Data Visualisation #5

My week in audio

Last week I decided to track the audio soundtrack to my learning. I wanted to delve deeper into a new aspect of my learning environment by tracking what type of sounds I hear, the level of sound (low to high), and the time that these sounds occur. I wanted to understand how aware I am of my surroundings and the impact this has on my day-to-day life.

I included both my work and college activities. I tried to record a moment of sound when I was working or studying, which would usually mean trying to record something once or twice an hour. I collected the data in a haphazard manner, mainly because I would often be lost in thought or deep within an activity and then suddenly remember that I had to reflect on the sound and my environment around me. So, I had noted these sounds at the top of various pages, in emails to myself, or in WhatsApp messages to my wife because the time stamp was really useful. Although these messages made little sense to her:

“Seagulls (loud), dogs upstairs (distant), your very loud meeting”.

It ended up being quite a long and labourious process to piece the week together, with one day proving to be particularly elusive as my working station had changed multiple times during the day.


Although at times, it was hard to sit back, stop, and reflect, it was a practice that made me more aware of my surroundings and connected to those around me. When I don’t have meetings, I usually stick on my noise-cancelling headphones to drown out our cats, apartment noises, and my wife! This week, I opted to take off my headphones for the majority of the time and when I did use them I used normal non noise-cancelling ones. And by doing this, I developed a greater appreciation and understanding for my overall environment, for the city, the birdsong, and even my wife’s work.

For example, catching snippets of my wife’s work enriched our lunchtime and dinner conversations and I will now think twice before putting my headphones on. Also, I became very aware of the birds in our apartment complex with seagulls and ducks mainly dominating, however, there was the odd great tit, house sparrow, and heron. At a time when I bemoan the lack of nature and the great outdoors within our 5km limit, I now appreciate what I do have on my doorstep.

With this in mind, I wanted to depict my week in audio as music, a song, or a melody. This was tricky as I do not have a musical bone in my body. But I did not want to show these sounds as distractions or impart any negative connotations to them. The visualisation, therefore, is loosely based on guitar chords, with each day represented separately, the time represented vertically, and the sound level represented from left to right.

My week in audio

Reflecting on this activity in a wider sense, tracking an individual’s or class’ audio could allow a teacher to understand the learning space on a richer and deeper level. Perhaps it would help them to develop a greater understanding of a student’s home environment and context, their learning practices, or how students are working together by being able to look back and reflect on conversations and interactions. Privacy and ethical issues, once again emerge however, how relevant or necessary is it to listen to and record a student’s home environment? There is the potential to record or ‘listen in’ to conversations that could have legal implications or require the support of the authorities. It feels like it could have the potential to open a huge can of worms, raising questions like how is this data used? Who would have access to it? Could it be shared with third parties?

Overall, I think that this activity has more benefits for the student through the added reflection and reconnection to the physical world around us, especially in our virtual existence at the moment. For now, I have put my noise-cancelling headphones to one side and I will continue to be more present and connected to what is going on around me.

One Reply to “Data Visualisation #5”

  1. This is a really interesting idea! One of the other lecturers on the Digital Education programme, James, does research on the soundscapes of education, and writes about “sonic clutter” as the ambient noise that can interrupt learning/studying. I like your thoughts on whether there is anything of value for a teacher in tracking the soundscapes of learning too, though you rightly highlight some of the significant ethical implications of this. But sound is certainly a big contextual factor in students’ learning spaces, routines and habits, and it is intriguing to consider what value “datafying” it for teachers’ use could have.

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