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Listening system helps students tune out distractions

Get help focusing on a lecture using your phone and a Wi-Fi connection.

Students with hearing impairments or who find background noise distracting during lectures will get help from a new system that is being installed on campus.

The Stanford Focus Listening System allows students to scan a QR code with their phone, then use an app and their phone headphones to listen to a clear feed of the instructor’s voice during a lecture. The system was designed for people with hearing impairments, but it will be available to any student in the class. It is now available in Bishop Auditorium and will be installed in a number of other classrooms during autumn quarter.

“There are a lot of times when any one of us would benefit from being able to focus a little more directly on what’s being said to us,” said Bob Smith, director of classroom innovation. “In a large classroom, there are a lot of distractors.”

Just need a phone and Wi-Fi network connection

One of the system’s advantages is that it doesn’t rely on any special equipment that has to be placed in each classroom, then checked out and returned. 

“Instead, it relies on a device that most of the students have going into class every day,” Smith said.

The system uses the Wi-Fi network – so students won’t be charged for data to use it – and a phone app. Students with hearing aids paired to their phones will receive the direct feed. Other students can access it with headphones and a phone.

“It will be ideal for students who just need to boost their focus in class, or for those with ADD/ADHD who get very distracted with background noises, and especially for those on the autism spectrum,” said Robin Cole, alternate format and assistive technology manager in the Office of Accessible Education. 

Coming soon to more classrooms

The system is being installed initially in rooms that already have a voice lift system, which amplifies the instructor’s voice so those in the large room can hear it more easily. Instructors in these rooms usually wear a microphone, and there are speakers overhead.

The QR code for each classroom will be on a poster on the wall. The poster will also have codes for general information about the system and for downloading the app that is used with it. Because the system uses the Stanford network, a university login will be required to use it.

Although the system is currently being installed in 20 large lecture rooms, future phases of the project will include putting array mics in smaller rooms so the system can be used to facilitate seminars. These mics are mounted in the ceiling and can capture sound from speakers in different parts of the room. 

“In a seminar class, where everyone is talking, it requires a different kind of solution to be able to hear what’s going on,” Smith said.