Saturday, March 14, 2009


Boyle et al.’s (2003) study investigates the efficacy of audio texts and the combination of audio texts with structured instruction in a population of learning disabled students.
Of the six researchers involved in this study, three are from the Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) institute. The remaining three researchers are from John Hopkins University. Although the RFB&D is a non-profit society, positive outcomes from this research study promote the efficacy of audio recordings provided by the RB & D institute. The (RFB&D, 2007) website states:

"Students who had access to RFB&D's AudioPlus textbooks achieved a 38.1% increase in post-test scores compared to peers in the control group, whose scores increased by 21%"

Interestingly, the information displayed (in percentages) is a reinterpretation of this published study. Clearly, the RFB&D institution benefits from and continues to amplify the positive findings of the study.

The researchers believe that an intervention (their intervention) is needed. The researchers state “alternative [non print] instructional methods are needed to convey content information effectively and efficiently” (p. 204). In addition, “strategy instruction is viewed as one of the key components to increasing reading comprehension” (p. 204). The researchers show pre-study bias in stating the “greater efficiency” of CDs over books on tape. Although this intuitively makes sense, the researchers provide no testing or research to back the claim that “CDs enable students and teachers to work with greater efficiency” (p. 204).

The research questions in this study are obfuscated as research “purpose[s]”. So that the purpose was to investigate the effect of: (a) audio text and, (b) listening strategies, on student performance and comprehension (p. 205). In the Results section (p. 211), the research question is clarified and stated as “whether the use of an audio textbook with and without a strategy enhance content acquisition for high school students with mild cognitive defects … compared to students not provided with assistive devices”. The hypotheses is concealed as a premise thus: “The study was premised specifically upon the need for students with LD and other mild cognitive disabilities to be skilled in actively processing textural information in a way that facilitates understanding and remembering.” (p. 205). The outcome that the researchers were hoping to find was that LD students using audio text and note taking strategies would be better able to create clear and complete notes (p. 210). Unfortunately, it is not until the Discussion section (p. 212) that the hypothesis is plainly stated: “It was hypothesized that the SLiCK [Set it Up, Look Ahead, Comprehend, Keep it Together] strategy would increase the effectiveness of the audio text book by providing both learning and organizational strategies”.

From the first paragraph, the researchers document the gap between curriculum and the needs of LD students. Throughout subsequent paragraphs, the researchers make a convincing argument for how to augment LD student literacy. However, the premise that CDs are more convenient that audio tapes (for LD student instruction) is not adequately explored.

Design Methodology
The researchers describe this research design as “experimental design using a “pre-test post-test design” (p. 211). The methodology uses random assignment of participants to groups. The methodology included two experimental conditions and one control condition. One group received audio only treatment, one group revived both audio and SLiCK instruction, and the control group did not receive treatment.

In this study, the dependant variable is student acquisition of academic content. The Methods section of this study describes the details for delivery of instruction and experimental procedures. Two types of measures were used to assess outcomes: (1) cumulative content acquisition tests and (2) short-term quizzes (p. 205).

The research procedures (strategy) in this experiment are covered in five paragraphs. The four components of the SLiCK strategy include setup, familiarization, comprehension, and synthesis (p. 211). The SLiCK strategy for treatment groups is easily replicated. For the audio portion, the procedure for explaining how to operate and navigate CDs menus is described (p. 210). The control group procedures are also easily reproduced. The control group had access to regular teacher-instruction support and did not have access to audio nor the SLiCK instruction (p. 208).


The researchers were surprised to find no significant difference in scores between the experimental groups (audio only treatment compared to audio and SLiCK treatment). The study of results (significantly higher scores for both experimental groups) support the researchers conclusions (experimental groups were able to achieve higher quiz and cumulative test scores). The researchers note that their study contrasts with Torgesen, Dahlem, & Greenstein (1987) findings on LD research using audio and organizational strategies. Torgesen et al. (1987) found LD students required audio as well as advanced organizers to increase content learning over time.

The authors suggest that further research with audio text are required to ensure audio text are effective. In addition, authors encourage the development and testing of further complimentary strategies for enhancing the effectiveness of audio based assistive devices (p. 213). The researchers draw a reasonable conclusion that curricula for LD students can be enhanced with audio tests to improve content acquisition. The researchers also conclude that the use of audio with advanced organizers for LD students needs further study.

External Validity
The researchers acknowledge the limitations of this study to be generalized to any population. Worse, the study’s unique mix of participants and personalogical variables (including age as well as ability) therefore excludes generalization to LD school settings with different mixes of participants.

Ecological Validity
The researchers explicitly describe the experimental procedures (in seven paragraphs). The research methodology appears to be easily repeatable. Although the study has randomized assignment of participants, perhaps person variables may be responsible for the unexpected result of the audio and SLiCK group not doing better than the audio only group. Multiple-treatment interference (multiple instruction techniques) is minimized by having consistent instructional delivery. Observers monitored (through in class observation and checklists) instructional practice adherence. Because the participants in the control and both treatment groups are aware of being studied, the Hawthorne effect (participant improvement based on the awareness of being studied) is somewhat mitigated. However, the treatment groups receive extra attention (instruction in note taking and how to use the CDs). Perhaps a greater Hawthorne effect is at work for the treatment groups. Another potential threat to ecological validity shows up when the treatment groups are exposed to novelty and disruption effects present when using audio CDs and the SLiCK program. The researchers minimize experimenter bias is by having the experiment (instruction) delivered by teachers rather than researchers. If the researchers had not excluded results of non pre-test participants, sensitization to pre-test effect could have been examined. The same might also hold true for post-test sensitization. Too bad the researchers chose to exclude (or include as additional factors) participant data for missed pre-test and post-test. I wonder if the role of history as an interaction might also have a treatment effect generalizable to the 2003Audio CDs era. CDs have become passé, iPods, iTunes and MP3 players are the current audio fad. This study dutifully measures knowledge acquisition scores (the dependant variable). The discussion section anecdotally describes the improvement of note taking skills and transfer to using note taking skills in another domain (science class). If the dependant variable had been the acquisition of note taking skills and transfer of note taking skills to other domains, perhaps this study would have had greater impact and generalizability. Such was not the case.

Boyle, E. A., Rosenberg, M. S., Connelly, V. J., Washburn, S. G., Brinckerhoff, L. C., & Banerjee, M. (2003). Effects of audio texts on the acquisition of secondary-level content by students with mild disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 26(3), 203-214. Retrieved from
RFB&D. (2007). Press release - RFB&D audio textbooks boost comprehension scores for students with learning disabilities. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from
Torgesen, J. K., Dahlem, W. E., & Greenstein, J. (1987). Using verbatim text recordings to enhance reading comprehension in learning disabled adolescents. Learning Disabilities Focus, 3(1), 30-38.

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