“How can I get my clients to be as engaged virtually as they were in person?” That is a question that continues to be occupying the thoughts of many online professional groups since clinicians were thrust into online speech therapy last spring.
“Is there a way to make online speech therapy as effective as in-person?”
One idea that is gaining traction among many of these therapists is to integrate green screen techniques into sessions. And there are those amongst them who are finding this rather simple solution to be transformative.
In the most technical terms, green screen, blue screen, chroma key, chroma key compositing all refer to the same idea. Regardless of what name you give it, it’s essentially a technique that integrates virtual backgrounds and special effects into an online therapy session or a video.
A virtual background allows therapists to use an image of their choice as the background in a video conferencing session. The image can be a location – think beach scene, forest, or outer space. Or it could be some kind of texture like a brick wall or water.
But it doesn’t need a place at all. The therapist can also use an image of what is the focus of the session, such as an animal, a series of items, or a visual for narrative structure.
Setting up your green screen “studio” is actually quite easy. Just hang a large green cloth on your wall as you conduct the session and add your desired background through the computer.
The way a green screen works is that your computer can be programmed to remove one of the colors in the background that is registering via your camera, in this case, the color green.
Once the green is removed, your background (and anything else that is green) is essentially eliminated, allowing you to fill in the background virtually. It’s imperative that you have a green screen or a single color behind you, as your computer tries to replace everything that isn’t “you” with the image.
Substituting a virtual background for the real one transforms an online speech therapy session into something that is similar to an interactive educational children’s show. Every SLP knows that children engage more when treatment targets are integrated into a fun session that incorporates that child’s unique interests.
SLPs who have instituted green screens in their sessions are seeing noticeable benefits with this mode of service delivery. These benefits include more engagement, greater language gains, and that students are excited about the sessions because they are stimulating and fun. And the SLPs are enjoying the sessions more as the door to their creativity has been opened wide.
For example, a therapist working with a student who adores marine life, on articulation goals, decided to do a session from “under the ocean,” with sea creatures swimming. This way the client practiced correct speech sound productions of /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/, /j/ when the following items “swam by” in the session: squid, sea urchin, porpoise, sailboat, zebrafish, sharks, ship, waves, jellyfish, and more.
For another student who’s fascinated by pirates, the clinician pursued language goals via a treasure hunt that took the client and therapist to different locations based on clues. The student was so engrossed in the treasure hunt that she didn’t even realize how much practice she was getting from the therapist’s ingenious embedding of target vocabulary, grammar structures, and directional words into that hunt.
Having Some Fun
Sometimes the green screen technique becomes a catalyst for slp teletherapists to explode with creativity and create some real fun. One clinician reported that she pretended that she had a “magic mirror” to transport her all over the world. But unfortunately, it kept malfunctioning and sent her to the opposite type of destination that she requested!
The student was overjoyed to see his SLP, dressed for a day at the beach, “inadvertently” get transported to the top of a ski slope with her tropical fish puppet. What the child assumed to be a mistake became a golden opportunity to work on a variety of speech and/or language goals. For example, the student working on fluency talked about the therapist’s predicament with an agitated fish puppet while practicing her stuttering modification strategies.
Many SLPs have said that, after setting up their therapy space to use virtual backgrounds, they just couldn’t stop! Having a green screen changed slp teletherapy for them. And they realized that, even when COVID is over, those virtual backgrounds were here to stay, and would become incorporated into their therapy from now on!
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