Thousands access campus tour thanks to live-stream app

School of Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Ewan Macpherson found quite the audience recently as close to 40,000 people watched a tour he gave of the National Centre for Audiology anechoic chamber during a recent Western staff conference.

Paul Mayne // Western NewsSchool of Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Ewan Macpherson found quite the audience recently as close to 40,000 people watched a tour he gave of the National Centre for Audiology anechoic chamber during a recent Western staff conference.

The first thing Ewan Macpherson asked when the suggestion came to use Periscope to showcase research at the National Centre for Audiology (NCA) – in particular the anechoic chamber – was, “What’s Periscope?”

A professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Macpherson is one of the heaviest users of the anechoic chamber – ‘anechoic’ literally meaning ‘without echo’ – where he studies spatial and binaural hearing. He is interested in how the ears and brain work together to figure out what direction sounds are coming from, and how this can apply in sorting out complicated listening situations.

While the lab space has been open to tours in the past, the audience has strictly been limited to those who are on site in Elborn College. During the recent staff conference at Western, Macpherson led a few tours of the anechoic chamber. To make the tour accessible to a wider audience, it was suggested he use an app called Periscope.

Periscope allows users to broadcast live with a mobile device, streaming video and audio to viewers interested in joining the broadcast. To the surprise of Macpherson and others, there was definite interest in the anechoic chamber.

“It was very unobtrusive, I didn’t even realize they were there,” he said. “It ended up with close to 40,000 viewers taking in the tour with Periscope.”

The tour quickly went viral. The half-hour tour inside the chamber was retweeted by Periscope’s official Twitter account, Twitter Canada’s official account and by Twitter Canada’s Managing Director, Rory Capern, a Western alumnus. It was also picked up by the Discovery Channel show The Daily Planet.

With the live viewers, along with those who tuned in to watch the recording, just close to 40,000 people took in the happenings at NCA. On the actual day of the tour, Western had more Periscope followers than McMaster, Queen’s, McGill, Alberta, British Columbia and Waterloo universities – combined.

“We thought it was a great idea to publicize this engaging and cool aspect of the work done here,” said Macpherson. “It was a way of building on an outreach we already had going with tours we’ve given.”

For the past two years (since the app’s launch), Western has been the most active of Canadian universities on Periscope, with more subscribers than any other school in the country, and almost twice as many as Harvard University, said Western’s Digital Content Manager Melissa Cheater.

“Beyond its academic reputation for excellence, Harvard is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading universities when it comes to digital innovation and communications,” she said. “So, it’s a great matter of pride that we are ‘pulling our weight’ alongside them on this emerging platform.”

For those who missed the tour, the anechoic chamber is equipped with a 125 Hz cut-off wedge system on the walls and ceiling, with removable sound-absorbing panels on the floor of the 20’x121 space. This facility supports a wide range of research projects requiring a highly-controlled sound field environment, with researchers in Music, Audiology, Hearing Science, Psychology and Engineering all using the room.

Macpherson said his work with students, as well as those with hearing impairments and devices such as cochlear implants and/or hearing aids, looks to understand how the normal hearing system works, the processes that are involved, and how hearing impairments affect that.

“The processing that is in hearing aids, does it help or hinder when it comes to your specific hearing?” asked Macpherson, adding it’s about taking sounds and fitting them into the proper levels. “Developing outcome measures, and a set of tools to use, you can do measurements on someone and see if it is working on a particular aspect of their hearing.”

While testing can be done in a small sound booth, it is important to have a controlled environment, with controlled delivery, said Macpherson, citing the advantage of the anechoic chamber, which provides an ideal environment for measuring the electroacoustic characteristics of hearing aids and assistive hearing devices when studying auditory perception.

“If it was outside the chamber, the sounds would bounce off the walls and it would affect how you interpret it and (researchers) don’t know what you delivered to the person. In the chamber, there won’t be a copy (echoing off the walls),” he said. “The walls absorb almost all the sound, so there is no reverberation. There’s quiet, and then there’s absorbing quiet.”

SEE THE TOUR

If you want to check out the Periscope recording of the anechoic chamber tour, you can go to uwo.ca/nca.