I can’t hear myself think – lessons learned!

During a recent weeklong visit to Melbourne, my main purpose was to attend the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILETC) research project partners meeting and attend the ILETC education research Transitions Symposium “Transitions Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments Symposium”.

However, it was also an excellent opportunity to discuss and raise awareness about the importance of acoustics in teaching and learning environments with a few other interested parties at the same time. Acoustics as a topic or the need for good sound environments is recognized in this research project and everyone agrees it is important, yet, as a topic, it still suffers from being too invisible and most commonly forgotten or accepted even when the acoustic conditions are poor and not fit for the purpose of teaching and learning.

So after discussions in advance of my visit, the ILETC project team decided to take steps to raise acoustics on a higher platform and arrange an extra informal session to hear more about the importance of the sound environment and discuss the issues in more depth….

This started with an invitation to speak at the Melbourne Graduate School for Education (MGSE) on the Melbourne University campus, titled: ‘I can’t hear myself think’ – an informal lunchtime lecture on acoustics in the classroom.

As well as covering the importance of good acoustics in classrooms referencing various studies, I covered pedagogic changes around innovative learning environments involving changes from traditional teacher lead to student centered learning activities and the many associated issues around this. I highlighted that we need to provide acoustic conditions which control of sound levels, speech intelligibility, speech privacy between spaces and control of indoor ambient noise. I also featured some European interesting case study examples  from my EDUnet colleagues and covered the practicalities of these evolving pedagogic approaches and spaces. The need for activity based acoustic design in planning towards potential innovative learning landscapes to support sustainable learning outcomes, health and well-being.

To make the presentation available at short notice it was suggested we should use one of the informal teaching spaces in the University. A lecture theatre was also booked as back up as it was unclear how many people would attend at short notice. Around 20 people replied to the invitation and they were a mix of teaching staff from the University, architects and acousticians and in the spirit of taking learning to informal teaching spaces we (started) in the main multi- purpose social space access by all students. An obvious challenge but nothing I should not accept if only to put it down to a learning experience.

Wes Imms introduced me and very early on I realized I had many activities not only competing for my audiences’s attention but also creating a background noise level that made it hard for me to be heard and hard for me to hear myself. There was a café servery directly opposite me, students having lunch and talking and students circulating all around me.  I had to raise my voice to a shouting level but still life carried on around us.


After 20 minutes Wes decided to intervene and with everyone’s agreement we moved up to the lecture theatre which had also been booked.


The transformation was incredible. I was able to continue in a much more suitable setting and the lesson, apart from my acoustic message was that “flexible spaces” which are intended for many different types of activities often are completely unsuitable and therefore not used – as was the case on this occasion.


Anyway, we managed to have questions and a great broader discussion in the lecture room and I am sure the attendees will not forget the experience. I think we all gained a lot from the exercise – I certainly will not forget the experience and how uncomfortable the space was when trying to reach out to many people in a “flexible space”.

The following day I was invited in to speak at Hayball Architects, another industry partner in the ILETC project and while my vocal chords were tender it had made a good recovery form the previous experience. I presented a variation of the ‘I can’t hear myself think’ – presentation about the importance of acoustics and the impact on teaching and learning environments again. However the acoustic conditions were much better and I felt much more comfortable, engaging the audience much more, using my voice much better and just being able to field questions and interaction throughout was completely different in a space designed for specific activities. In addition, Hayball opened the session live to several of their other offices to share the interaction and discussion.


That afternoon and with my voice returned to normal I had an interesting meeting and discussions with Marshall Day Acoustics (ILETC Industry Partners) to share case study findings and discuss various possibilities and synergies around the ILETC project.

The next day was the ILETC Partners Annual meeting at Melbourne University. I was delighted to contribute with why we believe the ILETC project is so important, how we are involved providing sub project case studies / good practice examples from Europe and experiences to share within the project to support a broader understanding of which teaching and learning activities are possible in the relevant typologies of space* see diagram and particularly lifting out Types B, C & D in the diagram. What we can see is that this project is quite unique in embracing many topics around ILEs and the issues around teacher change and teaching mindsets. It also looks at and how the sound environment potentially impacts on the vast majority of issues which actually helps single topic issues needing to consider implications and crossover into other previously separate topics as sound and acoustic issues should be embedded in all aspects where management, behaviour and speech communication are relevant – most areas.

*Typologies of space diagram above.

I attended and gained a lot from the variety of upcoming research presentations at the “Transitions Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments Symposium” at Melbourne University. The symposium was separated into four different topic sessions.

1.       “Inhabiting Design” moderated by Richard Leonard, Director of Hayball Architects.

2.       “Teacher Practices” and was moderated by Craig Deed, Associate Professor of Education at La Trobe University.

3.       “Change and Risk” moderated by Steve Cook, Principal at Albert College.

4.       “Measuring Impact” moderated by Professor John Hattie, Professor of Education at Melbourne University.

From these symposium sessions and all my ILETC meetings and discussions during the week in Melbourne, it was increasingly clear that if we are to create a democratic learning environment to support Innovative Learning Environments, it is vital that acoustics is embedded in the thinking around PEDAGOGY, BEHAVIOUR & LEARNING SPACES. So I thought I should lift up an overview of aspects where acoustics may have more of an impact than we might imagine. Click here to read more about my overview in my “ILETC Transitions” sessions post.

Click here for ongoing updates on the ILETC project.

About Sound 206 Educational Environments 190 Events 90 Research 173

Related Blog Posts