn in the ears or as a headset
Due to the use of a wireless remote microphone placed close to the desired sound source, these systems reduce the negative effects of background noise and allow the teacher to move about the classroom freely.
Alerting devices include alarms and technology with flashing lights and loud sounds to alert students in an emergency. These devices are particularly important in classrooms when fast action is necessary in an emergency situation, such as a fire or active shooter. They can also connect to a doorbell or telephone for improved notification.
Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) and Captioning
CART, which is similar to captioning, transcribes and translates spoken words into text in real-time. The captions are projected onto a large screen for all to see and can also be displayed in internet browsers on a computer or mobile device. Using CART and captioning also makes classrooms compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Combining CART and captioning with other hearing assistive technologies will further improve the student’s learning experience.
Amplified, Text and Adaptive Telephones (TTY)
Amplified and TTY telephones allow students to access phone calls not only through speech but also through text. These specially designed telephones transcribe the speech being said, which is then sent as a text message to the recipient’s phone.
Technology is ever-changing, and a student’s multidisciplinary school team who keeps up-to-date on the latest technology, policies, laws and regulations, as well as best practices for implementation, will ensure that each student with hearing loss is set up for success throughout the school year.