The Impact of Instructional Audio on Modern Classrooms: An Interview with Dr. Stephanie Meyer

instructional audio
June 24, 2024

Host Shari Eberts sits down with Dr. Stephanie Meyer, who brings 28 years of audiology expertise, with 27 of those years devoted to educational audiology. Dr. Meyer discusses how instructional audio technology is reshaping modern classrooms, ensuring equitable access to the auditory curriculum for all students.

She shares practical strategies for overcoming adoption barriers and offers her vision for the future of audiology in education. Dr. Meyer discusses the benefits of various audio technologies, including direct systems that connect to students’ hearing aids and surround sound systems that enhance classroom audio for everyone.

She highlights the positive impact these technologies have on student engagement and learning outcomes, and discusses the challenges faced by students, teachers, and districts in adopting these systems.

Full Episode Transcript

Welcome to This Week in Hearing. I’m Shari Eberts, co author of Hear & Beyond Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, and I’ll be your host for this episode. Today’s guest, doctor, Stephanie Meyer, has 28 years of experience as an audiologist, and 27 of them are dedicated to educational audiology. Her current role at Rio Rancho Public Schools underscores her commitment to improving accessibility and engagement in the classroom through instructional audio technology. So thank you, Stephanie, for being here today. I really appreciate it. No, thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here. Excellent. Well, first things first, if you could, please, please explain what you mean by educational audiology. It is this tiny niche of the audiology world. My main goal is to make sure the educational curriculum is accessible to students with any degree of hearing loss. And so that varies from going into classrooms and just talking to teachers about classroom accommodations. Sometimes it involves providing those, like instructional audio. Sometimes it involves directional audio in a personal system for a student. And lots of IEPs, lots of meetings, lots of teacher trainings, lots of talking with students about wearing equipment, accepting equipment and what are legally their rights to expect from teachers as they grow up, we want to be able to make sure that they know that they have educational rights as a student with a disability or with the hearing loss, and can expect those teachers to meet them, and if not, I’m there to support them. That’s terrific. It sounds like a very important part of audiology, actually. Can you talk a little bit about how your journey brought you to educational audiology? It does sound like a very niche kind of thing. How did you find your way there? I did an externship when I was in graduate school, and it was with Albuquerque public schools. And I just, I fell in love with it. I had done some sign language, and so they put me with the Deaf and hard of hearing kids, and I was like, these are just my people. I mean, kids are my people in general. I just, and I just love kids so much. And I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They didn’t have any openings at the time, and so I took another job and kind of waited. And as soon as the job came open, I just jumped, because it’s so rewarding. It’s really magnificent to be able to see these kids grow for their twelve years in school, 13 years in school, and watch them go. Through the phases of acceptance, rejecting, maybe acceptance again and trying to support them through all of that. It’s just really rewarding. It sounds very rewarding. So maybe talk a little bit about instructional audio technology. So you were mentioning a couple of things, but you can provide some examples for people who might not be as familiar with the term or what the different types of systems are, right. So the system, if, if a student has a hearing loss, really the best system is the direct system, that the teacher wears a microphone and his or her voice goes directly to the students hearing aids. The problem with that system is the student has to be compliant with wearing their hearing aids. That’s not always the case. The second issue is teachers don’t have the ability. It’s not as easy to check and make sure the system is working. It is the best system if it’s working and if the student will wear their hearing aids. That aside, the instructional audio is my next go-to, which is a speaker. In the classroom, the teacher wears her microphones. Here’s her microphone. And it projects to basically be surround sound in the classroom. It’s not as much amplification as it is surround sound. And Just love. I just. It’s, it’s great. It’s it works really well. Teachers can hear if it’s not working. No student is singled out and feels like they are. They know it’s for them and they feel it anyway, but at least they’re not singled out. I always instruct teachers to say it’s for their own voice or for the behavior in the classroom or other things. Never to say, oh, it’s for the student. And do you think that, does it matter where you’re sitting in the classroom then, in terms of where the speakers are placed? Like, is it surround sound in that it’s equally the sound is equal in any spot in the classroom, or does the student still need to sit somewhere special? Pretty much it’s equal distribution, which is what I love. So the student doesn’t have to sit in the very front or something like that which again, singles them out and makes them look like they have a special need which the older kids don’t want. And so it really is, they can kind of sit anywhere. I don’t like them to sit in the back corner for obvious reasons. They need to be able to see better also. But