Theatre of the Mind

The Witch?
The Witch? Let’s not see her, let’s hear her…

I like to work with a technique known as Theatre of The Mind, which usually refers to radio plays and storytelling with sound. It allows for listeners to tap into their imagination and visualize what might be happening. Each person will “see” something different based on any memories real or imagined.

Is it going to cost you a few thousand dollars to crash those cars in an epic car chase? Can’t seem to come up with a creature that is horrifying enough? Have it appear just off screen sonically and let the viewer create the visuals themselves by tapping their “Theatre of the Mind” capabilities. Study how radio plays are constructed to get used to telling stories with sound.

Your mission: Practice telling stories with only sounds to become better at using sound as a narrative tool in your media work. The BBC World Service has a great resource on How to Write a Radio Play. You just might find you want to continue using sound only for a lot of your media productions.

Some great radio plays can be found here:

– John


Analyzing Classroom Acoustics

I believe the design of ideal classroom acoustics is important to a successful teaching and learning experience. The Flash based resource “Classroom Acoustics,” by Northern Illinois University (NIU) is a great example of an instructional resource that could be created by doing a proper needs assessment on the subject. I would like to use this Flash resource in conjunction with: “The Forgotten First Step, from the newsletter “From After 5,” in the prepared text “Introduction to Needs Assessment,” by Ellen Rose, to expand on assessing ideal classroom acoustics needs for instructors.

Well-designed classroom acoustics for teaching and learning should be an important concept for instructor consideration. I believe a proper needs assessment can be a huge benefit to help instructors uncover an optimal classroom acoustic situation for their own teaching needs. I’d like to apply the big picture, the top three considerations, defined in: “From After 5,” (the TeleEducation NB Newsletter on E-learning, October 2003,) as (1) goal analysis, (2) gap analysis, and (3) performance analysis, to help further reveal considerations for a formal classroom acoustics needs assessment.

I’ve taken into consideration an article from the “Applied Acoustics” journal called “Evaluation of the acoustic performance in public schools,” which helped provide details on analyzing classroom acoustics for an ideal teaching and learning environment in public schools. The article focuses on the public school system in the state of Parana and provides comparative information on the similarities of North American and Central American traditional classrooms.
Starting first with: (1) “goal analysis is to identify “what should be.” The goals should clearly specify the population involved, the performance area needing improvement, and the performance standard” (Rose, 2012, p. 2)

An instructor should first and foremost define their ideal “classroom,” or teaching environment. In order for an instructor to know about creating optimal classroom acoustics, there needs to be a concrete understanding of the environment they teach in. Defining the “classroom” sets up realistic expectations and focused training options for the individual doing the needs assessment. A group of instructors teaching improv acting in a large theatre will have different acoustic expectations over an instructor teaching eighteen students in a small computer lab.

One of the most important steps in the goal analysis is to get the instructor to define what an optimal teaching experience for them sounds like. The development of expensive training resources might be wasted if it’s revealed that a simple adjustment to an HVAC system is all that is required for the instructor to teach in an optimal sonic environment. If there isn’t a performance standard in place in an academic institution, than a needs assessment could help reveal a series of standards, or common areas of agreement on what is and isn’t suitable.

The purpose of the second step, the gap analysis, is to identify “what is” and thus to establish the discrepancies (or gaps) between the status quo and the goal. It is important to use several data collection instruments…” (Rose, 2012, p. 2)

A well-structured survey with open-ended questions can get an instructor thinking about what might be sonically disrupting their teaching environment. Two other data collection instruments in this process should be holding interviews with instructors and observations by someone aware of classroom acoustics. The observation technique is very important, because a third party observer can note what is happening in the classroom when the instructor is struggling with acoustic issues. Once the presentation is finished, the observer and instructor can go over what was happening acoustically in the classroom to interfere with teaching.

