'Voice academy' Web site, funded by NIDCD grant, helps teachers address voice problems

October 02, 2003

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Teachers increasingly use technology in the classroom but natural tools -- their voices -- still get significant daily use. In fact, teachers are 32 times more likely than people in other professions to have voice disorders.

A Web site recently launched by the University of Iowa Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology in conjunction with the National Center for Voice and Speech will help teachers prevent and treat voice problems. The site, located at http://www.voiceacademy.org/, is a set of virtual classrooms, including a "Science Center," where teachers can learn about voice research, and a "Gymnasium" that provides voice health tips such as how to safely handle a glottal attack (a snap or click heard with words beginning with a vowel).

The site is designed for kindergarten through high school teachers and college instructors, although the information also is relevant for preschool teachers, said Julie Ostrem, program associate in speech pathology and audiology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the project's principal investigator.

"When you look at the occupations of people who seek help at voice centers, teaching is among the highest," Ostrem said. "We wanted to create an accessible online resource because, provided the right information, an estimated 75 percent of teachers with voice problems can initiate solutions on their own."

Some people naturally have a robust larynx, or voice box, that can hold up to a lot of use, Ostrem said. However, other people are prone to voice problems such as hoarseness, increased breathiness, or pain and fatigue when speaking. These difficulties may become so severe that teachers prematurely abandon their careers. Fortunately, behavioral changes can prevent most occupational voice disorders, Ostrem said.

The site's "Teachers' Lounge" describes vocal fatigue and the recommendation that it is better to speak for short periods and take short breaks than to speak for long periods and have long breaks. Teachers are encouraged to structure their days to accommodate talking for 10 minutes then resting for 10 minutes rather than talking for 30 minutes and resting for 30 minutes. The recommendation is based on findings by site contributor Ingo Titze, Ph.D., UI Foundation Distinguished Professor in Speech Pathology and Audiology and the School of Music, and director of the National Center for Voice and Speech.

The site also includes a "Nurse's Office" that explains how and where to seek medical help, when necessary, and a section that school speech-language pathologists can use to educate school teachers about voice health and maintenance.

Another feature at the Web site is a visual comparison of acoustically friendly and unfriendly classrooms. The "friendly" classroom has carpet, acoustic tile ceiling and quiet heating and air-conditioning units. Many teachers, including those at the college-level, need to teach in large rooms without amplification.

"If a classroom can't be improved, a teacher might wear a portable amplification system, which costs around $300," Ostrem said.

"College professors may not have as many speaking hours per week as an elementary school teacher, but sometimes the acoustic conditions in college settings are quite poor," she added.

Teachers who visit the Web site must register with a user name to access all the features. However, they do not have to provide their full names or e-mail addresses to use the site. A testing feature allows Ostrem and colleagues to quiz users before and after they enter the Web site to see how well it teaches teachers about voice.

Ostrem said the team will collect data for two years. The Web site project is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

"The need for vocal health education for teachers is great," Ostrem said. "We're also interested in future projects that will include other people who use their voice rigorously, such as lawyers, counselors, auctioneers and actors."

The National Center for Voice and Speech is a consortium of investigators at the UI and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The center can be visited online at http://www.ncvs.org/.
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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

University of Iowa

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