Quick – can you think of a classroom technology that’s still in use more than 50 years after it was first introduced?
If you’re thinking of a listening center, you’re right.
While first used as part of a phonograph-based listening center in the 1950s, the earliest independent (jackbox and headphones only) listening center was launched in 1961. The Califone LISTENING STATION (HP 100) had eight headphones which plugged into its exterior carrying case with monaural 1/4″ plugs. As playback technologies expanded from phonograph players to include cassettes, then CDs and now digital files, the modern listening center has followed suit with USB or 3.5mm plugs, in mono and stereo versions.
The advantages of a listening center are as varied as there are uses for them. One of the most functional reasons for a listening center is the wide selection to fit almost any technology used today. Some content hasn’t migrated from vinyl or cassette, so some educators connect to those players with 1/4″ plugs while many connect to a boombox or computer in order to play downloaded podcasts or tutorials. Another reason the listening center is so ubiquitous in classrooms is that it’s the ultimate assistant for differentiated learning groups. With class sizes as large or larger than they’ve ever been, teachers can easily group learners of similar abilities to listen to lessons. readily adaptable to groups of different sizes, jackboxes range from four to ten outlets and can even be daisy-chained to accomodate more headphone-wearing listeners if needed. One of the most recent innovations for a listening center is its use of a USB plug to connect with a computer. Enabling a two-way flow of data, the jackbox still distributes the downloaded audio, but can now simultaneously upload voices. This has opened up the ability to skype as well as capture vocal responses for playback necessary for language learning. Some listening centers even protect students from listening to potentially dangerous sound exceeding the ASHA-recommended maximum of 85dB. Others are now wireless and some can distribute the audio from a smartphone or a tablet.
So the next time you need to segment a group of students without disrupting the rest of the class, remember that piece of timeless gear next to your media player – the listening center.