The number of schools and colleges offering distance learning classes is increasing. A study published in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education found that, “From 2000 to 2008, the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in at least one distance education class expanded from 8 percent to 20 percent. And the percentage enrolled in a distance education degree program increased from 2 percent to 4 percent.”
The benefits of distance learning are clear. More students get to take classes that would not be available, otherwise. Also, this alleviates the capacity restraints of traditional classrooms. However, there are some criticisms. Some are concerned that the technology is not foolproof and the classes rely heavily on the idea that AV equipment will be able to do a good job at relating audible sound and clear visuals across long distances.
For distance learning audio to be clear and intelligible, you must address acoustics in the classroom. Loud, reverberant rooms will muddle audio and speech, making communication via microphone confusing and probably frustrating.
According to an article published earlier this year in University Business, “Studies have shown that poor acoustics that cause noise disturbance and speech intelligibility problems in classrooms can lead to lower test scores. According to “Acoustical Design – Basis of a Sound Education”, a School Planning and Management report from April 2005, “Students in today’s classrooms are unable to understand 25 to 30 percent of what their teacher said because of excessive noise and reverberation.” Distance learning classrooms are certainly no exception to this. In fact, in distance learning there is not one classroom, but the near end and far end classrooms that can be affected by poor acoustics.”
So, what is the best way to acoustically treat a distance learning facility?
- Make sure reverberation is low. Hard, reflective surfaces create echo and a long reverberation time – the enemy of speech intelligibility. To lower reverberation, sound absorbing materials like acoustical wall panels, drop or glue-on ceiling tiles, and acoustical clouds should be installed in problem areas of the room.
- Keep outside sounds – outside. Increased distraction is already one of the major criticisms of distance learning. This is because the instructor is not physically in the room. If students can hear what is going on in the hallway, outside the window, or in the neighboring classroom, they will certainly be even more distracted and have trouble hearing the lesson. Soundproof existing doors with door seal kits, add another layer of glass to windows with acoustical window seals, and if you can hear the lesson going on next door, consider using a mass loaded vinyl sound barrier during wall construction, or add more drywall with damping compound between to an existing wall with isolation clips.
Check out this example of acoustical treatment we installed at Virginia’s MathScience Innovation Center’s distance learning broadcast rooms (where distance learning instructors are recorded and broadcasted live to students):
First, Sonex® Audio Tiles were installed on the rooms’ ceilings to combat floor-to-ceiling reverberation. These foam panels work by absorbing sound waves before they have a chance to bounce off the ceiling and back at the teachers or reverberate through the space.
Next, to treat the side-to-side reverberation, 64 square feet of beige SoundSuede™ Acoustical Wall Panels were installed in each broadcast room. These fabric wrapped panels work in largely the same way as the audio tiles. They also work by absorbing sound waves with which they come into contact, thus reducing echo and reverberation.
Acoustical Solutions installed one 4’x8′ behind each broadcast seat. These panels serve the same absorptive purpose as the other panels in the room, but with an added bonus. We printed the center’s logo on the panels’ fabric. This serves as a backdrop for broadcasted lessons.
Acoustical Door Seal Kits were installed on each of the room’s doors. These kits include jambs, automatic bottoms and thresholds. Sealing the openings around doors drastically reduces noise transfer. This is because of the 1 percent rule. This rule states that a 1 percent opening will allow up to 50 percent of the sound to escape.
There you have it! It’s as simple as lowering reverberation and isolating rooms. Now that you know which products can do this effectively. You should be able to create distance learning classrooms where lessons are crystal clear.
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