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