“The purpose of the third step, the performance analysis, is to determine which of the identified needs is the result of a deficiency in skills, knowledge, or attitudes, and therefore something that can be rectified with instruction…” (Rose, 2012, p. 2)
One example of a training solution is the Classroom Acoustics Flash tutorial by NIU. It touches on some of the key acoustic problems facing instructors in classroom teaching. Even if Instructors don’t have experience in acoustic terminology, a well-designed survey, interview, and observation process can start to introduce and define acoustic terms and be a training lesson on its own. An instructor will find they are dealing over and over again with the following acoustic issues:

“Signal-to-Noise-Ratio (SNR) – Typically we want the speech to be at least 15db louder than the background noise for successful listing to occur. The second type of acoustic barrier in the classroom is reverberation. Reverberation refers to how long sound persists or echoes in a classroom.” (Classroom Acoustics, NIU) By analyzing feedback from instructors in the data collection process, most problems should reveal themselves to be around these two defining acoustic issues. “The acoustic quality of the classrooms have been analyzed based on measurements of the reverberation time, sound pressure level inside and outside classrooms, and sound insulation.” (Zannin PHT, Zwirtes, 2008, p. 1) Training materials can be developed to help instructors deal with creating favorable acoustics to optimize the teaching experience. Some training reminders would be adding carpeting, turning off fans and computers during lectures, and sealing windows to deal with acoustic issues.

Rose, Ellen, (2012) Introduction to Needs Assessment
Northern Illinois University (2012) Classroom Acoustics,
Zannin PHT, Zwirtes DPZ, Evaluation of the acoustic performance of classrooms in public schools, Appl Acoust (2008), doi:10.1016/j.apacoust.2008.06.007

Field Recording, the Soundscape and Acoustic Ecology: Design Report

 Part 1. General Course Information

 1.1 Course Title:

This instructional design course document is for the upcoming course “Field Recording, the Soundscape and Acoustic Ecology,” to be delivered by training services through Born Audio.

 1.2 Purpose of the Course:

“Field Recording, the Soundscape and Acoustic Ecology,” is based on creating instruction for field recording with the intention of learning about sonic preservation and acoustic ecology; described as: “the relationship, mediated through sound, between living beings and their environment.”* Soundscape and acoustic ecology is the work pioneered by R.Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project (WSP), to the modern day World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE.) The course is intended primarily as introductory levels of instruction to (1) introduce learners to field recording, (2) the soundscape work of R. Murray Schafer, Bernie Krause, and (3) acoustic ecology studies.

 1.3 Target Audience Description:

This 5-week summer intensive course will cater to learners in areas of Arts and Social Sciences and more specifically under interdisciplinary studies, like Multimedia Studies under Arts, and the academic disciplines that makeup the Social Sciences. Learners involved in the program should have a strong desire to learn about the application of sound in Arts and Social Sciences and the technical application of sound recording devices and software.

 1.4 Instructional Goal:

The primary goal of the course is to introduce students to field recording, soundscape and acoustic ecology. Three goals of the course are to (1) introduce learners to field recording, (2) the soundscape work of R. Murray Schafer, Bernie Krause and (3) acoustic ecology studies.

1.5 Course Prerequisites:

The following prerequisites are recommended for students enrolling in the course:

  • Third or fourth year academic experience in the Arts, and an intermediate, to advanced familiarity with the Social Sciences.
  • Experience with qualitative and quantitative research and reporting.
  • Experience and aptitude with audio recording equipment is an asset.
  • Ability to operate a computer and have a beginner to intermediate level experience with operating multimedia software.

1.6 Evaluation Approach:

There are several methods used in the Evaluation strategy:

  • Direct Testing – on Gear Setup and Recording – Short answer and Essay Questions will be used.
  • Direct testing on identification of the variables that make up a soundscape. Multiple choice, Short answer and Essay Questions will be used. (See Appendix for a sample quiz.)
  • Final Portfolio of field recording and reports – based on a Rubric (See Appendix for a sample Rubric.)

Part 2. Course Design Details

2.1 Learning Objectives:

After completing this course, the learner will be able to:

  • Given the sound equipment of a recorder and microphone, the learner will be able to setup the equipment for field recording correctly; (Blooms – Apply)
  • Enable audio recorder preferences to capture the highest quality field recordings possible. (Blooms – Apply)
  • Be introduced to the work of R. Murray Schaffer, Bernie Krause, Soundscape and Acoustic Ecology; (Blooms – Synthesize)
  • Learn to identify Keynote sounds, Sound signals, Soundmarks and their relationship to each other in creating the Soundscape. (Blooms – Evaluate, Synthesize)
  • Use Audacity sound editing software to master and provide meta-data for cataloguing. (Blooms – Apply)
  • Use the SoundCloud website to upload, share and comment on field recording.

