Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

Now Hear This

 

acoustic horn1

When this mobile acoustic horn appeared mysteriously outside the office the other day, I wondered if the students had finally found an effective way to ask me questions in the corridor without getting a completely inappropriate response.

Sadly for me, the horn is not a giant mobile ear trumpet designed to keep me at arm’s length in background noise, but an intriguing piece of work destined for the forthcoming final year Work in Progress Show. Nevertheless, I have had great fun having unusually audible conversations through it in the meantime. Eat your heart out Digital Signal Processing, ear trumpets are the way to go in state of the art concrete buildings.

Next on my amplification wish list is a modified version of the soundbox table and seat below, designed by Korean designer Jina U. I plan to use it for the cookiebiter’s Room 101: doing heavily accented overseas phone interviews, in a noisy office, on a non-hearing aid compatible Cisco phone. Can’t wait.

 

soundbox table and seat

Hear, hear

TED talk

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump,” said Hearing Aid Avenger apologetically as he appeared beside me in the office on Friday, “but why is your desk facing the wall… wouldn’t it be better facing the other way so you don’t have your back to the door? You’ve always sat facing the door…”

“There isn’t enough room”, I said glumly, “but jumping out my skin every five minutes is the least of my problems. Where have you been the last few weeks? I could have done with your help round here.”

I was in a bad mood and it was just about to get worse.

It turned out that Hearing Aid Avenger was just back from delivering a TED talk on Hearing Aids and Noise in the Learning Environment. I was slightly jealous of his all expenses paid trip to California, but when I heard he’d had a bit of a mixed reception for his ideas, which were remarkably similar to mine, I changed my tune. His hard-hitting presentation had ruffled a few feathers, with the unveiling of a manifesto which was as radical as it was brief:

TED projection

Apparently, when the manifesto appeared on the screen, there was a loud cheer from the audience, and a group of hard of hearing lecturers in the front row threw their hearing aids on to the stage in rapturous appreciation. Meanwhile, a fight broke out amongst a bunch of architects in the back row, some of whom were outraged by the suggestion that hearing and concentration were more important for learning than sensory stimulation. When they were unable to make themselves heard because of the poor acoustics, a riot broke out in the auditorium and Hearing Aid Avenger had to be escorted backstage for his own safety.

“Wow”, I said, “I wonder what would have happened after this TED talk by Julian Treasure…”

 

Hearing Hell

cone of silence

“How can I help you today?” said the very nice audiologist to Clinic O’s cookiebite bad penny. I had turned up this time in a last ditch bid to see if there was anything that could be done to reduce the overwhelming amount of amplified background noise which is currently rattling my cochleas, and my nerves, in the architecturally stunning new learning spaces at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour.

“Can I show you some pictures of where I work”, I pleaded, “then what I’m asking might make more sense. When I say I’m a lecturer, people assume I stand in a lecture theatre talking all day, but I actually spend most of my time listening; doing one to one tutorials and large and small group discussions in the studio with a group of 50 on average. I’ve only got a mild loss; it’s always been tricky because of the environment, but now that we’ve moved to open plan for the entire department it’s impossible. I don’t know what to do…if I take the hearing aids out, the noise is vastly reduced, but then I can’t make out what the students are saying in normal conversation. I can hear fine in quiet spaces, but I’m rendered deaf in here… ” I pulled out my iPad to show the photos of my studio on an open mezzanine above the main studios.

“Oh dear, I see what you mean, you haven’t got a hope with hearing aids in there”, said the very nice audiologist. “It’s all hard concrete surfaces and glass, and with all the noise coming up from below, and in the sides from the refectory, and 120 people in the space all doing different activities, no hearing aids would cope well with that. I doubt there’s much I can do, but let’s take a look at your settings, there might be some small adjustments that can be made. You never know.”

A few mouseclicks later, and the disappointing news came that all the noise reduction features were already activated. It seemed there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre. The very nice audiologist explained that a lot of background noise inhabits the same frequencies of the cookie bite zone where the amplification is required, therefore reduce the background noise, and you reduce the amplification on voices at the same time. Catch 22, hearing aid style. Can’t hear with ’em, can’t hear without ’em.

Nonetheless, she did some adjustments on the standalone speech in noise programme for me to try, leaving the speech in noise settings on the automatic programme unchanged, so that I wouldn’t be any worse off if the tweaks didn’t work.

They didn’t. Cone of Silence it is, then…

If All Else Fails…

“Fifteen grand? I could almost go private on my next set of hearing aids for that!” I spluttered, when I saw tetra shed’s price tag.

“Maybe you should”, muttered Hearing Aid Avenger under his breath.

“What am I going to do now?” I asked, huffily. “I won’t be popular if I bankrupt the department…bring me something a bit more within my budget…just as long as it’s not grey…and make sure it complies with Health and Safety regulations.”

A few moments later, the beige superhero was back with his latest offering.

