Group AR as a training tool for students and a community service

By Clint McLean

In January 2020, after a five-year hiatus, Erin Beasley returned to Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Florida to teach in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology. But before she started, Nannette Nicholson, a professor teaching aural rehabilitation (AR) in the school’s Doctor of Audiology program, reached out with a question: would Beasley be interested in co-developing an AR group as a collaboration between their programs?

Beasley was on board. They both had experience with AR groups and were eager to join forces for the new project. It would be an on-site group, facilitated by students, which Nicholson and Beasley would supervise.

The Ida Institute’s Group AR resource with seven pre-planned sessions was their guide for structuring the sessions and by February 2020, the group, Hearing Loss Strategies for Success, was ready for its debut. Then COVID-19 happened.

We spoke to Beasley and Nicholson about launching the group and some of the hurdles they and the students have faced.

So, what was your reaction when the pandemic shut down in-person meetings?

Nicholson: Well, we just had to change to an online Zoom group, which has really been a blessing. I mean, it's wonderful, because we can offer it to anybody. We’ve had people from all over the United States, we've had people from England, from Iran and Iraq, from Brazil… And we really like it, we would never go back to on-site aural rehab therapy. 

I’m surprised to hear you say that. Why not?

Nicholson: Convenience for one thing. People don't have to drive and fight for parking. And if they have mobility issues, it's accessible to them. We’ve also been able to interact with so many people from all over the world who have benefited from it. The other thing is, with people with hearing loss, it's so much easier on Zoom. Especially because in person, you'd have to be wearing masks. But on Zoom, everybody’s face is fully visible and it's much easier for people with hearing loss to understand.

What is the basic structure of the course?

Nicholson: We started with the seven sessions from the Ida Institute Group AR resource. It has evolved over time and what we do now are three 20-minute segments. So, we do 20 minutes of a topic, 20 minutes of specific hearing loss strategies, and then 20 minutes of speech reading practice, which the participants really like.

We have three audiology students and three speech-language pathology students each semester, who work together to plan the groups and sessions. And then we allow plenty of time for discussion for people to talk about feelings or their experiences, or the strategies that they find helpful. 

Beasley: No two semesters are the same. We basically follow the participants’ lead and our students are flexible and learn about new topics and new ways to facilitate. I think one of the things we do a lot is self-reflection. We are teaching our students to self-reflect. And after each session, we say, okay, so what worked? What didn't work? Let's move on and improve from here. It's very dynamic. And as much as we want it structured, it does take on a life of its own as well.

Nicholson: But we really like the seven-session structure because by the end of the seven sessions, it's time to take a break. And it works well with our semester because we have two weeks of planning before the seven sessions. And then we have two weeks of discussion afterwards. 

Any trouble finding students interested in facilitating the group?

Beasley: For my program, it is for credit and it falls under their externship or their clinical rotations. And because of COVID, we've had a difficult time finding face-to-face placements for our students. So, it’s great to have something like this available to them so we don’t have to use the simulations that we've previously relied on. 

I have so many students reaching out to me every semester saying they want to be in the group that my clinic director has to figure out who gets placed. It's highly sought after in my program.

Nicholson: In my program, it can count as clinic hours or service-learning hours. And I haven't had any trouble recruiting students to participate. 

There must be challenges in facilitating a group where people are not always looking for or struggling with the same things.

Beasley: Well, for example, right now, we have a woman who's really looking to get some individual technical support, and it's coming through in the session. However, that's not really what we provide. So, we are looking into finding her that support. But we need to make sure that what's happening is appropriate for the whole group, and not just for that individual participant.

Do your groups include communication partners?

Nicholson: We do have a few communication partners that join our groups. People with hearing loss learn a lot from the people who don't have a hearing loss. The other thing that we do is open it up to healthcare providers. We've had some from audiology practices in California, Colorado, and Arkansas, who may be interested in forming their own aural rehab groups for their practice. So, we invite them to join our group and learn what we do. 

Any advice to someone considering starting a group AR course?

Beasley: I would say, a big strength that Nannette brought to the table was recruitment. Without the recruitment of the clients, you don't have a group. So initially, really plan out how you are going to get those clients.

Nicholson: Another thing we did that was Erin's idea was to make a Facebook group of the same name as the group and invite all our participants from each semester to join that group. So now, in the Facebook group, we have 100 people and the students post items each week that are related either to the topics that we're talking about, or related information in some way to help people who have hearing loss.

Want to participate in Nova Southeastern University’s Group AR program? Register here.

To learn about our Group AR tool and see if it’s right for you, click here.