A Pedagogy of Listening

Composing with/in Media Texts

Milena Droumeva & David Murphy

School of Communication, Simon Fraser University

Sonic Research Lab | Media Analysis Lab


Simon Fraser University's School of Communication has a long-standing history of sound-based instruction and pedagogy, dating back to R. Murray Schafer's (1977/1994) work with the World Soundscape Project in the 1970s and Barry Truax's (2001) subsequent work in the area of acoustic communication through the 1980s and 1990s. Engagement with sound has included both listening activities, such as soundwalks, sound maps, various "ear cleaning" exercises and written reflections (sound journals); and audio production assignments that connect to modes of communication and media problematics, including recording interviews, creating public service announcements, podcasts, audio-based narratives and soundscape compositions.

In this chapter, we provide a historical overview of the concepts that underlie our listening-oriented audio-based curriculum and share a series of practical examples of soundwriting assignments that bridge soundscape composition work and media production with communication studies. We contextualize these practices in John Dewey's experiential educational philosophy as well as a pedagogy of listening (Hua, 2012; Schafer, 1977/1994; Westerkamp, 2015), set within larger new media culture ecologies (Burn, 2009; Ito et al., 2010; Jenkins, 2006). Particularly, we discuss how we conceptualize the role of applied projects in interdisciplinary media studies programs—through allowing students to embody real-world professional roles such as those of a "producer," "media storyteller," "radio host," "composer," and so forth. Our courses incorporate a range of listening exercises to familiarize students with a variety of formats and possibilities in using sound production and soundwriting as a communicative medium alongside traditional writing work. We address the use of different recording tools, approaches to instruction in field recording, mixing, production quality, and interviewing techniques. In addition, we share several concrete examples of audio assignments and discuss successes and challenges in implementing and teaching through listening and audio production.