A sound en­vi­ron­ment

When de­sign­ing class­rooms, schools can get car­ried away with the aes­thet­ics and cost of the build, which of­ten makes key fea­tures such as acous­tics an af­ter­thought. While some schools go above and be­yond in cre­at­ing acous­ti­cally friendly en­vi­ron­ments for

The Australian Education Reporter - - ACOUSTICS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

“THE RE­SULTS OF SO­CIAL SUR­VEYS HAVE SHOWN A CLEAR COR­RE­LA­TION BE­TWEEN NOISE LEV­ELS AND PER­FOR­MANCE IN SCHOOLS.”

THERE is a strong link be­tween acous­tics in ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties and the aca­demic per­for­mance of stu­dents.

Put a stu­dent in a quiet en­vi­ron­ment and that stu­dent will gen­er­ally ex­cel; put that same stu­dent in a noisy en­vi­ron­ment and per­for­mance can of­ten de­cline.

Var­i­ous stud­ies have proven that stu­dents who can­not hear clearly in the class­room – from in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal noise pol­lu­tion – strug­gle to keep up and miss vi­tal pieces of in­for­ma­tion to help them with their school­ing.

Teach­ers also feel the pres­sure; at times pushed to ex­haus­tion af­ter strain­ing their voice and re­peat­ing in­struc­tions through­out the course of the day.

The peak body rep­re­sent­ing acous­tic con­sul­tants in the coun­try, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralasian Acous­ti­cal Con­sul­tants (AAAC), has been a proud ad­vo­cate of acous­tics in ed­u­ca­tion for a num­ber of years, call­ing on fur­ther Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion to im­prove acous­tics across the board.

“In teach­ing some­one, you gen­er­ally need to talk to them and com­mu­ni­cate, so it’s re­ally im­por­tant to be able to hear clearly what is be­ing said by the teach­ers. The room can play a big part in how clearly a teacher is heard,” AAAC chair­man Matthew Stead said.

“Is the class­room too lively or re­ver­ber­ant, does the sound bounce off the room too much, and make the teacher’s voices a bit mud­dled and harder to hear?

“Per­haps there is a class of stu­dents walk­ing down the cor­ri­dor and noise from that ac­tiv­ity might get into the class­room and dis­rupt the teach­ing process once again.”

In AAAC’S lat­est re­port on acous­tics in ed­u­ca­tion it stated it had been con­cerned for some time that there were no Aus­tralia-wide reg­u­la­tions or stan­dards that en­com­passed all as­pects of the acous­tic qual­i­ties of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

“There is an Aus­tralian stan­dard which does [ad­dress] acous­tics to some ex­tent but its only ad­dresses part of the cri­te­ria,” Mr Stead said.

“For things like walls, noise in­tru­sion from cor­ri­dors and doors; there’s no na­tional stan­dard for that.

“Some States have rea­son­able guide­lines that are ad­dressed but it’s not univer­sal in all States and lo­ca­tions. Some do it bet­ter than oth­ers, so there is room for im­prove­ment.”

AAAC said there were a num­ber of ar­eas schools could as­sess, in­clud­ing the amount of back­ground noise from air con­di­tion­ing; ex­ter­nal noise from traf­fic, air­craft and in­dus­try; and noise trans­fer from class­room to class­room or cor­ri­dor to cor­ri­dor.

“Chil­dren, ow­ing to their neu­ro­log­i­cal im­ma­tu­rity and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in pre­dict­ing a mes­sage from con­text, are in­ef­fi­cient lis­ten­ers; they re­quire op­ti­mal con­di­tions in or­der to hear and un­der­stand,” AAAC stated.

“The re­sults of so­cial sur­veys have shown a clear cor­re­la­tion be­tween noise lev­els and per­for­mance in schools.

“Stu­dents, in par­tic­u­lar young chil­dren, re­quire good lis­ten­ing con­di­tions; this is known as hav­ing a high sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio - the teacher’s voice needs to be loud and clear above the (unoc­cu­pied) back­ground noise en­vi­ron­ment.”

AAAC said clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion was es­pe­cially im­por­tant for stu­dents with a hear­ing im­pair­ment or those from non-english speaking back­grounds; two groups it said made up be­tween 25 per cent and 30 per cent of stu­dents in pri­mary school classes.

“I wrote a pa­per back in 2012 ti­tled A cost ben­e­fit anal­y­sis of pro­vid­ing a ‘sound’ en­vi­ron­ment in ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties,” Mr Stead said.

“In 2012 we did a bit of a ba­sic anal­y­sis of what you would do, what the stan­dards gen­er­ally might be, and then we made pro­jec­tions as to what ef­fect that has on skill level.

There were some other pa­pers that showed if you had a class­room with bet­ter acous­tics the stu­dents got bet­ter aca­demic scores.

“We then went on to look at the costs of ac­tu­ally do­ing the treat­ment, and then we also looked at the im­proved ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance, and re­lated that through some other re­search to salary in stu­dents’ fu­ture life.”

The study found for a stan­dard 8 x 10 me­tre class­room in Ade­laide in 2012, the es­ti­mated cost to­tal was $9487 for the base class­room and $15,492 for the acous­ti­cally treated class­room.

This was a 63 per cent in­crease over the base con­struc­tion cost to en­sure good class­room acous­tics, which meant for a stan­dard class­room size of 24 stu­dents, it equated to a cost per stu­dent of $395 for the base class­room and $649 for the acous­ti­cally treated class­room.

“This can be taken to be the to­tal cost per stu­dent for their en­tire school­ing pe­riod,” it stated.

“This re­sults in a cost dif­fer­ence of $254 per child to en­sure good class­room acous­tics.”

Luck­ily, to­day schools were spoilt for choice when it came to im­prov­ing acous­tics in the class­room.

“There is a very broad range of ma­te­ri­als that work quite well; largely it’s up to the ar­chi­tect or de­sign team which path they go down,” Mr Stead said.

“There are plenty of ma­te­ri­als.

There are pin up boards that pro­vide some ab­sorp­tion char­ac­ter­is­tics; plaster­board walls which will re­duce the noise trans­mit­ting across the wall; acous­tic seals which help the doors per­form as they should; acous­ti­cally rated doors, pan­els and win­dows; and low noise air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems.

“All the tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als ex­ist.” Mr Stead said car­pet also helped but if vinyl floors were re­quired for a space, schools could off­set this with a highly ab­sorp­tive ceil­ing.

“Gen­er­ally it is be­ing con­sid­ered more by de­sign teams and I think there are also more ma­te­ri­als avail­able,” he said.

“In­for­ma­tion about glaz­ing sys­tems has also im­proved over time so there is prob­a­bly more choice for acous­tic engi­neers and de­sign­ers.”

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