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Since the new school year is starting, it’s a great time to talk about new technology for the classroom. I just LOVE the beginning of school…in Massachusetts the air gets crisp, the leaves turn vibrant colors, all the kids seem to have a new pair of shoes, pencil boxes are filled with newly sharpened and decorated pencils…..and really, September can be the best time to make a fresh start.

Unfortunately, the first day of school also seems to stir up all those crazy butterflies in your stomach – for both students and teachers. If you’re a teacher with a student who has hearing loss, and it’s your first time trying to use HAT systems (Hearing Assistive Technology), those butterflies can threaten to turn to dragons and make you want to give up. But, don’t give up….KEEP READING….I’m going to try to explain how awesome the technology can really be. You’ll be a savvy hearing tech user in no time.

FM: Frequency Modulation

DM: Digital Modulation

RM: Remote Microphone

H.A.T.: Hearing Assistive Technology

Many students with hearing loss use a traditional ear-level FM device along with a Soundfield system. Yes – using the two technologies together. Students have been doing this for years, but the technology has gotten even better in the past couple of years. For the article you are reading now…I am going to first talk about what an ear-level FM device is and what Soundfield systems are. Then I’ll talk about how magical they are together.

Exhibit A The FM System

  1. A hearing aid with an FM receiver (some FM receivers are just built into the battery door)

  2. A Cochlear implant with the FM receiver

  3. The FM transmitter that the teacher, parent or interventionist wears

When the child with hearing loss uses an FM system in school, s/he is given direct access to the teachers voice, no matter how noisy the classroom or where the teacher is located.

The FM essentially combats three things.

  1. The normal reverberation (echo effects) in classroom

  2. The distance the teacher might be from the student (teachers are typically about 12 feet from their students and often walk around the room.

  3. The extraneous noise in the classroom environment (HVAC systems, flourescent lights, other students talking, tapping or fidgeting, etc).

Exhibit B The Soundfield System.

A Soundfield system is a speaker that is strategically placed in the classroom and projects the voice of the teacher to all the students. The soundfield is not only a benefit to the student with the hearing loss, but any student in the class that struggles with maintaining attention. It could look like a tall, skinny tower speaker. It could look like several speakers. Or it could be a system that is built into the ceiling. These are all soundfield systems. The soundfield essentially combats three things:

  1. The distance the teacher might be from the students

  2. The volume of the teacher’s voice (even the most soft spoken teacher will be heard by every student)

  3. Hoarseness, sore throat, vocal abuse of the teachers voice. Teachers don’t need to yell to be heard in the classroom.

All pretty great, right? Unfortunately, no technology is perfect. In my opinion, the biggest problem I’ve faced in using these systems is USER ERROR. Let me explain….

In a typical classroom, a teacher delivers lessons to the general classroom, and then might switch to delivering individual instruction to students as they complete individual work. They might walk around the room to each student and comment on their work or help them solve a problem. This is all very normal.

But – when a teacher is wearing an FM, he or she must remember to press the mute button when they are giving individual instruction to other students. Can you imagine what it might sound like to the student with a hearing loss if you forget to press mute? In essence, the student with the hearing loss is hearing all the conversation, side bars, and instruction intended for another student to hear. Try completing a writing assignment or a complicated math problem with another voice in your ear, talking about something you are not supposed to be paying attention to. Not only is the student’s work being compromised, but they are learning to “tune-out” the teachers voice. We don’t want our students to learn to tune out! What to do?

Exhibit C The Dynamic Soundfield System

Phonak makes an FM/Soundfield combination called the Dynamic Soundfield system. The Dynamic Soundfield fully integrates with the Phonak FM for a seamless delivery of sound to the student with hearing loss. So – you are using both together!

Having the two together usually eliminates the issues with teachers forgetting to mute the FM when talking to other students. Why? Because the teacher can hear his/her own voice being projected out of the Soundfield. If the teacher can hear her own voice, she will quickly realize the most optimal way to utilize the technology throughout the day.

Also – the FM systems are usually programmed to have a 1:1 ratio of teacher’s voice to sounds in the environment. In my opinion, utilizing a soundfield system can improve the sound of the environment (if the technology is up to date and delivering a clear signal).

How to make the most of all the fancy equipment..

You can plug the FM into almost anything with an Audio output. If students are going to be listening to a program on the computer, or an ipad, etc, you can just plug the FM into the Audio output. The following video shows how simple it is.

If the classroom teacher is using the Smartboard for instruction, you can plug the Soundfield tower right into the Audio output on the Smartboard. This little video shows you how easy it is.

The best way to learn how to handle all this technology is to actually do it yourself. It will be trial and error, but you WILL figure it out and the student with hearing loss will love you for it (even if they never tell you). 🙂

Best of luck to all the incredible teachers out there that are making a fresh start this year and using the FM and/or Soundfield systems!


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