Acoustics and Audio Enhancement Technologies

Instructional Audio Helps Students Succeed

Access to intelligible, clear audio has never been more important with educators and students back in classrooms across the nation. There’s no question that instructional audio solutions play a critical role—projecting educators’ voices and ensuring every student can hear and understand what’s being asked of them. While instructional audio solutions saw an increase in need during the COVID-19 pandemic due to face masks and remote learning, instructional audio solutions are beneficial to all students and educators, even beyond the pandemic.

Decades of research, including the Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study—known as the MARRS Project— has been conducted and certified by the U.S. Department of Education. The research notes that a variety of student groups benefit from instructional audio, including students with learning loss, students in the back of classrooms, students with learning differences, non-native English speakers and more.

At Rio Rancho Public Schools in Rio Rancho, N.M., we’ve witnessed the benefits firsthand and recognize the connections between effective instructional audio solutions and academic gains. Yet, it’s clear the pandemic shaped and shifted our view of instructional audio solutions, much like education in general.

The pandemic changed the look and feel of the traditional classroom. From spacing desks six feet apart to mask mandates, students were—and continue to be—further from their teachers than ever before. That increased space makes hearing and understanding different voices challenging. The further apart two people are, the more difficult it is to hear and understand what’s being said.

On average, students spend 75% of classroom time listening. Strong, active listening skills help students retain information, but when students miss something or can’t hear their teachers, they often feel frustrated. Students’ frustration results in difficulties understanding the topics at hand and has a negative effect on their academic success.

Teachers often lean on their “teaching voice,” projecting their natural voice more than they would in a normal conversation. The issue with a “teaching voice” is that the act itself wears on a teacher’s vocal cords and often results in a sore throat and fatigue. And what about the more soft-spoken teachers? Instructional audio solutions save teachers’ voices, allowing a microphone to do the heavy lifting, whether it’s through a mask or to the students in the back of the class. While many teachers first encountered instructional audio solutions during the pandemic, I expect more and more will continue using instructional audio to project their voices.

Design with Intelligibility in Mind

In the past, schools weren’t always built with intelligibility in mind and were, instead, built with cement walls and without windows. That creates a lot of ambient noises in the classroom. Add in masks and social distancing, and those obstacles are even more challenging.

Today, designers are working to meet ANSI 60db standards and using advanced acoustic materials, updated HVAC materials and rethinking learning environments. However, even by meeting these new standards, there are still key barriers that these thoughtful design considerations can’t overcome, such as ambient noise, directionality and the distance between teachers and students. Intelligibility will continue to be top of mind for designers, especially as more people become aware of the updated standards and common obstacles educators face.

Audio Equity for All Students

Traditionally, we’ve thought of instructional audio solutions as something that benefits non-native English speakers or students with hearing loss. The MARRS Project revealed that the number of students referred to special education in grades K–6 decreased by 43% in amplified classrooms.

Instructional audio solutions help “blanket” a classroom with sound, making it easier for all students to learn. When we “blanket” a classroom with sound, it overcomes some of those obstacles, like ambient noise, and shines a light on a teacher speaking and delivering an idea, allowing students to hear and comprehend what is being said. Too often, we miss parts of what someone is saying because we are distracted. While we can often piece together what we missed, instructional audio solutions provide the reassurance that students will hear what’s being said.

Clear, evenly distributed audio has never been more important as educators address unfinished learning.

Now, as we adjust to in-person learning once again, instructional audio solutions such as Lightspeed will be a crucial tool in classrooms nationwide—including ours at Rio Rancho Public Schools.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Paul Romero is the Executive Director of Information Technology at Rio Rancho Public Schools in Rio Rancho, N.M.