2.2 Instructional Strategies:

The course will be a Blended Learning course that includes face-to-face instruction and online resources and activities through the Desire2Learn (D2L) Learning Management System (LMS.)

Direct Instruction –  on setup of sound equipment for field recording;

Indirect Instruction – as students use their developing skills to record and analyze data to construct meaning.

Experiential Learning – students will focus on the process and application of skills to conduct field recording and analyze soundscapes in groups and in individual projects.

Interactive Instruction – will play a huge part as students will discuss their work online in an LMS and by sharing their work online through the SoundCloud application.

The Instructor will lead face-to-face instruction through lecture and demonstration and be a facilitator online in the D2L discussions area answering questions and giving feedback. Finally the instructor will guide students through an assessment phase of the course, providing feedback and grades on course assignments.

2.3 Media:

  • Instructor
  • Recording Equipment (for each student):
    • Field recorder and protective case
    • Extra batteries
    • Headphones
    • XLR cables
    • Stereo microphone
    • Zeppelins and wind-shields
    • Microphone stands
    • Still cameras for visual document
    • Journals
  • Computer Hardware and Software (for each student):
    • Desktop computers
    • Audacity software
  • Internet Applications:
    • D2L – Learning Management System
    • SoundCloud

The course will provide users with portable recording equipment for personal use during the duration of the course. Students will have lectures in face-to-face classes in a computer lab and an opportunity to work on desktop computers for completing class based exercises. Students can use the Internet and their own computer to access PDF versions of the instructor’s lectures on D2L. Students can post in D2L discussion forums and access relevant YouTube, SoundCloud and other web links from the Links section of D2L posted by the instructor.

2.4 Length of Instruction:

This course is designed as one class per week, 5-week summer intensive course. The course is structured as 5, 3-hour weekday classes and one weekend field recording trip, for a total of 15-hours of instruction and one 6-hour field trip.

2.5 Course Structure:

The course is divided into 5, 3 hour classes taking place once a week. Each class will have approximately 1.5 hours of lecture and 1.5 hours of classroom exercises and assisted work with the Instructor on recording equipment and audio software. Students will need to continue working on course materials and online short quizzes in D2L in order to optimize performance in class.

2.6 Development Tools:

Course lectures given in class will be created in Microsoft PowerPoint and converted to Adobe PDFs for upload to D2L.  Sound samples that students will be using to edit in class will be created by the instructor using recording equipment and uploaded to servers for use with Audacity editing software. All recordings used in Audacity by students will be created by the instructor with the same recording equipment being used by students, to accurately represent a range of recording possibilities.

2.7 Deliverables:

  • Pre, During and Post Questionnaires for students
  • Course Syllabus for students
  • Instructor Lesson plans (Available under 3.1 Lesson Plan Structure)
  • Field Recording Practical Exam (Sample under Appendix)
  • Mid-course online Quiz developed
  • Final Portfolio Instructions
  • Final Portfolio Rubric (Sample under Appendix)

Part 3. Lesson Plans

3.1 Lesson Plan Structure:

Lessons for each individual class will be broken up into two different sections. One section will be the lecture and class discussion and the second section will be made up of workshop and practical application exercises with audio hardware and software.

Detailed Outline:

Lesson 1

Lesson 1: Acoustic Ecology and the Soundscape

1. Introduction

2. Lesson objectives:

a. Identify Acoustic Ecology

b. Identify the Soundscape

c. Identify pioneers in the Soundscape field

d. Listening to Soundscapes

3. Method: lecture/discussion/Q&A/Exercises

4. Approximate time: 3-hours

5. Topic list:

a. What is Acoustic Ecology?

b. What makes up the Soundscape?

c. Learning about R. Murray Schafer & Bernie Krause

d. Listening to Soundscape examples (Guided by instructor)

6. Hands-on-exercises:

a. Students will listen to Soundscapes and practice identifying key parts with instructor.

