Audio and Accessibility in the Classroom

Image showing Kami app using voice comments

Teaching has always been a balance between implementing new technology and respecting tried and tested traditional education tools. In a world where it seems a new device is invented every eight hours, this balance is becoming even more difficult to navigate. This is also a component in the Universal Design for Learning that we discuss in our other blog here.

Luckily, the research is out there, and Kami has deep-dived the pros and cons of introducing audio-assistive technologies as a teaching aid to your classroom. So why not have a read and decide for yourself?

You may hesitate to introduce devices such as headsets, or speakers into your classroom. Is listening to audio a useful mechanism for improving literacy? Does it help students become better readers? Or is it just a more passive way to consume content, a shortcut that eliminates the work and therefore the intellectual exercise of reading? 

Unsurprisingly, there is a wealth of available research that looks into this very question. It turns out that listening to stories builds literacy skills in most of the same ways reading them does. 

Here are five examples of how introducing audio technology can benefit both learners and educators. 

1. Audio Elicits Emotion

It’s a commonly spouted fact that only 20 percent of the information that we convey comes from the actual words we use. Some more comes from our gestures, our body language, and so on.

But, what makes up the rest? The word you’re looking for is prosody.

Prosody includes tone, stress, rhythm, and intonation — the parts of oral communication beyond the sounds that we use to create sentences. These components carry a wealth of information, such as the emotional state of the speaker. Sarcasm is particularly difficult to communicate through text, for example but is impossible to miss when delivered orally. Students who listen to audio may well have a different emotional reaction or otherwise relate to content delivered via audio differently than if the same material were presented as a wall of text. 

2. Audio Improves Attention

A classroom audio system can help enhance a speaker’s pronunciation, tone, and inflection, which enables the students to better comprehend. According to the MARRS study, when students receive audible instruction with an amplification, all commented that the amplified voice helped them pay attention and better understand directions. This is an example of how using an actual device is better than merely speaking more loudly. We have to work so much harder to understand someone when the sound quality is poor or choppy, and that work takes up brain power that is needed to devote to understanding and absorbing the message, not just discerning the words. Finding the right audio solution can be overwhelming. A good place to start would be a small microphone like this snowball mic from Logitech. 

Or, instead of a microphone, why not headsets? These are particularly useful for blended learning environments. Audio technology can enhance the learning experience for students in the classroom by allowing them to focus better and minimizing background noise and distractions. This technology can be especially useful for younger learners who may need extra assistance in staying engaged in the lesson. Logitech’s Zone Learn headsets are a great option for individual and small group activities that involve computers or tablets, with their child-friendly design and ergonomic features. By utilizing audio technology like headsets in the classroom, educators can create a more immersive and interactive learning environment for their students.

3. Audio Encourages Discussion

Using audio creates a social experience and also turns it into a great jumping-off point for discussions of the class material, which allows listeners to “share their ideas and negotiate meanings with each other,” wrote Frank Serafini, a professor of literacy education and children’s literature at Arizona State University. “These discussions provide opportunities to generate understanding in a community of readers and help readers make sense of the stories they hear. Literature discussions at home and in school extend understanding, clarify misconceptions, and provide young readers with the support necessary for better comprehension.”

4. Audio Improves Classroom Management

Enhanced audio can cause less stress in the classroom and fewer discipline issues. With the help of microphone amplification, teachers can now speak in a natural, soothing voice to teach their lessons and students no longer feel as though they are being yelled at. This is a small detail, but if you work in an especially loud school, or perhaps have a large class to teach, not having to raise your voice just to be heard will save you and your students a good deal of daily stress. 

5. Audio Introduces Vocabulary

We’ve all had that moment in our life. You’ve said aloud a word that you’ve only ever read in books, only to find out, to your horror, that the “p” in “pneumonia” is actually silent. Audio can be useful in introducing students to vocabulary above their reading level. Students who are still working on decoding or who are learning English may not be able to read beyond a certain level, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not ready for more advanced vocabulary or to dive into content that is otherwise more advanced than their current reading level. This technique pairs especially well with having the text up on the board, or screen, so that learners can read while they listen. Sound familiar? It’s more of that good ol’ UDL that we mentioned earlier. 

If you want to learn more, there’s a great paper by Bruce Bebb that looks at the studies that demonstrate the validity of these claims. As you can see, there is a strong correlation between literacy and listening. 

It makes sense when you think about it a bit. Human brains haven’t evolved much since we began reading, so the processes that allow us to do it were originally developed for other purposes. Generally, that other purpose is listening, so there is naturally a great deal of overlap in brain function between the two activities.

If you haven’t already, you should experiment with using Kami’s audio features such as the “Read Aloud” tool which will (surprise, surprise) read aloud any text within the app from top to bottom. You can even customize the voice and the speed. If you’d rather hear your own voice, you can record voice comments and attach them to provide additional instruction, feedback, or background information on certain modules. 

So jump in and see what sort of accessibility audio technologies can provide to your own classroom situation!

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