Editor's note: AVI Systems staff updated this blog post on Jan. 11, 2021, to provide more insight and clarity into improving audio in the classroom.
Hearing is the primary portal to learning, with up to 75% of a student's day dedicated to listening activities.
Clear audio leads to better educational outcomes for both students and teachers. It can also lessen stress in students, and save teachers from voice fatigue or illness, which accounts for 16% of teacher absenteeism, according to Cyber Acoustics.
And still, there are several factors that can interfere with a student’s ability to listen and hear well, even if that student hasn't been diagnosed with a hearing impairment.
These factors affect how well students can hear:
- Distance between teacher and students
- Classroom acoustical features
- Reverberation of sound
- Classroom size
- Ambient noise
Once only targeted at hearing impaired students, classroom audio solutions are now designed to improve the hearing experience of all students, and they are increasingly seen as critical to successful education outcomes.
According to a long-range study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education known as the Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study (MARRS), improving classroom audio led to a 40% reduction in special education referrals.
"Teachers using amplification report improved student attention, fewer distractions, and less need to repeat instructions," the report said. The improved classroom audio levels also resulted in higher test scores for various subjects.
Given the impact that clear audio can have on educational outcomes, it's imperative that schools and educational facilities take the necessary measures to correct any audio issues students experience inside the physical or virtual classroom.
What are Common Classroom Audio Challenges?
For every audio problem in a classroom—from elementary school to college—there is an audio solution. Here are some of the most common challenges to good classroom audio and the best way to solve them.
Challenge: As a virtual or hybrid teacher, how do I ensure the students at home get the same listening experience as those in the classroom?
Solution: Integrated audio systems. In higher education especially, an instructor or professor could have as many students listening to a lecture at home on their computers as sitting in the classroom or auditorium. Or, as experience during the 2020 pandemic, students transitioned into full-time remote or hybrid school for the entire year, and even longer in some cases.
Regardless of whether a student is at home or in the classroom, they all need the same level of audio quality.
Consider these possible solutions for remote and hybrid classrooms:
- Connect microphones to digital recording systems for clear, intelligible lecture capture.
- Install microphones throughout the room, either on desk or in the ceiling, to capture both teachers' and the students' voices.
- Install high-fidelity audio streaming software applications into the classroom that integrate with common video conferencing tools, like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and others.
Distance learning and hybrid schooling can present several challenges that staff and teachers — and students! — didn't experience before. It's important to communicate as often as possible with students and staff to ensure all needs are met and challenges addressed.
Continued communication, with surveys of the environment, will help optimize the virtual and in-person classroom experience for the long term.
Pro Tip: As teachers increasingly use platforms like Zoom or Teams to deliver courses virtually, consider integrating a polling feature into the class to gauge comprehension and improve engagement. Seek out a polling platform in advance, or use one that's included in the software, and write out three to four polls prior to class. Tell students at the beginning of the class that polling will occur, and then deliver them at scheduled times. Analyze the results at the end of class.
Challenge: There is too much ambient and background noise in the classroom.
Solution: Acoustical room modifications. The best-case scenario is to address acoustical interference when a room is being designed, but that is not always an option.
A lot of ambient noise in classrooms comes from outside the room itself, such as street noise coming through a window or noise from the hallway seeping through the door.
Properly sealing windows and installing heavier, more sound-proof doors are two easy fixes.
Try these acoustical treatments that can reduce ambient noise:
- Acoustical panels inside the classroom
- Soundproof curtains
Acoustical panels can help absorb ambient noise and soften harsh audio that bounces off of tile flooring and other hard surfaces, like desks, chairs, whiteboards and more. Soundproof curtains and carpets or rugs can have similar effects.
Pricing for acoustical panels can vary, but curtains and rugs can be more cost-effective solutions that can help teachers solve ambient noise issues quickly.
Challenge: Students say it's hard to hear in the back of the classroom.
Solution: Audio amplification systems. The greater the distance between students and the teacher, the harder it is for students to hear. Audio amplification — in this case amplifying the teacher’s voice — can account for the distance.
The most basic amplification solution is a microphone — either static or moveable — that the teacher speaks into. For a more sophisticated solution, educational institutions might consider a dynamic sound-field system.
In a dynamic sound-field system the microphone that is used by the teacher transmits sound to speakers placed evenly throughout the entire room, allowing sound to be delivered at the same, comfortable volume to students no matter where they are.
It's important to consider the various factors that affect sound and audio within the classroom, as well as the needs of students and staff. Once identified, it's best to research and vet systems to see how they perform for specific use cases. When shopping systems, ask for demonstrations, trials or proof of concepts to determine how well it will work.
Students and Teachers Benefit From Improved Audio
Not only do students suffer from poor audio quality in classrooms, teachers do too.
Vocal strain and throat infections are a contributing factor to teacher sick days, but improved acoustics and sound amplification means teachers don’t have to raise their voices just to be heard.
Schools using classroom audio enhancements report a significant decrease in teacher absenteeism due to voice or throat problems. Audio enhancements that allow collaborative learning, which AVI Systems offers for educational institutions at every level, improve both teacher satisfaction and student outcomes.