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Bob Rotheram :: Blog :: Straws in the wind

May 11, 2008


“How’s it going?” That’s a common question, one which is easy to ask and often hard to answer. Why might it be difficult? Well, first, what’s being enquired about? My health or some combination of the various activities in my life? Second, does the questioner really want to know? Can I unburden myself for the next twenty minutes, or is the limit a cheery “fine, thanks”?

So how’s it going? Er, given the context, let’s assume you’re asking about Sounds Good. That’s the relatively simple bit. But what do you really want to know, how far does the data entitle me to go, how frank should I be and how long have I got? They are much tougher questions, especially when my answers will be pitched at a largely anonymous audience ‘out there’ somewhere. For better or worse, I’ve decided:

  • You want an answer to the central question for Sounds Good: can digital audio be used to give students quicker, better feedback on their work?
  • The data doesn’t entitle me to go far at present.
  • I should be reasonably open and make sure I’m fair in presenting the evidence.
  • I’ve not got much space or time: a few hundred words or five minutes of speech.
So how’s it going? It’s still early days, but there have been some responses from students and staff about their first experiences of audio feedback. Here is a short yet fair selection.

Student comments
How helpful was the audio feedback?
• “Very, very helpful as I felt like we were face to face. Really good.”
• “It is very helpful. I can listen to it any number of times and giving feedback verbally is far easier than writing, so we get more in [the same time].”
• “Initially I found it disjointed, mainly because I didn’t have my assignment beside me when listening. However, on re-listening with the assignment, I found it very helpful.”

How does audio feedback compare with written feedback?
• “Better because the tone of the person’s voice helps put emphasis on the areas they thought most important, whereas this can be lost in written feedback.”
• “I like it a lot.”
• “More effective.”
• “As I am dyslexic this has helped me because I find it easier to listen than to read.”
• “I think sound files can be helpful, but sometimes it could be better just to have it in writing.”

Staff comments
Once you were used to it, how long did creating and sending audio feedback to a student typically take compared with your usual methods?
• “As this was the first time, I felt it took the same amount of time as if I was using feedback sheets BUT I can say a lot more by audio than by feedback sheets. … I think with practice this will get quicker as I get more used to things.”
• “I got better and better at using the digital recorder. It is much quicker to speak than to write, although I had to make notes and speak them otherwise I forgot what I wanted to say. Overall [it is] quicker.”
• “It took slightly longer for me to prepare the feedback. But I feel this was worthwhile.”
• “The efficiency of giving audio versus written feedback would depend very much on what kind of assessment it was – the feedback I gave was quite short and very repetitive and it was incredibly boring doing the audio feedback. Also I am used to writing and typing, so that would be much quicker for me.”

Do you have any other comments about giving audio feedback?
• “The students really liked it. I think it was because it was new and one said they found my voice and positive tone reassuring and comforting and could tell I wasn’t cross, just being constructive. Sometimes this doesn’t come across in written words on feedback sheets.”
• “One of the down sides of using just audio is that you have to guide the student by saying, for example, third paragraph on page 2. … I used audio in conjunction with an assessment criteria sheet, which I think helps, and I then made comment relating to the criteria as well.”
• “I think there are many students who would take in the information better if it’s audio rather than written.”
• “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was able to increase both the quantity and depth of feedback. I now plan to roll this out across all of the modules that I lead next year and to involve my team members in provision of audio feedback.”

Straws in the wind? I hope so.

(Posted by Bob Rotheram, Project Manager, Sounds Good)

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Posted by Bob Rotheram


  1. Hi Bob,

    I can see why you got those responses. Audio is so useful isn't it? I did notice the mention of recorders and wondered if you've considered using a telephone based system. We do one that allows tutors and learners to just call a number and record a message on the phone. Students can get an alert (SMS or email) and its posted automatically to a web site for download or listening. The nice thing is that nobody has to use a computer at all or learn software plus it sorts out distribution automatically in various ways. Of course I am pushing a service here but it honestly sounds more practical and effective our way than the old-fashioned way of recorders, computers etc etc.

    Nick Bowskill



    Nicholas BowskillNicholas Bowskill on Thursday, 15 May 2008, 11:50 BST # |

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