How does sound shape our learning spaces?

13 Dec 2021
Decorative image of a bird with a soundwave icon and several images of shapes


On 10th August we presented our first Centre for Research in Digital Education live lesson event on the subject ‘How does sound shape our learning spaces?’.

The event was developed by Dr James Lamb and Craig Steele (Digital Skills Education) with the support of our University of Edinburgh summer interns, Isabel Duffy and Callum Groeger.

Working with Craig, Callum took a technical role developing interactive activities to explore the experience of sound across learning spaces. Isabel worked with James Lamb on the initial research for the event and went on to develop event visuals and a sound artefact informed by Eventbrite enrolment data.  Participants were asked (on registering for the event) what sound makes them ‘tune in’.  Isabel took these suggestions and composed a sound piece to play at the start and end of the event.

Digital Skills Education brought all involved in the event together through a YouTube live stream combining commentary with feedback on the activities in response to the live data submitted by attendees engaging with Callum’s sound activities.  Activity 1 saw participants focused on listening carefully to their environment.  Activity 2 asked event attendees to curate a learning soundscape bringing together a range of different sounds (computer fan, office workers, background radio noise) in different intensities.  The final activity asked participants to listen to different types of music and rate (using emojis) how conducive they were to specific learning activities.

In addition to the activities, the event also included a pre-recorded discussion between James Lamb and Kati Ahern (State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland) connecting to contemporary research of sound in learning spaces.

Event feedback

From the outset, the event team were really keen that the audience should extend beyond those working in universities. It was particularly heartening, therefore, to see the breadth of participants who got involved on the day. The event attracted an audience from 24 countries with interest in a broad range of learning spaces. The group included university lecturers, students and learning designers as well as those working in music and sound, museums, the performing arts, heritage and other fields besides. The varied audience fitted neatly with the position we took in the event, that learning doesn’t only take place in the conventional settings of the lecture theatre, laboratory or library, but in fact happens in all places and moments that support composition, reflection, performance and other forms of educational activity.

The range of experiences and expertise across our group made for active and rich conversation, which unfolded in the YouTube comments alongside the event. During the one hour event we recorded almost 400 You Tube comments including some really interesting questions:

  • Do we need to think about sound as part of study skills - helping students skill up their capabilities for reconfiguring soundscapes that work for them?
  • If one size doesn't fit all, how do we shape learning environments inclusively & 'at scale'?



Highlights from our event evaluation include 162 soundscape 'selfie' and emoji responses, 192 page hits on our learning spaces activities (on 10th August) and 667 engagements with the activity within a week of the event.

Reflections from our interns

Isabel Duffy

This summer I have been the Public Engagement Intern for the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. During my internship, one aspect I really enjoyed was being able to play a creative role in setting up our event ‘How does sound shape our learning spaces?’. I’m happy I was given an open brief in terms of creating the visuals for the event. I also really enjoyed the discussions and brainstorming sparked from James’ research at the beginning of the internship. It was brilliant to be able to bounce ideas off one another and to think creatively about how to encapsulate some of these ideas about learning spaces in a new and engaging way for the live lesson. Finally, I am grateful for the opportunity the internship provided me in expanding my sound editing skills. I loved creating the sound piece for the event from the prompt shared with participants as they signed up.

Callum Groeger

I’ve learned and developed skills in project management over the summer and gained a lot of experience deploying code. There were a couple moments in July where things felt quite challenging in terms of timescale. I’m grateful of the support, particularly from Craig, Daniel and David (Digital Skills Education) on the technical side of things, their feedback and testing my prototype activities. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed the level of project ownership I was given, having the freedom and ability to control my own direction in the areas I was responsible for.

The event was really the culmination of the internship.  On the technical side, everything worked!  I was watching the error logs for the server we were running on, and absolutely nothing went wrong.  I had been concerned that people might have problems uploading their soundscape selfies because their platform might have been out of the scope of our testing.

It was great to take part in an active way (something developers don’t often get to do) and also to see in real time so many people interacting (and enjoying) the activities I’d built. 


Next steps

We are working with the team at Digital Skills Education to develop our learning spaces soundscape activities so that they can be accessed at any time.  We look forward to sharing more details on this in 2022. 

Dr James Lamb

Digital Skills Education

Kati Ahern (State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland)

Listen to the learning spaces event sound piece