Audio Feedback

Using audio for assessment feedback in a year 1 university music course

What I'm working on at the moment is a project funded by a BSU E-learning Grant to see whether audio feedback is a viable and useful tool in addition to , or even in place of, written feedback. I'm using this in the marking of an assessment task for year 1 students as part of the Study Skills for Musicians course I run here on the BA Music course at Bath Spa. The task is a short (500 word) music analysis essay - they choose one of four pieces (Schumann song, Noel Coward song, Stravinsky Double Canon or a Haydn quartet movement) and the task is to produce good written style in what can be very dry analytical writing together with the incorporation of useful music examples. What I've done is to mark each first using Word 'comments' and then record spoken feedback that amplifies the on-text comments which, in fact I've used as prompts for what I'm saying. The comments are given in a jolly, familiar style which is very useful with the more negative/critical comments: tone of voice is everything!

The whole process takes 15 minutes per script (unless the work is particularly bad!). After testing different recording software I've decided to use Audacity, which allows for editing if I say something particularly stupid, or if I just dry up and need to edit out the longeurs. The audio settings are mono and basic quality but a 2-3 minute sound file comes out at between 8-15MB. These are wav files which I then convert to mp3 in iTunes with the settings again mono and low quality which for speech are perfectly OK: they are all around 500Kb.

I will evaluate the student response to this over the next week or two and report back in another post.

What is here below are some comments on the project when I applied for the grant, just for some context.    

There have been a number of recent studies, particularly from UK universities[1], of the successful use of podcasts or voice-emails in formative and summative assessment feedback. Podcasts represent a relatively recent way of providing feedback and display a number of advantages over traditional written feedback and face-to-face tutorials. Research shows[2] that audio feedback provides more personalized and understandable commentaries, an increase in feedback detail, and an increase in feedback strategies available to tutors. Student questionnaires show a high rate of satisfaction in these studies with students commenting on, ‘more extensive feedback’, ‘targeted to specific points for improvement’, ‘the work had been really looked at and evaluated personally’, ‘longer and more personal than written form’ (Ribchester, France & Wheeler, 2008: 4), and so on. What also seems to be significant is the student engagement with the feedback with information being retained and valued particularly when a more sympathetic approach, via the spoken word, is used for negative feedback.

Email, Blackboard and Wimba:
Feedback in the form of an MP3 file can be sent via email, although there are issues of file size here particularly as some students may prefer to listen using a smart phone rather than a computer. One study[3] used Wimba voice-email, a bolt-on for Blackboard, capable of recording and communicating with students using a familiar email/tape-recorder interface all within a Java-enabled web browser. Significant here is that the audio file is not attached to an email but is saved to a server (Blackboard) with a hyperlink to streaming audio and the possibility to download.

[1] JISC funded project Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback, Rotheram, B., Leeds Metropolitan University,

A word in your ear 2009 – Audio Feedback Conference Sheffield Hallam University 2009

[2] Merry, S. and Orsmond, P. (2008) ‘Students’ attitudes to and usage of academic feedback provided via audio files’, Bioscience Education, 11, p. 11–3.
Nortcliffe, A. L. and Middleton, A. (2007) ‘Audio feedback for the iPod generation’, In International Conference on Engineering Education, p. 3–7.
Ribchester, Chris, France, Derek and Wheeler, Anne (2008) ‘Podcasting: a tool for enhancing assessment feedback?’, Presentation, [online] Available from: (Accessed 11 April 2011).
[3] Macgregor, George, Spiers, Alex and Taylor, Chris (2011) ‘Exploratory evaluation of audio email technology in formative assessment feedback’, Research in Learning Technology, 19(1), p. 39.

Survey Results

What is it about students and questionnaires? Using Survey Monkey I had 20 responses from a group of 59!  Anyway the feedback was mostly positive. Almost all listened to it on a laptop whilst looking at the work; there were no problems with accessing/downloading the mp3; a third of them listened to it more than once; 75% of them thought it would be most useful at the draft stage rather than on the final submission; half thought it might replace a face-to-face tutorial, and 80% thought it could be useful for other kinds of assessment such as recitals and compositions.

Here are a couple of comments:

about the spoken style, 'It felt quite casual, but that worked quite well for me because it just felt like I had gone to see you about it.'

'Sometimes when comments are just written at the side they can be ambiguous, and the mistake not clear. Explaining it by voice and saying which line needs altering and why was a lot clearer and more helpful. More detail is explained.'

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