The Smile You Can Hear

4 mins reading

Yesterday I wrote about the many benefits of audio feedback for students and teachers alike. One of these is that audio can provide a more enjoyable, constructive, and motivating experience by creating an auditory space that diminishes the focus on numerical grading and in which students can be engaged not only cognitively, but affectively. That sentence is a mouthful, so I thought I’d unpack the idea a bit more here.

The above tweet clearly resonated with quite a few students, and the phrase ‘smile in a marker’s voice’ has stayed with me. The creation of an ‘intimate space’ via audio despite vast geographical and temporal distance isn’t particularly new, but the opportunities to harness the affective potential of audio have increased in recent times, particularly with the growing popularity of podcasts.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash.jpg
Photo by Henry Be (free use via Unsplash)

This ‘intimacy’ recalls a point made about ‘personal digital music devices’ by Robert C. MacDougall in his 2012 study Digination. While the acronym understandably never caught on, MacDougall wrote that PDMDs

enable the reconfiguration of perceptual space within individualized experiential contexts. These devices afford users a relatively high-resolution sound space that, when tuned properly, often re-places the perceiver both spatially and temporally. In so doing they have the capacity to fundamentally recast the nature of personal experience. (2012, p. 157)

Describing what he called ‘the sound-tracked lifeworld’ at a time when iPods and MP3 players had not yet been thoroughly pushed to the side by smartphones, MacDougall gestured to the powerful impact of newly formed ‘discrete sound spaces’ (2012, p. 158). How might teachers plug in to this lifeworld and exploit these sound spaces?

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash
Photo by Juja Han (free use via Unsplash)

Taking full advantage of audio in a way that lets student users choose when, where, and how to form, and take part in, convenient and intimate sound spaces has always had significant barriers for educators. Learning Management Systems have had enough problems enabling embedded video over the years, and that medium has always taken priority.

Requiring students to download recordings from an LMS isn’t ideal, but can be an option in some circumstances. I sidestepped integrated audio recording features for making more accessible MP3 files with Audacity some years ago. I’ve also found SoundCloud to be immensely useful for uploading and embedding podcasts into HTML files or blog posts – and students can download the podcasts to their smartphones from the site.

There are plenty of other ‘external’ solutions like these if you’re interested in finding ways to engage your audience with audio. Creating affective and intimate auditory environments might sound complicated, but with a little learning by doing you can go a long way.

If you’re keen to explore the possibilities of audio, now is definitely the time! Someone might very well be waiting to hear from you…

Photo by Alessandro Erbetta on Unsplash.jpg
Photo by Alessandro Erbetta (free use via Unsplash)



MacDougall, RC 2012, Digination: Identity, Organization, and Public Life in the Age of Small Digital Devices and Big Digital Domains, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison.


Featured image: Photo by Yingchou Han (free use via Unsplash)

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