Acoustic inspiration from a South African classroom

Andries van Renssen, Principal at Abbots College in Pretoria East, South Africa.

Interesting to listen to how different the Vuvuzela sounds in a classroom with poor acoustics vs a classroom with very good acoustics.

In fact the school described the transformation from an “acoustically hopeless” room into an effective learning environment in Abbotts College.
Ancy Atticula, a teacher who was new to the school, felt that the classroom she taught in was extremely noisy. She was keen for changes to be made and, when she explained this to the principal, Andries van Renssen, he was very enthusiastic. Improving the acoustics became a priority for the school. The classroom, used for science lessons, had hard walls and ceilings, resulting in a noisy environment which was difficult to teach effectively in. During a period of four months finishing earlier this year, the classroom underwent an acoustic transformation. An acoustic ceiling of absorption class A panels and additional low frequency absorbers were installed, as well as Class A wall absorbers. The difference was dramatic, with the reverberation time from 1.34 to 0.4 seconds.The changes also resulted in better speech intelligibility, and lower sound levels, giving a more disciplined, calmer behaviour.
A questionnaire was conducted before and after the acoustic treatment. Staff as well as students were delighted with the changes. The principal, Andries van Renssen at Abbotts College, explains: “The class used to sound ’hollow’. There was an obvious echo, which resulted in students not being able to hear the teachers properly, especially when they were working in groups or when there were other noises in the class. “The change is dramatic” continues Andries. “The atmosphere in the class is quieter – almost more ‘academic’. The teacher can be heard clearly. When students have group discussions, there isn’t a noisy atmosphere; they can hear one another in each group.” He elaborates: ”Class discipline isn’t just about a strict teacher or someone who can handle a noisy class. Without students realising it, a classroom’s sound quality has an impact on the class atmosphere and on the ability to concentrate and participate meaningfully in lessons. I always try to manage the school in such a way that there is as little distracting noise as possible.”
Conversations with improved speech clarity Ancy Atticulla, the teacher who originally pointed out the shortcomings, is delighted: “The acoustic improvements in the science lab have hugely improved the quality of the sound in the room. The spoken word now ‘carries’ well in the room. There’s no more echoing and the students can hear me very well without me shouting. Even a soft-spoken person can be heard well. The students are also becoming self-disciplined.
Their conversations can be heard so they tend to behave well.”
In the treated classroom, the speech clarity (D50) improved dramatically from 43% to 85%.
To see the short film click here
We would like to thank Andries van Renssen for his enthusiasm and commitment to good classroom acoustics!

Education 176

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