Audio Affordances

Class Activity                         Audio Affordances                                                   Ed Lessor

Preparation: I have three short audio presentations that I currently use for this activity: “Tropes Galore” from NPR’s On the Media, “Cribbing through the Ages,” also from On the Media, and “The Art of Being a Neighbor” from This I Believe. It is important to have links to these essays handy before class, and to have transcripts for each piece as well as access to the audio files. In a tech class I post both to the Writing Studio ahead of time. In a conventional classroom I would make copies or overheads of the transcripts and burn a cd or load the files onto my laptop ahead of time.

Objectives: The goal of the activity is to enable students to identify the particular affordances of audio essays. A secondary goal here is for the students to re-think what they find valuable about alphabetic texts as well. I want my students to leave this activity understanding that there are differences between hearing and reading an essay, but not to privilege one mode over the other.

Activity: First I play one of the audio pieces for the class. I ask them to take notes as though they were listening to a lecture or preparing for a quiz. I then have them read the transcript for the piece and take notes on anything that caught their attention that they did not pick up on while listening to the piece—to focus on the differences in the two experiences. We then read the transcript for the next piece, and repeat the process in reverse. For the third piece we read and listen at the same time—students attempt to note tensions or benefits to hearing and reading an essay at the same time. We then discuss what the students find appealing about the audio essays. A short list here should include: the ability to hear the vocal quality of the reader, a more controlled sense of the tone of the essay, better attention to pauses, and the rhythm of the essay, background music, sound effects, the impact and effect of silences in the recording, a more personal connection to the piece, etc. We then discuss the advantages of reading the alphabetic transcript of the essay. This list generally includes: better control over timing, the potential to repeat and return to difficult passages, an easier understanding of the organization of the piece, less of a sense of being manipulated by the tone, and a more “distanced” position from which to analyze the essay. We then discuss the various pieces for specific examples of some of these effects.


Unit Goals:
To learn skills for listening to audio arguments in a critical manner.
To understand the affordances of audio arguments.
To gain useful insights for the potential composition of audio arguments.

Course Goals:

Extend knowledge of rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Compose effective arguments in different genres (such as academic and public media) and different modes (such as alphabetic, auditory, and visual modes, as well as multimodal texts that combine these strategies) designed to achieve multiple and specific purposes for multiple and specific audiences
  • Reflect on the synthesis and communication of knowledge in alternate modes of composition

Extend experience in composing processes, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Hone strategies for generating ideas, revising, editing, and proofreading mono- and multi-modal texts in disciplinary/professional/specialized discourse
  • Critique one’s own compositions and the compositions of others

Extend mastery of argumentative conventions, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Adapt genre, mode, and other compositional choices to meet audience and purpose
  • Anticipate and address audience questions and objections

Extend the application of advanced rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Compose arguments in different modes for specific audiences and purposes