Student Audio Feedback: What, why and how

Listen to this:

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[flickr]photo:2597104631[/flickr]I captured this clip of students from the University of Chester and Sheffield Hallam talking about their experiences of receiving audio feedback at the last Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes SIG at Glasgow Caledonian University. This event was very fortuitous as at the time I was helping source material for a Queen Margaret University (QMU) staff workshop on this very topic. If you are still unclear as to what audio feedback is here is a nice description from Andrew Middleton:

Audio feedback can be defined as formative messages, recorded and distributed as digital audio to individual students or student groups in response to both ongoing and submitted work, allowing each student to develop their knowledge and the way they learn. (Middleton, A. 2008)

Why do I think audio feedback is worth exploring? It is clear from the National Student Survey (NSS) that feedback is a particular area if dissatisfaction. There is a growing pool of evidence that students perceive audio feedback as a positive to their learning experience (although I’m not aware of research on actual learning gains).

Existing practitioners/projects

In my research for the QMU workshop I came across a number of projects and practitioners exploring this area, which I believe are worth sharing in this post:

[If I’ve missed anyone off please use the comments to highlight them and their work]
In researching audio feedback it was clear while there were distinct benefits but there were some reoccurring themes in terms of limitations. First is scalability. It’s all well and good providing individual feedback to up to 50 students but with figures beyond this it just becomes to onerous.

Audio feedback models

A solution to this problem is to explore other audio feedback models. Andrew Middleton at Sheffield Hallam University has identified a number of alternative models which include:

  • Personal tutor monologue – tutor feedback to individual student
  • Personal feedback conversations – recording tutor/student meetings
  • Broadcast feedback – generic feedback to the class
  • Peer audio feedback – student generated audio feedback
  • Tutor conversations – recording teaching staff conversations

More information on these models is available in a presentation made by Andrew at the Blended Learning Conference or in a forthcoming paper entitled ‘Audio Feedback design: principles and emerging practice’.

Don’t expect to save time

A finding from the Sounds Good 2 project is that providing individual student feedback is unlikely to save any staff time (there is a messy debate about whether high quality feedback offers long term gains in terms of how much additional feedback is required further down the line). Sounds Good have however circumstances where time can be saved (taken from the Sounds Good Final Report):

  • The assessor is comfortable with the technology.
  • The assessor writes or types slowly but records their speech quickly.
  • A substantial amount of feedback is given.
  • A quick and easy method of delivering the audio file to the student is available.


In terms of the technology there are a number of solutions which various projects propose. These include:

  • using a digital voice recorder which saves the files directly into MP3 format
  • using you Mac/PC using free audio recording software like Audacity (a portable version of Audacity on EduApps) or Wavosaur (this also can be used without installing any software)
  • using a mobile phone – if this feature is available

I also recently posted about Using Google Talk for Audio Feedback. This solution appears to be more troublesome than its worth but was useful as Joe Dale, via Andrew Middleton, highlighted the Vocaroo web service which look incredibly easy to use and worth a look at.

General advice

So what advice would I give to anyone thinking about using audio feedback? There are some very good recommendations from the Sounds Good project (final report) which are worth highlighting grouped under 4 themes: saving time; technical matters; administration; and structure:
Saving time

  • Don’t expect immediate savings in time, if any. Think of the long term returns for you and your students (there is anecdotal evidence that audio feedback reduces the need for follow up face-to-face sessions)
  • except minor mistakes. You are not looking to produce broadcast quality audio

Technical matters

  • optimise your files to minimise download size. Recommended mp3, mono and if possible reduce the bitrate to 32-40kbit/s
  • check files can be played on campus computers
  • make sure the audio is loud enough
  • have clear guidance on how to play files (I wouldn’t bother with guidance on playing files on portable media devices as the majority of students appear to prefer the convenience of playing them from a desktop computer)
  • have a backup of files in a secure location
  • if using shared devices or computers make sure files are deleted once backed up


  • if audio feedback is particularly being used as part of summative assessment make sure you have a conversation with quality assurance
  • make sure audio files are securely stored and distributed


  • try to personalise the feedback by introducing yourself, the assignment you are giving feedback on and refer to the student my name
  • keep focused – a 2 minute piece of feedback can be as, if not more, beneficial than a 10 minute ramble (the clip at the beginning of this post is just over a minute and conveys a lot of information)
  • I would recommend using audio feedback as supplemental to written feedback.

In terms of a procedure for creating audio feedback Bob Rotheram from the Sounds Good project recommends this procedure and general structure:

Feedback Procedure

  • Have the assignment details and assessment criteria with me.
  • Read the assignment, making written comments on it as I go along. If it’s on paper, I jot things in the margin. If it’s in an electronic format (e.g. Word), I use the ‘Track changes’ facility to annotate the document.
  • Read it again, more quickly this time, perhaps making a few more comments along the way.
  • Jot down (on scrap paper) the main summary points I wish to make.
  • Start the MP3 recorder.
  • Don’t bother to erase and re-record ‘misspeaks’; just correct them immediately, as in conversation.

General structure

  • Introduce yourself to the student in a friendly manner.
  • Say which assignment you’re giving feedback on. Outline the main elements of the comments which you’ll be giving (see below).
  • Work steadily through the assignment, amplifying and explaining notes you’ve put in the margins and, especially at the end, making more general points.
  • Refer to the assessment criteria.
  • Explain your thought processes as you move towards allocating a mark.
  • Offer a few, reasonably attainable, suggestions for improvement, even if the work is excellent.
  • Invite comments back from the student, including on the method of giving feedback.
  • Round things off in a friendly way.

Bob expands on these in his ‘Practice tips on using digital audio for assessment feedback
This post is based on material compiled and presented by Jim Sharp and Susi Peacock at Queen Margaret University


Join the conversation

comment 3 comments
  • Justin Hunt

    This is a really interesting article. Giving audio feedback is very time consuming, and I found with my own students that they did not seem very excited about it. In fact sometimes they seem embarrassed to get it. But I think it may well depend on the activity that the feedback is in response to. Some day you might update this post with more current audio tools. The content is evergreen for sure.

    • Martin Hawksey

      Hi Justin – time is a reoccurring issue. Even when you go for the one-take approach, there’s still the administration effort required to name and distribute files. A refresh of tools is definitely in order particularly to include tools like audioboo and ipadio (the latter I know has even picked up an assessment award)

  • Andrew Middleton

    If anyone is interested in audio feedback, screencast feedback, video feedback (which I tend to refer to collectively as media-enhanced feedback now) please do contact me at a.j.middleton ‘at’
    You may be interested in the MELSIG publication “Media-Enhanced Feedback – case studies and methods: Papers produced to support the Media-Enhanced Feedback event” which is available at or the proceedings from A Word in Your Ear conference:

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