featured Teacher March 2015

Shameka Johnson, Ph.D.


How could students practice making real-world decisions about a child's language development from birth through adolescence? How could they monitor the effects of their decisions? Above all, how could they practice without endangering the child? The answers to these questions can be found in two courses taught by Dr. Shameka Johnson, Assistant Professor of Communication Science & Disorders and winner of CETLA's 2014 Teaching with Technology Award.

In her courses Early Intervention and Language Disorders in School-Age Children, Dr. Johnson provided the hands-on practice her students needed by modifying Pearson Education's online simulation tool My Virtual Child. A licensed speech pathologist, she had observed a gap in her students' learning—a gap between what they were learning in the classroom and what they were doing in the field. Johnson explains, "The necessary component many students were leaving out when attempting to connect their class knowledge to their practice was the critical thinking component. Because students are not always afforded the opportunity to practice what they have been learning in the classroom on a client immediately, some of the comprehension and connection they have developed is lost when they reach the practicum site."


Consequently, Dr. Johnson decided to modify Pearson's My Virtual Child—a program designed for developmental psychology courses—to fit a graduate-level course in Communication Sciences & Disorders (see the sample screenshot below). Although Dr. Johnson earned a B.S. in Computer Science, she reports that instructors do not need a computer scientist's skills to tailor the program to their needs. Like her, instructors can easily add and edit questions, scenarios, age start and stop points, announcements, and much more. To adapt the program to her course objectives, she added or edited timed behaviors, scenarios, case studies, and critical thinking questions. During the process, she found herself reanalyzing her own clinical skills and approaches. "Overall," she recalls, "it solidified my hypothesis that the use of technology can increase critical thinking skills of the student and the instructor."

To respond to the critical thinking questions, students were paired into dyads. Pairing them afforded them not only the advantages of collaboration but also the opportunity to split the $30 subscription. As Dr. Johnson noted, the dyads made purchasing the simulation tool "cheaper than purchasing a textbook that provided static case studies to present in class or assignments." For $30, students could access the program via a desktop, laptop, iPad, or smartphone.

As a result of using My Virtual Child, students demonstrated an increased ability to formulate appropriate intervention goals, to apply their classroom knowledge to clinical situations, and to treat and intervene with greater confidence in clinical practicums. According to the students, the dyads also increased their ability to think critically and make decisions. Students reported as well that the program was fun, easy to use, and helpful for applying classroom knowledge to real-life situations. They appreciated receiving feedback on assignments from the instructor via Blackboard and used this feedback to improve their next assignment. Not surprisingly, all of the students recommended incorporating My Virtual Child in other courses in the department, and three departments at other universities are already applying Dr. Johnson's innovative approach.