February 2, 2022

Should “listening” be one of the skills we teach students?

Posted by Laura Guertin

Back in 2014, I attended the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, held at The University of Texas at Austin. One of the most memorable moments for me was when AGI gave their workforce report at the beginning of the Summit and shared how employers are always looking for strong communications skills from students. But one skill that students needed to develop more was their ability to listen. Although I am aware my instution, just as several others, require students to satisfy general education requirements with courses on writing and speaking – what do we do to help university students to become better listeners?

This led me to write a piece for the Journal of College Science Teaching titled “Why Students Should Listen” and a post on this GeoEd Trek blog, Take 5… articles on listening. I was already assigning and continue to have students create “podcasts” in my classes and engage in listening exercises, but is there more I can do?

NPR journalist Monica Brady-Myerov went the next step and founded Listenwise, a curated collection of NPR radio stories and podcasts for students in grades 2-12, complete with interactive transcripts, assessments, and more. If you teach in higher education, don’t tune out just yet! Take a look at the Listenwise website and this overview video.

Photo of book cover, Listen WiseBrady-Myerov has also published a book titled Listen Wise: Teach Students to be Better Listeners, with the book website listing resources that support each chapter. The book was an excellent reminder for when I record my own audio in the field to share with students – for example, I need to remember that writing an audio story is as critical as the sound. Words must be used in the most descriptive way possible. For use during in class 3-5 minutes is an ideal length.

Each book chapter also has class activities and ends with prompts for reflection and planning. I’m excited to see a resource that presents guidelines for teaching listening and an entire chapter dedicated to having students create their own podcasts to deepen their learning (*what my colleagues and I call “audio narratives” – see our article in the Journal of Geoscience Education on Impact of Student Produced Audio Narrative (SPAN) assignments on students’ perceptions and attitudes toward science in introductory geoscience courses).

Dartmouth College has a webpage that lists 10 Bad Listening Habits and How To Turn Them Around. But what if we provide a bit more mentoring in our geoscience courses in helping students develop better listening skills? We can ask students to reflect upon what behaviors they believe keep them from being good listeners, and to then build a list of what they believe are good listening skills (*a class activity on page 81 of the book!). Brady-Myerov summarizes that the research on listening shows that “listening to stories is a powerful way not only to communicate, but also to bring a group of disparate individuals closer together, increase their sense of well-being, and improve their information retention” (p. 69).

It makes me think back to my New Year’s Resolution post for 2022, asking everyone to take climate action, and one way to do just this is to talk about climate. But it doesn’t help to have people talk about climate if no one is listening effectively!

Listening is a critical skill students need in the present and will utilize after they complete their degree – but what are we doing to help them develop this skill? Perhaps by playing an occasional short audio news story in class, along with a follow-up disccussion/assessment, we can address the need identified by the geoscience workforce and better prepare students for success in all aspects of their lives.


And if you haven’t seen/listened to Julian Treasure’s TED Talk on 5 ways to listen better, here it is!