Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

The enhancement of student understanding of subject issues with the use of audio tape recorded interviews

Peter Davis
School of Architecture, Construction and Planning
Curtin University
The author of this paper has been teaching in the Department of Construction Management at Curtin University for one year following a career as a Construction Manager in the in the UK and more recently Australia.

This paper considers how one may enhance student understanding of subject issues with the use of audio tape recorded interviews played back in lecture or tutorial situations. It is designed to be a simple alternative and supplement to industry representatives speaking in attendance, who may for a number of reasons be unavailable at the time when the topic to be discussed would be most advantageous to a class.

The paper is based on an actual interview with Mr. Mike McLean of the Master Builder's Association (WA) and his participation is acknowledged with thanks, the example presented is in the form of a case study. The main body of the paper discusses in some detail the methodology in producing the interview and presenting it to a class.

Objective review and student feedback to enlist their response to deliveries of this nature is discussed in the paper.

The paper considers some aspects regarding the use of audio tape recorded interviews as a teaching learning aid and it is the writers hope that it will provide the reader with sufficient information to carry out their own similar exercises in the future successfully.

The conclusion considers possible future enhancements and variations to the original theme with the use of different technologies, examples of alternative uses of the original medium are also briefly discussed.


The primary objective is to assist student learning by providing a wide range of short lectures or tutorials, diverse but relevant throughout the course of a unit of study. This may be achieved with the valuable assistance of guest speakers currently active in industry. In busy industries it may not always be possible for guest speakers to be available when preferred, or at all, in some circumstances and it is the writer's opinion therefore that the use of audio tape recorded interviews played back to the students provides a valuable and useful alternative.

Secondary objectives which should be considered are the current nature, the interest and the enthusiasm that may be injected into a unit of study via guest speakers. These fundamentals would appear to enhance student learning.


Initial Contact

It is important that early initial contact with the interviewee is made to ensure that the time required to prepare the questionnaire is available, some additional time subsequent to the interview is also required to edit the recording and produce allied slides or overheads together with any other material to be used in the final presentation.

Whether the initial contact is made personally or by telephone one should discuss the subject matter briefly and be particularly careful in obtaining consent for the tape recording of the interview and subsequent playback to the class.

Questionnaire Design

The second task is to collate the subject matter and design the questionnaire, to achieve this an understanding of the subject is required which ensures that the questions are relevant, some discussion at the initial contact stage may assist in the preparation of this. A first draft may be forwarded to the interviewee if required so that any anomalies can be cleared up prior to the actual interview.

Time spent in the preparation stages will save a good deal of time later in editing the tape.

The questionnaire, once finalised, should be issued in advance to allow the interviewee time for some "homework" and this also ensures clear answers at the interview. The final draft of the questions should be short, concise and as noted before, relevant.

The time available to you should also be borne in mind; how long do you expect the interview to last, similarly a two minute answer on the tape may promote a ten minute class discussion!


The preparatory work is complete, the date for the interview has been confirmed and armed with the portable tape recorder the final draft of the questions and associated trappings it is time to attend the interview. In order to reduce any unnecessary editing of the tape it is probably best to have a "full dress rehearsal" of the introductions and brief format prior to switching on the tape recorder. To ensure that the equipment is functioning correctly tape a short portion of the discussion and play it back, this will save the embarrassment of having to re-tape the entire interview again! Once this, and any pleasantries are out of the way the interview may commence. A glass of water available to each party is also a good idea to avoid a sticky mouth or constant clearing of ones throat.

As the interviewer it should be your responsibility to introduce the subject, his or her organisation and the topic of the interview. These may be expanded upon in class prior to the presentation. If at all possible the interviewer should ensure that the answers are kept on track and along the lines of the questionnaire. Some diversity will inevitably be introduced and it is conceivable that additional questions may come to mind. If they are relevant to the discussion at that moment in time there is nothing to be lost by interjecting, in fact this will give rise to a more relaxed atmosphere and enhance the final product presented in class. Generally, however, attempt to maintain the structure of the interview to avoid unnecessary rework of the tape. Avoid sipping coffee - it comes out on the playback!

Attempt to keep the interview relaxed, allowing for natural variations in tone and pitch of the voice, both theirs and yours. As a courtesy allow time at the end for the interviewee to give a short "plug" for his or her organisation, or may be mention an appropriate associated issue (perhaps a lead in to your next interview). He or she may just wish to provide you with some PR. Tape it - after all, you don't have to play it back to your students!

