Posts Tagged 'classroom acoustics'

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.

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.

Walls Come Tumbling Down

When it was decided at Monday’s meeting that the dividing walls between the three brand new studio spaces in the temporary building were going to be opened up to facilitate more discussion across year groups of students, I had rather mixed feelings. The discussion bit was good, but if the background noise generated by fifty students in one open plan space had been slightly troublesome for the cookie bite ears, the background noise of one hundred and fifty students in three conjoined open plan spaces could be somewhat problematic. As is customary during my many moments of internal crisis, a vision of a newspaper headline flashed before my eyes. It was suitably dramatic.

Frightened by what desperate feats of construction I was capable of after this premonition, I made an immediate and impassioned plea for a rethink on the knocking down of walls. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but the concession was that a movable structure would be provided to act as a sound barrier during testing moments of inter-studio noise interference. I await with interest…

Teaching with a hearing loss

It’s goodbye to all this…

When I started this blog, I had grandiose ideas about adapting the studio learning environment I teach in to minimise the impact of my hearing loss on my interactions with students, whilst at the same time improving certain aspects of the environment for everyone. This all sounded great in theory, but art studio spaces, and their inhabitants, are something of a law unto themselves and I have spectacularly failed at everything I set out to do.

Forget U-shaped seating arrangements at discussions. There is an irreconcilable conflict between your need to have the speakers as uniformly close to you as possible, and the students’ desire to be as uniformly far away from you as possible.

Forget moving closer to the person doing the speaking. Art students love mess, and it would not be the first time an abandoned wardrobe from a skip, or some eye-poking construction hanging from the ceiling has come between my straining ear and the elusive mumbles of a Type 5 Inaudible speaker.

Forget making sure no-one talks with their back to the audience. People love talking with their back to the audience, especially those with quiet voices.

Forget asking the speaker to speak up/ raise their hand before speaking. You’ll wear out your vocal cords in the first five minutes and get nowhere.

Forget eliminating background noise. You can’t, with sixty people rattling around in a room where the only acoustic damping is provided by an Ikea sofa and a burst cushion from a skip.

In the face of my failure, I am consoling myself with the fact that any infrastructural alterations would have been a waste of time anyway, since the building I work in is about to be demolished in a few days to make way for a shiny new building. My innovative but untested strategies, such as nailing all the seats to the floor to prevent them being scraped loudly every time someone moves, and installing a power tool immobilisation system for use during group discussions will hopefully be redundant in a state of the art building. More conventional strategies may be found here.

Fortunately, I’m about to get a second chance at my project, because our temporary home is another concrete lined open-plan space. There is now no hiding place for my No.1 sneaky HOH coping tactic of talking to students in the office instead of at their desks, because there is no room for an office in the new space. I shall need to apply my mind to finding another solution, but as the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

We shall see.


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