in terms of hearing, it really does encompass the whole classroom. So Stephanie, in your work at the schools, at Rio Rancho public schools, can you talk about how you’ve seen this technology impact the student experiences in the classroom? Definitely. So I want to back up a little and say I was at Albuquerque public schools for 25 years, and they did not invest in these systems. So when I showed up at Rio Rancho Public schools, they had invested in the systems. Many of the schools are outfitted for the majority of classrooms to have amplification systems, if not all of them. And they are actively working to provide a system for every single classroom. And so that was such a blessing for me as an audiologist to be able to see. And so I know that the systems are in there. If they’re not working, I can provide a portable one. But these students will tell me, yeah, this teacher doesn’t use it for this class, and I need it for this class. And then I send an email to the teacher and check in with the student. A couple weeks later, if it’s still not happening, then we have a conversation. I show up in their classroom between passing periods, and we have a conversation. And the students just, you know, they don’t want to admit that they like it because it kind of singles the, they think it singles them out, but they do. They tell me, they say, yeah, it makes a difference. It really makes a difference. And I think of adults going to conferences, and if someone’s at the front of a big room and says, can you all hear me? Okay, I’m not going to use this microphone. All of us, after 15-20 minutes, if we’re sitting in the back, we lose interest. Too much work. They are no longer projecting at the level they thought they were projecting at. We start getting out our phones. Things like that happen. And to expect students to go through a day where their brains are still growing and learning and developing, and then we’re trying to give them new information, like brand new information, and teach them stuff and skills to build on. To not have that system in every single classroom, even if you have normal hearing, I think it should be required. Well I agree with you as a person with hearing loss. I mean, that would be incredible. I noticed my hearing loss for the first time when I was in business school. And having a system like that would have made things so much easier. And I think about all the meetings I go to, having a system like that, right? So much easier. Even when I do sit at the front and I’m, you know, lip reading furiously, and I have my speech to text app out on the phone, you know, it takes a lot of listening effort. And your point is very well taken. For students who are, you know, teenagers or even younger, how can we expect them to, you know, be so much better at coping with that listening fatigue than we all are? It’s not fair to them. So it really does sound like a terrific system. And I love assistive technologies of all types, but a lot of times they’re met with resistance. I don’t know if you faced that in your work. And if so, what are some practical strategies that you’ve used to overcome adoption barriers in your different districts? Well, in terms of personal amplification, where it goes into the children’s hearing aids, certainly the biggest barrier is the students not wearing their own devices. And that, you know, they generally accept their devices in elementary school. And then you have to look at the student. Is this student a good reporter? Can I trust them to say to the teacher, it’s not working today? Or is the student not able to give that information or tell the teacher they need to mute it? Then I might not look at putting that system on, but you go back to your barriers question. And then students reach middle school and they’re like, I don’t want to wear it. I don’t want to look different. And that’s where that, I don’t want to say fight because it’s certainly not, there’s no fighting involved at all. I am there to support them and I let them know I am not the police. I can’t make you do anything. I have too many students to follow. I’m not going to be here every day following you around. This is for you. And I think they have to kind of almost struggle a little bit through middle school and then decide for themselves, hey, I don’t care if I look a little different. I don’t, you know, this is really something I need or something I want. And then maybe they’ll come back and accept personal amplification in high school and maybe they won’t, but maybe they’ll at least put their hearing aids back on. And the nice thing about the speaker systems work, whether they have their instructional audio works, whether they have their hearing aids or not, it’s beneficial. It’s not as beneficial if they don’t have their hearing aids on, but it’s at least something. And the biggest barriers with instructional audio is generally the classroom teacher. And I don’t quite understand why they are receptive to it because it’s really helpful for their voices. It’s helpful, it helps behave. I’m sorry. It helps control behavior in the classroom. It helps kids who haven’t slept well the night before kind of stay engaged, helps those kids who maybe want to check out. It makes it a little harder for them to check out. But some teachers just really are resistant. And if push comes to shove, I go back to the IEP or the 504 as a legal document, but that’s a last resort. I don’t want to go there. I try and use other ways of talking to the teachers to convince them. Carrot versus sort of a stick approach, basically, yeah. And do you ever get resistance from the district itself? You know, that they. They don’t want the teachers to use this type of system, or it’s really the barriers that you see are more sort of