7. Discussion

8. Debrief and Conclusion

9. Online Continuation:

a. Online Readings and class discussions on D2L.

b. Shot online quiz on Acoustic Ecology and the Soundscape. (Sample under Appendix)

Detailed Outline:

Lesson 2

Lesson 2: Field Recording Equipment

1. Introduction

2. Lesson objectives:

a. Identify what field recording is and what the process is

b. Identify the Why, of field recording

c. Practical exercises with recording hardware

3. Method: lecture/discussion/Q&A/Exercises

4. Approximate time: 3-hours

5. Topic list:

a. Field Recording

b. Field Recording Equipment

c. The Field Recording setup and Workflow

6. Hands-on-exercises:

a. Setting up the field recording equipment

b. A test recording

c. Proper saving and storage protocol

7. Debrief and Conclusion

8. Online Continuation:

a. Online Readings and class discussions on D2L.

Detailed Outline:

Lesson 3

Lesson 3: Field Trip Lesson

1. Introduction

2. Objective:

a. Learners will test their recording skills, by recording soundscapes in the field.

b. Learners will demonstrate they are able to setup all recording equipment to the instructor for former evaluation. (Sample under Appendix)

3. Approximate time: 6-hour field trip to isolated recording locations.

4. Debrief and Conclusion

5. Online Continuation:

a. Online Readings and class discussions on D2L.

Detailed Outline:

Lesson 4:

Lesson 4: Audacity Software Training

1. Introduction

2. Lesson objectives:

a. Importing recordings into the computer and the Audacity software program.

b. Learning to navigate the Audacity Interface

c. Learn about editing techniques in Audacity

3. Method: lecture/discussion/Q&A/Exercises

4. Approximate time: 3-hours

5. Topic list:

a. What is audacity?

b. Importing from recorders into Audacity

c. Setting up an Audacity Project

d. Audacity Interface Overview

e. Editing Audio – Using the Tools

f. Proper saving and storage protocol

6. Hands-on-exercises:

a. Students will import their own field recording into Audacity

b. Students will practice basic editing with their field recordings

c. Transferring audio into the computer

7. Debrief and Conclusion

8. Online Continuation:

a. Online Readings and class discussions on D2L.

Detailed Outline:

Lesson 5:

Lesson 5: Mastering Audio and Sound Cloud

1. Introduction

2. Lesson objectives:

a. Learning about Mastering Audio Techniques: optimizing sound files for audience playback.

b. Learning to create and use a SoundCloud web account.

3. Method: lecture/discussion/Q&A/Exercises

4. Approximate time: 3-hours

5. Topic list:

a. Learning About Normalization

b. Amplitude Reduction

c. Equalization

d. Learning about Compression

e. Reducing Sound Peaks and Spikes

f. Using Low-pass and High-pass Filters

g. Exporting options from Audacity

h. Creating a SoundCloud Account.

i. Uploading recording to Sound Cloud

6. Hands-on-exercises:

a. Students will take their field recordings through an audio mastering phase.

b. Students will create a SoundCloud account and start sharing and commenting on other student projects.

7. Debrief and Conclusion


Rubric for Assessment of the Field Recording Final Portfolio Project:

Rubric Criteria:


Below Average


Above Average


Learners have recorded a high quality field recording.

Each recording has been properly edited using Audacity software

Your Audacity session shows that proper Mastering techniques were used to optimize the file.

Original Audacity sessions for each mastered recording are included.

Audio files are saved as an uncompressed aiff, or .wav and also as a .mp3 file.

Portfolio includes a detailed report identifying the Soundscape, including all Keynote, Sound Signals, and Sound mark sounds.

Portfolio includes a link to your personal SoundCloud account.

Pre, During and Post Questionnaires for students

Field Recording Practical Exam:

Learner will be checked off by the Instructor as having successfully accomplished the following requirements:

Properly assemble:

Microphone stand,

The zeppelin, windshield, microphone and xlr together

Connect the recorder to microphone and stand

Set proper recording levels and monitor a recording


Online Quiz Samples:

Short Answer:

1. Define Acoustic Ecology

2. Define soundscape and the three main elements that create it.

3. Listen to the following embedded audio file and describe all three elements of the soundscape:

(2-minute embedded .mp3 file)


1. Brown, A., & Green, T.D. (2011). “The Essentials of Instructional Design: Connecting Fundamental Principles with Process and Practice.” (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

2. *Wikipedia: Acoustic Ecology is the relationship, mediated through sound, between living beings and their environment.”

3. Beggs & Thede. (2001). “Designing Web Audio.”O’Reilly & Associates

– John Born

Education / Technology / Design