“How about this?” he said, handing me my regulation high-vis vest. It has become a compulsory sartorial requirement of the job until the final touches are put on the new building next week, but it seemed to have been altered since I last took it off.

“There you go”, he said. “£1.50, it’s definitely not grey, and it fully complies with all current Health and Safety regulations. Every hearing aid user working in an open-plan space should have one.”

 

Hi vis vest

All I want for Christmas

Tetra Shed

“It’s beautiful, I want one!” I drooled, as Hearing Aid Avenger unveiled the stylish alternative to his original soundproof booth suggestion for background noise control in the new studio.

“It’s called the tetra shed® “, said Hearing Aid Avenger.

“According to their website,” he continued, “it’s a new modular building system which, as a single module, has been designed to be a modern garden office. You’ve always said you wanted your very own shed, and I reckon its tough outdoor credentials will make it very suitable for coping with indoor activities in an art college, those students don’t half make a mess…”

“Very true”, I sighed, remembering a recent monoprinting class which involved the enthusiastic rolling of black ink. The washing up session afterwards left the place looking like the aftermath of a devastating explosion in a squid processing factory.

The robustness of tetra shed in the face of inky explosions certainly made it appealing but, selfishly, I was far more excited about another aspect of its unique construction. With all its doors closed it looked like a beautiful blue-black rock sculpture. I pictured myself hidden away secretly inside with my laptop. In moments of acoustic distress, I could take out my hearing aids and efficiently despatch my admin duties from behind tetra shed’s closed doors, instead of flailing dementedly in the full acoustic crossfire of the open plan office. This shed could change my life.

“How much does it cost?” I enquired with great interest.

Hearing Aid Avenger gets inspired

acoustic booth

Hearing Aid Avenger tests his prototype solution to background noise in the new studio

“I’m just not sure about it…” I said hesitantly, looking at the image of a grey box lined with acoustic foam, “maybe it’s the colour…or…or, perhaps the loop sign on the side is a bit overkill? The new studios look like a white cube gallery. They’ve been designed by a world renowned architect. Whatever we come up with to lessen the sound of 150 people talking simultaneously has to visually fit in with that…”

As I studied Hearing Aid Avenger‘s lovingly rendered solution to background noise in the stunning new, and as yet unoccupied, design studios at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour, I noticed his face fall at my lack of enthusiasm for his idea, and felt a little mean. After all, he’d been good enough to come to my assistance during a moment of acoustic panic about cookie-bitten group discussions in the new space, and there was no denying that his sound proof booth suggestion for the studio was very practical. It was just that it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi in the aesthetics department. And ventilation.

“Never mind”, I said, “at least it gets the ball rolling. I can think about approaching HR to see if they can help out with specifics once we’ve done a bit more research. Talking of which, I’ve been reading this very interesting Action On Hearing Loss Unlimited Potential research report into hearing loss in the workplace. Some good stuff in there about who to turn to/ not turn to for assistance, for example. Wish it had been around three years ago…it might even have prevented the unfortunate Occupational Therapy incident. Very embarrassing, even by my standards.”

“Yes”, said Hearing Aid Avenger, looking at his watch.

“Now, if you don’t mind”, he said, ” I’m off to do some ideas for a secret storage space in the studio for a packet of size 13 batteries. You’re going to be needing them.”

Into The Unknown

hearing aid avenger's long walk

 

As the chattering students dragged their chairs noisily to the front for the final project briefing in our temporary decant site, nobody noticed the tiny red-caped superhero enter the room. He looked a bit tired. Just like me.

“I’ll be glad when you move to that shiny new building next month and I don’t have to walk along this never ending corridor any more,” said Hearing Aid Avenger as he surreptitiously passed me a fresh size 13 battery to replace the one which had inconveniently died a few minutes earlier. After two and a half years and one hundred and twenty battery changes in our temporary site, I too was looking forward to the Design School of the Institute of Artistic Endeavour moving to its spectacular new home.

“Can’t wait”, I said, lifting one half of a pair of cymbals out the way of the projector stand, and using a large piece of wood as a shovel to clear a laptop space in the alarming mound of studio detritus on a table.

“Although…” I hesitated, “there might be a few challenges ahead in the new place. Must say, from an acoustic point of view, I like my teaching spaces to have doors on, and four walls, but there’s no doubt the open plan studio for the entire department is absolutely stunning. It looks just like a gallery space, with its beautiful polished concrete floor and pristine white shuttered concrete walls, its double height ceilings and sleek glazing to let the light in. It’s all about bringing people together and sharing. Group discussions and 1-1s will take on a whole new energising dynamic with 150 people talking in the background instead of just 50.”

I thought I saw Hearing Aid Avenger wince.

I continued, “If it just had an architect-designed hearing aid battery storage space and a pop-up sound proof booth in the studio, it would be perfect. The office is almost as far away from the studio in the new building as it is in this one, and if I suddenly need to hear someone talking, or do a lightning battery change, things could get tricky…”

“Let me see what I can do”, winked Hearing Aid Avenger.


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