The reverberant acoustics in most traditional classrooms makes the unfamiliar speech common in a learning environment harder to process, making it harder to learn.
There are classrooms and there are high intelligibility classrooms. Who gets high intelligibility classrooms?
- Hearing and learning disabled
- Language Arts
- Vocabulary oriented classroom
- Music and practice rooms
- TV learning centers
- Multilingual population classrooms
- Larger classrooms and lecture halls
Most classrooms are quite reverberant, as acoustics were not primary elements in design and construction.
Foreign Language Classes & Second Language Learners
In a low intelligibility room, full comprehension is almost impossible because there is limited shared experience that can lead to expected word sequences. Since the classroom language is not their native language, they are not used to the new context of sounds and therefore have reduced confidence in expectation of word sequences. They cannot hear through classroom noise as easily as primary language based students. These second language students operate with a learning disadvantage due to poor room acoustics.
Language is used here to apply to spoken languages and also topical vocabulary such as biology or physics.
Students who are hard of hearing can be much more easily distracted by the reverberation of sound. It becomes more difficult to discriminate between the intentional, direct sounds from the teacher, audio material and other students and the time delayed cacophony sounds after they have undergone multiple reflections within the room.
Larger classrooms and lecture halls present another cue factor which helps students to “see through” noisy, reverberant classrooms. This is the visual cue. In small classrooms, the student can focus on the mouthing of words to help understanding. Over long distances, this lip reading factor disappears leaving only body language as support for sentence detail.
Even normal sized classrooms suffer from the loss of visual cues. In the back of the room, reverberant levels are greatest and the direct signal is weakest. The distance from student to teacher is greatest and visual cues are weakest. This is complicated as the heads of other students are often in the way. Accompanying all this is the shuffle and murmur or “self noise” noise levels. As intelligibility is reduced in the back of the room, this inherently makes it more difficult for students to sustain focus, attention and retention. The conglomeration of these effects serves to suggest that wide shallow classrooms ought to be preferred over long narrow classrooms.