NEWSLETTER: VOL III, # 2, September 14, 1998
Scott Bradley, Ph.D
Department of Communicative Disorders: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Occupational Hearing Conservation
I have taught occupational hearing conservation for students in Safety Studies over the past five years. I find this course challenging since course content is constantly modified due to changes in rules and regulations at the state and federal level. Also, the content is fairly eclectic since we discuss hearing anatomy and pathologies, effects of noise on hearing, how to make noise measurements, how to conduct hearing tests, federal and state regulations, Wisconsin workers compensation, and local ordinances dealing with community noise. It soon became apparent that there was only one textbook that could be used for the class, and even then it did not address certain issues covered in class, and often did not teach concepts in depth. I never considered trying to write my own text but instead examined different ways that I could customize materials for the course.
Besides the classroom and text, I used three methods of delivering information. One was through dedicated web pages which I had specifically developed for the class. A second was organizing other web pages which linked to other peoples sites. Finally, I developed dedicated multimedia materials.
The most important web page for the course was the Occupational Hearing Conservation Home Page (http://facstaff.uww.edu/bradleys/ohc/home.html). The purpose of the page was to help students navigate to various sites important for the class. These sites included an interactive course syllabus with assigned journal and text readings and embedded links that pointed to relevant sites. I attempted to provide in-depth study guides in the area of audiometry. Not only did it summarize important ideas presented in class, but it included embedded links. I also had links to on-line articles dealing with noise and hearing conservation, links to OSHA and other government regulations for which the students are responsible, and professional organizations. By providing basic course material via the web it allowed me to spend more time on discussions and hands-on activities in the classroom. Student feedback was extremely positive in this area and I will expand this section in the future.
Finally, I had links which allowed students to download interactive multimedia programs which I developed over the past 10 years. I have a background in multimedia development and have been using HyperCard since the 1980s. At the time it was the only authoring program available but it allowed me to develop many interactive multimedia programs such as a program that animated sound propagation, another which calculated the percent hearing handicap, a database tracking workers hearing over time, and an interactive audiometer which allowed me to program different hearing losses.
While feedback on these Hypercard stacks was generally positive the reality was that most safety study students were PC users and were unable to use the programs at home. Clearly a cross-platform solution was necessary. One possible solution was the world wide web. It was cross-platform and could be easily accessed from campus or through campus computer labs. While I have used the web extensively in the class it was poor substitute for interactive multimedia programs which were much faster and flexible. I considered developing web pages using Macromedias Shockwave but decided against it since users would have to have the necessary web plug-ins for their computer. Even then, interactivity over the web was still slower than a dedicated program.
Last winter, I began "teaching" myself Macromedia Director. Macromedia Director is a powerful authoring program, but unfortunately has a steep learning curve. Presently I have developed a cross-platform program using Director and Sound Edit 16 which simulates several hearing losses including noise induced hearing losses. I am now in the process of expanding it to include additional hearing losses and to simulate speech as heard through different types of amplification devices such as hearing aids and FM auditory trainers. While the final version was not completed in time for this article the original hearing loss simulation program may be downloaded from the internet. The PC version is found at ftp://road.uww.edu/bradleys/hlsample.exe while the Mac version may be downloaded at ftp://road.uww.edu/bradleys/hlsampler.hqx. Modem users should be patient when downloading these programs since they are between 8 and 9 megabytes. I also made several CD-ROMs for students who did not have an internet connection but still wanted to install the program on their personal computer.
While most of the article has been a description of the use of computer technology for this class, the question which has yet to be answered is to what extent does this technology improve the students ability to learn? This is a difficult question since I have used technology for so many years that no good baseline data exists. However, a study which was completed about a year ago in another course which is now being prepared for publication, found that students performed equally well on examinations when supplementary class material was presented in an interactive computer format or in print format. However, when asked for their preference students overwhelmingly preferred a combination of both print and computer based interactive programs.
As with most classes the course in occupational hearing conservation is in a constant state of transition. I am constantly trying new technologies and pedagogical methods, and will continue to try new methods and probe to see if they improve perceived and actual performance.