Capturing sound in student thinking and learning


One of the aspects of student learning and thinking that we are trying to capture at United World College is students’ thoughts during their partner conversations. We know that a way that students learn best is by talking about their thinking with a partner or group.

As digital literacy coaches, we have been trying to find ways to capture this thinking. An easy way would be to use an iPad or a computer to record the partners talking.

However, when we tried this, we discovered that the sound was terrible. In many cases, we had to ask the students to speak very loudly and have everyone else in the class not make sound. This worked, but wasn’t a very authentic and easy way to capture these conversations. Some teachers tried pulling students out of the classroom to a quiet place and recording the conversations there. Again, not something that is easy or that sustainable.

We wanted a solution that worked in the classroom, when all the students were talking and was easy to set up. We decided to try out a few different headphones with built in microphones. Why headphones? Headphones are commonplace in the classroom and we don’t want to purchase any special equipment if we don’t have to.

We tested microphones that have one plug for audio in and audio out and that worked with the iPads and with the MacBooks. Why these particular headphones? These headphones were given to us to try by our good friend Doug Taylor who is a teacher and app developer.

Headphones #1-3 are over ear headphones and headphone #4 is the in ear Apple headphones with a microphone.

The test was simple. I set up a computer and an iPad to record a conversation between two students. The other students in the class were also having conversations in the background. I started with the computer and quickly rotated the headphones through to try to get as fair a test as possible. Then I recorded on the iPad and, once again, rotated through the microphones as quickly as possible. For each of the test, I moved the headphones as close to the girls talking as possible.

Have a look at the results for yourself.

I noticed a few things. First and most importantly, it didn’t matter which headphones I used, they were much better than the sound recorded from either the iPad or the computer without a headphone attached.

I also noticed that the sound recorded by the macbook seemes louder than that from the iPad.

If I have to pick the ones that I felt were the best, I feel that headphones number 3 and the Apple headphones (#4) gave the best sound. In terms of cost, we can get headphone #3 for less than $15 and the Apple ones are more than twice that cost.

So in conclusion, if you want to record the sound of partner conversations in a noisy room, get some headphones and you will hear a big difference.

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