CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

Developing students’ listening and speaking skills through Sonocent AudioNotetaker

by Elizabeth Allen

To help students develop their listening and speaking skills, I trialled a new software programme, Sonocent Audio Notetaker, in 2015-2016 with a group of ten Chinese students on the International Foundation Programme (IFP). Sonocent enables students to record and annotate lectures with its ‘unique characteristic’ (Bates, 2015) being its capacity to represent speech as a series of chunks which can be colour coded according to function, e.g. ‘key idea’ or ‘task’, and then divided into sections. In addition, students can add notes, references, and import images and slides into panes next to the audio.

1Image 1: A screenshot of an annotated Sonocent recording of a TED talk

Although the initial use of the software was to help students with their non-EAP lectures, such as Economics, students found the software too complex to use in this way. This was because it was too difficult for them to colour-code lectures while trying to focus on the content, which can be attributed to cognitive overload of both the visual and verbal channels (Mayer and Moreno, 2003). In addition, the students said it was too time-consuming to listen to the lecture again later and annotate it.

However, the software did provide a number of benefits as a teaching and learning tool in their EAP classes, as follows:

  1. Raise awareness of the structure of a listening text

It can be used to show how much of a lecture is important, e.g. an 18 minute lecture may contain 4 minutes of key points. It can also show how lectures divide into sections e.g. introduction, point 1 and example, point 2 and example, summary.


Image 2: A lecture with key points highlighted, divided into sections and signposting words transcribed into the notes pane

  1. Increase students’ ability to identify different aspects of a listening text

Students can replay sections and identify key points. They can also listen again to the pink chunks to identify signposting words and phrases that indicate the lecture is introducing a new section or a main idea.

  1. Visually analyse student speech

Tutors can record students to provide a visual representation of their strengths and weaknesses, e.g. how much each student spoke in a seminar, a student’s fluency in a presentation, seminar structure and presentation structure.


Image 3: A seminar recording with each of the five students represented in five different colours

  1. Provide presentation feedback

Tutors can import PowerPoint slides, record presentations and provide slide-by-slide feedback using the notes pane. As well as instant feedback, this gives students a visual representation of their presentation and the opportunity to replay it.


Image 4: A recorded student presentation on a TED talk with feedback given in the notes pane

  1. Increase students’ ability to identify coherence and cohesion in a presentation

Tutors can scramble chunks of speech for students to reorder, such as sentences and phrases in an introduction, or whole sections of a presentation. Students can also listen and match chunks of speech to slides or pictures.


Image 5: A 3 Minute Thesis with the introduction scrambled into different coloured chunks of speech for students to reorder


What did students think?

My students disliked using the software for its original use of recording and annotating their subject lectures as they felt that it was too complicated. However, when the students focused on tutor-prepared visualisations of the content, they found the software to be a useful learning tool. Feedback received during and at the end of the course was very positive as all of the students replied that the software helped them to understand the structure of lectures better and it helped them to improve their listening skills. In addition, they appreciated receiving feedback through Sonocent and used it to improve their presentation skills.

In future, the software could be extended to a greater number of IFP students and beyond the IFP to other undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. In addition, it could be further utilised as tool for assessing students’ speaking skills.



Bates, T. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age [Online]. Retrieved from: http://www.open.bccampus.ca [Accessed 19 April 2016]

Mayer, R. E. and Moreno, R. (2013) ‘Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning’, Educational Psychologist, 38 (1), 43-52.


For further information about Sonocent Audio Notetaker see: www.sonocent.com





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