During a recent webinar, a panel of experts answered school district leaders’ questions about online speech therapy such as the research behind it, its actual effectiveness and the practical issues of implementation . Their answers are based on real world experience, published research and the ongoing development of best practices in this emerging field.
For our second install of our 3-part series, we have our panel of experts discussing the technology requirements for online speech therapy as well as proper environmental standards to conduct high quality decisions. We have decided to spread out this Q&A in three parts to allow readers to fully engage in these responses by sharing this content with their peers and asking us here at PresenceLearning some additional questions as well. This is continuation of Part 1 where our panel of experts provided insight of the effectiveness of online speech therapy.
The panel of experts included:
• Melissa Jakubowitz, M.A.,CCC-SLP, BRS-CL VP of SLP Clinical Services, PresenceLearning
• Dr. Shari Robertson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Professor of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Graduate Studies and Research, Indiana University of PA
• Dr. Lynda Donahue, Ed.D. Special Education Director for Vacaville Unified School District (retired June 2012).
• Erika Bare, Special Education Project Specialist, Medford School District, Oregon.
Q4. What are the basic technology requirements for online speech therapy?
A. Melissa Jakubowitz: The technology must be good enough to provide quality that is similar to face-to-face services. There are a variety of off-the-shelf tools that can be used for online speech therapy. Each has its own requirements for Internet upload and download speeds to deliver good quality video. Skype, Adobe Connect, Go to Meeting and other off-the-shelf solutions can work for delivering online speech therapy sessions using Mac or PC computers, a web browser like Chrome, a high-speed Internet connection, a USB webcam and a good quality USB headset with a microphone. Some solutions use a large screen monitor. PresenceLearning uses web-based software that runs in a standard Internet browser window and combines the live audio and video feeds of the SLP and student with an interactive area for therapeutic activities.
Q5. What are the space planning considerations for delivering speech therapy online?
A. Melissa Jakubowitz: The area used for the online sessions needs to ensure the comfort, safety and privacy of clients, just as for an in-person session. The location of the room is important, as is lighting (for example, the webcam should not be aimed at a student sitting directly in front of a window in the bright sun). Reducing noise and distractions helps sessions go smoothly as many students are distracted by things in the room behind the SLP, and by noise inside or outside the room. You need to consider all of this as you are setting up a room for an online speech therapy session.
Q6. How does online speech therapy fit with a school district’s speech program?
A. Erika Bare: At Medford School District, we chose to use a hybrid model, supplementing our on site speech therapists with several online therapists. Online speech therapy doesn’t replace the need for traditional SLP services — it just gave us more options and flexibility. Our online therapists do full case management for their assigned students; this was important for our on site SLPs and they have seen a real benefit from this. Of course, the kids liked it immediately and the novelty never wore off. Lots of communication was needed with staff, parents, and principals. Parents who have students in private schools receiving speech-language therapy services from our district were concerned at first but now they are absolutely thrilled at how well online speech therapy works for their kids both therapeutically and logistically.
A. Melissa Jakubowitz: Getting buy-in from on-site staff for online speech therapy is a common issue I get asked about. I tell fellow SPED directors that, like any other new approach to instruction, it’s important that you share the research that supports the use of online speech therapy with those involved in the traditional delivery model. And, the IT department needs to be involved in the planning and help with deployment of the technology. IT personnel are part of the solution, as with any online delivery.
A. Linda Donahue: I had some concerns about how to integrate online speech therapy in my district. As a former SLP, I was concerned about not having the face-to-face contact with students. Then I talked with the director of technology who told me about the positive experiences that his daughter had interacting on Skype with relatives in other states. This sparked my interest. I kept the IT department involved and they played an integral role in planning for online speech therapy and for its success. We started at one of our charter schools with high-functioning students who were dealing with autism. The online sessions helped them achieve progress on their IEP. Then we decided to install online stations in the resource room at one of our other schools. The resource teacher worked closely with the online SLP to set things up. We also set up a station in a classroom where the teacher and an on-site paraprofessional worked closely with the online SLP. We continued to use on-site SLPs for assessments.