Video Conferencing Connects Kent State to Students in Rural School Districts
In an office nestled inside Kent State University’s Nixson Hall, you can hear the voice of a third grade student coming from a computer screen.
“Beach ball,” says the voice from Greenfield Exempted Village Schools in Greenfield, Ohio.
Soon after, in the screen directly below, Kent State graduate student Lauren Ledzianowski responds with, “Yes, beach ball! Very good.”
To stumble upon the conversation, you might think the two were playing a video game. But, it is actually a speech-language therapy session happening more than 330 miles apart from one another.
It is part of a program called the School-Based Speech-Language Telepractice Project. Through video conferencing, it connects 130 students across Ohio to speech-language pathologists and their graduate students from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services.
For Ledzianowski, it is a passion to help the children, the way therapists once helped her.
“I was in a car accident when I was 14 [years old],” Ledzianowski said. “I kind of grew up with medical professionals, and it was working on the communication aspect of telling people what I needed since physically I couldn’t do it myself.”
The School-Based Speech-Language Telepractice Project started back in 2007 through the Ohio Department of Education as a response to a significant shortage of speech-language pathologists in the state. The hope was to help school districts struggling to provide the necessary services.
“Often, speech pathology positions go unfilled,” said Sue Grogan-Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor and telepractice project director in Kent State’s Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology.
“Particularly in rural schools, there’s not the incentive for young professionals to relocate and live in an area to provide needed services.”
Besides providing therapy, the School-Based Speech-Language Telepractice Project also is conducting research. Initial results suggest that school-age children make similar progress in therapy provided through videoconferencing as they do with in-person therapy.
“They’re so focused, and kids are so used to working with technology that they love it,” Ledzianowski said. “They really like working on things, working on the games and having the visual support to work on therapy. It’s like they’re sitting next to me.”
The hope is to one day introduce and study telepresence robots that can move around within the schools.
“What we are finding is that, because we are physically not present, we don’t always have the collaboration with the faculty, so the robot could actually travel to their rooms and we could speak with them because they could see us face-to-face,” Grogan-Johnson said.
As technology advances, so does the project and its techniques based on research findings, giving Kent State graduates an advantage when they enter the workforce.
As Ledzianowski goes through the program, she is drawing from her past to prepare for the future.
“This is what I want to do,” Ledzianowski said as she smiled from ear to ear. “Being friends with my therapists in an out-patient setting and getting to talk with professionals when I was younger, it just kind of clicked.”