March 17, 2016

In today’s videocentric world, it’s easy to get caught up in the importance of the visual aspect of teaching.

By Shaun Fagan

In the classroom, though, the primary channel for learning is something that can’t be seen: listening. Interactive whiteboards and projectors are useful tools, but if you take away the audio—or, more crucially, the ability to understand that audio— you get maybe half the story, probably less.

Imagine watching Star Wars without any sound. Sure you’ll see some cool graphics and special effects, but you’ll miss a great plot, and you’ll certainly never learn the identity of Luke’s father.

In the classroom, listening is the primary access point to learning for students and teachers alike. Students must clearly hear the teacher get the best instruction at the right time. They also need to communicate and share with one another to advance their speaking, listening, and collaboration skills. But there are barriers in the classroom that block these lines of effective communication. Distance, noise, and mild hearing loss can create inequity among students.

Mild hearing loss is holding kids back

In any given elementary classroom, an incredible 30% of children have some form of mild hearing loss1. This can be the result of an ear infection or perhaps a developmental condition that in many cases are temporary. But the real significance is this: If they are left untreated, 70% of kids who suffer from mild hearing loss fall behind and will suffer academic deficiency by sixth grade.

Physics and noise prevent equal access for all students

Kids sitting closest to their teacher may be able to hear the instruction just fine. But with the combined effects of distance and inherent background noise, the further you get from the teacher, the less likely students are to clearly hear and understand what the teacher is saying. Using your “teacher voice” and projecting does not overcome this issue. Being louder does nothing to improve the clarity. (Educational audiologist Daniel Ostergren explains the difference between loudness and clarity here.) That difference has a big impact on learning because….

Young listeners can’t fill in the blanks

To learn new information, children require 90-100% of that information to be carried by the spoken word. Immature listeners don’t have a full database of words to help them understand the context and fill in the blanks when they miss part of what the teacher is saying. While adults can assemble meaning with as little as 50-60% of the information, until their late teens, kids need to hear virtually every sound.

All told, these barriers can isolate students, restricting their ability to access the teacher and one another. If they can’t hear properly, students will disengage and become bored—and ultimately their learning will suffer.

It doesn’t have to be this way

Classroom audio solutions ensure that all students can clearly hear the teacher, regardless of where they are in the classroom. Teachers wear a wireless microphone, and a speaker system distributes clear audio to the whole room. A second microphone can be used for student sharing and presentations to the class. Lightspeed’s all-in-one Topcat or Redcat Access solutions produce crystal clear sound from a single speaker, minimizing or eliminating installation costs.

As collaborative learning strategies have taken hold and students spend more and more time working in independent groups, classroom audio plays a greater role than ever in education. Powered by Access Technology, Lightspeed’s Flexcat builds on the whole room solution allowing teachers to communicate with multiple small groups to listen in and gain insights into the collaborative learning process.

The importance of classroom audio is backed by many studies. Ensuring that every student can hear the teacher properly results in significant reductions in student off-task time, teacher redirections, and even teacher vocal strain and absenteeism. Next-generation classroom audio creates new access to listening and learning like never before.

You can learn more about the latest classroom audio solutions here.

You might also be interested in the following:

1 Smaldino, Joseph J. & Flexer, Carol (2012). Handbook of Acoustic Accessibility. New York, NY: Thieme.


Shaun Fagan

Shaun Fagan

Shaun Fagan's mission at Lightspeed is to continue to find new ways to create access to learning by studying the dynamics of the classroom. His goals include evolving our instructional audio systems to improve the learning environment for both students and teachers. Outside of the office, Shaun enjoys spending time with his family, running and training for marathons, and rooting for the Oregon State Beavers!

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