Posts Tagged 'open-plan teaching spaces'

The best hearing aid for Cookie Bite Hearing Loss?

hard hat and gloves

Happy New Year one and all.

The countdown to the exciting opening of the shiny new building at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour has entered its final frenetic stage before the students are let in on Monday. As I scuttled about my academic business attired in full safety PPE for the final time on site yesterday, I was rather puzzled by the assertive attention I was getting from the many workmen I encountered. Maybe there’s just something irresistible about a large breasted woman in a red hard hat and black rubber gloves, I pondered, as the comments came in thick and fast.

“DON’T GO UP THEY STAIRS, AH’VE JIST PIT CONCRETE SEALER OAN THEM!” yelled one man, the very second I exited the office.

“MIND OOT FUR MA EXTENDING LADDER, DOLL, AH’M RIGHT BEHIND YE!” shouted another, a little further along the corridor.

“WHIT FLOOR ARE YE GAUN TAE, HEN?” boomed the helpful hard-hatted man who followed me into the lift.

Just when I thought I might be in line for my first wolf-whistle on a building site in 30 years, a panting man with a paintbrush rushed alongside me in a corridor and burst my bubble.

“Why huv ye goat YOU’LL NEED TO SHOUT written on the back o yer jaicket anyway?” he asked, pointing to the back of my hi-vis vest. I suddenly remembered what I was wearing, and felt a bit of a twit. I was very glad I hadn’t written KICK ME instead.

Amazingly, though, when my £1.50 artistic statement vest is stripped of its rhetorical irony by a bunch of builders, it actually outperforms expensive hearing aids in an open plan space…and, unlike hearing aids, is particularly effective with men’s voices.

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.”


Update 08.02.18

New link to Unlimited potential report:

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.


Oh dear. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics, but it’s an even longer time in hissing hearing aids. Ever since allowing myself to be persuaded by Clinic O that the abominable static noise emanating from the circuitry of my newly acquired Danalogic i-FIT 71 aids might be something which could be conquered by the neural plasticity of my auditory cortex, ie I’d get used to it, I’ve somewhat regretted it.

Although it is a marvellous coping phenomenon that my brain fashions the hiss into the phantom noise of a shower when I am in the bathroom, and the noise of a deep fat fryer when I am in the kitchen, its creativity is stumped when I’m in silence. In quiet surroundings, the hiss sounds just like an annoyingly hissing pair of hearing aids. It’s loud enough to mask other high frequency sounds, and I’m worried that an escaped rattlesnake could sneak up behind me undetected.

Demented in the empty office at work on Wednesday, I sought solace in the perfect place to escape from the hiss. The studio. “Budge up!” I said enthusiastically to a student, who had been reclining comfortably on the sofa with her book until my unexpected arrival with my laptop disturbed her. I listened for a bit to make sure that the soundscape was to my liking, then sat down to attend to my daily mountain of emails. Ah, this was more like it. The hiss was slightly less audible. The studio was only half full of students, but they were working in groups so were producing plenty of chat. I was slightly disappointed that there was no loud music, but was heartened to hear the reassuring rumble of the extraction system overhead. The noise of 60 feet of exposed industrial ducting was going some way towards drowning out the hiss but was not eliminating it entirely. I was on the verge of asking someone to open a window so that the noise of the nearby motorway could help out a bit, when an even better solution presented itself in the form of some impromptu furniture moving by students. Several chairs and desks were dragged mercilessly back and forth across the bare concrete floor, producing a rich variety of soothing scraping and grinding noises. Ahhhh. That’s better I said to myself, I can’t even hear the hiss now when I listen out for it. Maybe they were right at Clinic O after all!

Then it all got spoiled. Without warning, a heavy 6 by 4 foot sheet of mdf was knocked over by accident, causing a very loud bang. Although the bang itself was extremely acoustically satisfying in the bare concrete space, it was followed by a pregnant silence as everyone waited to see if there had been a casualty. This was all the hiss needed in order to sneak back in to my consciousness. Ssssssssss. Then to my relief, a round of shrieking and laughter began, followed by a purposeful bout of hammering to fix the damage. Phew.

The studio door banged open and shut with a pleasing regularity throughout, and every so often, the plumbing let out its usual foghorn blast every time a tap was turned on. As I basked in the racket, I reflected that the only thing that could possibly make the ambience more perfect for masking unwanted hissing noises from hearing aids, was the sounding of the twice weekly fire alarm test.

“Can I talk to you about my project?” said a student who had just wandered into my field of vision.

“Certainly”, I said, hoping there was going to be plenty to look at.

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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