Reviewing the interview

Back at the office the task of reviewing the interview and editing the tape recording as appropriate is undertaken. Primarily one has to ensure that the tape is audible, hopefully the equipment has been set up correctly and has not malfunctioned, at this point the importance of the short trial run should be emphasised. Assuming that all has gone well a simple task of editing out any irrelevant or muddled sections and deleting the jangling of the coffee cups where possible should ensue and in a relatively short time an acceptable product should be available.

The structure of the lecture presentation around the reviewed and newly edited tape follows normal practice that is well documented by others, to supplement the tape play back one may wish to produce overheads or slides to support discussion or anticipated questions. A whiteboard if available may be used to elaborate on other more general questions.


All of the preparatory work is now complete and the main event, that of playingthe tape to your class, is next. As noted before lecture and tutorial presentation, format and venue are well covered in other book and papers, for the purpose of this discussion document a few tips may assist; arrange the classroom to suit the limited equipment generally available, round table or horseshoe plan shape of desks or chairs seems to enhance discussion and interaction, ensure visual access to the overhead, if used, and the white board, if required, for clarification of any points raised.

The original questionnaire should be redesigned to allow space for the students to make notes as the interview and subsequent discussion takes place. Play the tape, pausing after each question is answered, this allows time for class discussion, use the overhead for elaboration of any pre-empted points of discussion, and use the white board for discussion and elaboration of further questions. If a particular point seems to be lost on the class or requires further clarification then simply rewind the tape back to the start of the particular segment and review the content.


Very soon after the presentation it is useful to review your aims and objectives, this will enhance any future use. Some of the questions worth asking yourself may encompass the following;
Did the class appear interested? The change of format in itself will often promote interest and this is certainly the case in the writer's limited experience using this technique.

Did the students respond to the points raised on the audio tape?

Was the class discussion open, honest and enthusiastic?

Did the questions raised indicate the student's understanding of the issues?

Was the room layout suitable?

And finally an important point that should be considered with regard to the equipment used, could everyone hear the audio tape?


An important aspect of any presentation, tutorial or lecture is to recap proceedings and obtain feedback, this exercise it is not an exception to that rule. One should determine responses along the following lines in this particular instance;
Was the topic of interest and relevant to the unit or course of study?

Did the students benefit from the class discussion, did the class appear to be enthusiastic? (This point certainly gives an indication of the interest promoted.)

Did the interview raise awareness of the topic and did it fulfil the students expectations?

Should the questionnaire be amended to any degree, are there any questions that should have been raised in the light of the class discussion that were originally omitted.


The use of audio tape recorded interviews provides an up to date presentation of subject issues structured and disseminated to a class. A distinct advantage is that it provides an avenue for busy guest speakers and saves them valuable travelling time. The structure of the lecture is maintained and may be controlled by the lecturer. Additional advantages are that the information may be reused on successive occasions whilst current and from the student's point of view the change of format livens up a long lecture.

The medium of audio tape recording is relatively cheap and simple to use, the technology is well established and familiar to all and in general people feel comfortable with its use.

The mobility of the equipment is a further premium and interviews may be conducted in most circumstances. Perhaps journalism is the best example of this.


What of the future? The speed with which audio tape recorded interviews can be captured lends itself to a series of lectures on fast changing and topical themes, examples that spring to mind include Industrial Relations (the writer's original theme), Information Technologies, and Electronics. Case studies including perhaps recordings of several speakers with opposing views played back to back for discussion is another example where the audio tape may be utilised. A final example is role play, where the audio tape recording could be used as a telephone in conjunction with a pre-written scenario typical to the course of study.

Use of video recordings may seem to be a natural progression as the technology becomes more straight forward, however, the adaptability of audio tape recording and its flexibility would, in the writer's opinion, give it an advantage.

Perhaps it is not possible to replace the personal presentation, but audio tape recorded interviews represent a supplement and allow variation to existing themes and adaptation to suit various contexts from lecture through tutorial to workshops.


Gibbs, G., Habershaw, S. & Habershaw, T. (1989). 53 Interesting Ways to Appraise Your Teaching. 2nd Ed. Technical and Educational Services Ltd. Avon, England.

Gibbs, G., Habershaw, S. & Habershaw, T. (1989). 53 Interesting Ways to Assess Your Students. 2nd Ed. Technical and Educational Services Ltd. Avon, England.

Grimmond, T. R. (1993). How to Deliver Effective Presentations. Effective Presentations. Adelaide, Australia.

Samson, J. and Radloff, A. (1992). In Writing. A Guide to writing effectively at the tertiary level. Paradigm Press, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Please cite as: Davis, P. (1995). The enhancement of student understanding of subject issues with the use of audio tape recorded interviews. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p57-61. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/davis.html

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