particular to either the student or the teacher. Well, with. Again, with Albuquerque public schools, they just weren’t. Investing in those systems. And so that wasn’t where they were putting their money. And so I don’t know if they didn’t see the benefit. But certainly resistance was met from above there. But Rio Rancho, when I showed up, had already been convinced they were wonderful. And so one, one breaks they try and get it fixed. They’re constantly trying to get new ones. The head of it is on it and sees the benefits. And really, so that has been great. I do not see resistance from Rio Rancho public schools. So I guess it varies a lot from district to district. I also do a lot of charter school work, contracting on the side, and some of my districts, I say, this is needed, and they jump, and other districts are like, ‘oh, that’s too much money’. So it is very dependent. So when you’re kind of making that case, right, what, what are the benefits. That you present to them? Are there specific examples or success stories. That you share, and, you know, do you have any that you could share with, with the audience? I think, you know, I do share success stories, and I talk about students who really have benefited from them and really like them and have told me, yeah, this is really helpful. This is something I need and want, but I really don’t think they can see it until they have tried it out themselves. So, if possible, what I like to do with teachers or admin or something like that is put them in a noisy room, like at Rio Rancho one time to get some middle school teachers to use it, I brought them all to the cafeteria. I didn’t turn the system on, and I talked in my regular voice at the front of the classroom, and they were all like, there’s a system here. We can’t hear you. Can you use it? And I was like, no, I don’t feel like using it today. I feel like I can project loud enough, and I think you guys are going to be fine. I didn’t tell them what I was doing but I just kind of said the things they say to me when they don’t want to wear it. I could see their frustration, and they were teachers, so they were voicing their frustrations, too. And then I turn the system on, and I’m like, is this better? Can you hear me okay? And it’s almost like they need any individual, I think, need to understand someone else’s situation, needs to be put in as close to that same situation as possible. Hearing about someone else’s success is one thing, but really experiencing the difference how you have experienced it is something else, and, I think more powerful, unfortunately. I mean, I feel like it shouldn’t be, but I think it is. Well it sounds like that would definitely be very impactful. And a little sneaky there, too. So good for you. I’ve been doing it long enough, but no, that’s. It’s effective. Whatever works, right? So for educators or audiologists that are listening and they want to implement instructional audio in their districts or maybe their practices, what advice would you give them based on your journey and your experiences? Do it. I just, I think it’s an investment that pays off. They’re robust, they last so long. I am working in one of my districts about 3 hours outside of Albuquerque. So it’s kind of remote. They have some systems that might be older than my audiology years. I mean I’m talking the big white units. So 25 years they’re bigger and, but they’re still working and it blows my mind. I’m like, you guys have had these for a long time and a couple little, you know, things are starting to break down but for the most part they are still working amazingly well. And so that’s a huge, you know, if you think 25 years for something that you maybe have paid $1200 for, that’s amazing. That’s a long time and it fits everybody, it benefits everybody. Again the personal systems, they benefit one person and they’re even sometimes more than that upfront. And then the problem I see with students and personal systems, especially when I work in a lot of remote areas, is the students show up, disappear, show up at another district and that, that device doesn’t go with the student, it belongs to the school district. And so then I try and convince the next school district to buy it and it almost, you know, it’s a lot of money to invest and certainly what is best for the student needs to be done. But, I do like the instructional audio because they’re always there and they’re always working. And so I would say just trust that it’s going to be a good investment and go for it. Well and I love your point that it’s sort of universal design, right? It benefits everyone in addition to benefiting the person who really need that assistance. And sometimes people don’t know they need assistance and they’re able to benefit from that. So that’s great. Get ready. Yeah, great. Awesome. Well thank you so much Stephanie, for being on the podcast today and sharing your experiences. I definitely learned a lot, so thank you for that. No you’re so welcome again, thank you for having me. Yeah, absolutely. And if people want to learn more about educational audiology, they can visit Lightspeed-tek .com and that’s t e k. Thanks so much Stephanie. Have a great day. Good one. Bye.

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About the Panel 

Stephanie Meyer, AuD, has 28 years of experience as an audiologist, 27 of which have been dedicated to educational audiology. Her current role at Rio Rancho Public Schools underscores her commitment to improving accessibility and engagement in the classroom through instructional audio technology. Dr. Meyer is a passionate advocate for students’ auditory needs. 

Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: BlogFacebookLinkedInTwitter.


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