What could have been a serious setback for students in the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology program turned into an opportunity for improving the curriculum.
When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted MTSU officials to suspend in-person classes in the middle of the spring 2020 semester, SLPA majors were working with students in the Cannon County School District, with which the department had a 10-year relationship.
“We just made adjustments that we felt went along with what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was suggesting, which was mainly using masks and staying six feet apart, and it worked well,” said Rebecca Fischer, coordinator of the program and a professor of communication disorders.
However, the students who were learning their trade did not perform screening for middle ear disease, which would have involved the insertion of an instrument into the ear.
As the faculty continued to react to changing information coming from the communicable disease experts, they kept the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic in the Alumni Memorial Gym on campus closed until fall. When it reopened, students and staff used clear plastic masks so clients could see lips in motion.
“We staggered families and children coming in so we never had a big group,” Fischer said. “Everybody wore masks. Everybody had their temperature taken. Our students wore masks and also (face) shields.”
Since some of the youngest clients tended to spit and drool, as young children often do, Fischer, her colleagues and the students ran through a large amount of antiseptic wipes, going over the equipment before and after each client used it.
All these protocols were to be expected, and some had been in practice before the pandemic. However, several new developments gave Fischer ideas for revising the fall 2021 classes.
Due to the number of students who must use the same audiometer, Fischer divided her fall 2020 and spring 2021 labs, holding one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. While one lab’s students used the equipment, the other would be working on a different assignment, and vice versa.
“I am now going to be able to use strategies during the regular year that I think will improve my teaching, and that’s one of them,” Fischer said.
Also, in her phonetics classes, Fischer’s students must learn a different universal alphabet in speech language pathology, and it takes a good deal of practice to learn. Classes are divided into thirds with 10 students in each class. However, once a week is not enough class time to go over the alphabet.
So Fischer put a list of 20 words on a sheet of paper with the phonetically correct pronunciations on the back. Fischer then created videos in which she said the words correctly. The videos were available for viewing on digital devices at any time. This enabled students to practice at their own convenience and check their responses.
Fischer said she also will employ a commercial program of videos of clinical sessions that she first used in the spring 2020 semester and in the fall 2021 clinic.
While she admits the future will depend in large part on what happens with the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, Fischer is optimistic for a relatively typical fall 2021 semester.
“I think we’ll be in better shape for this fall than we were last fall because we’ve got a better idea about how this works and what works for students,” Fischer said.
–Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)