VANCOUVER, Wash. — Former school teacher Stephen Dawson is well acquainted with the challenges of supervising rowdy students. While working as a teacher, Dawson found that the noise in his classroom rose to unmanageable levels, especially when students were working together in large groups.
"[The students] usually start out quiet, but then become louder and louder until they are oblivious to their noise level. Often, they are not even aware of how loud they are," Dawson explained in an interview with SBF.
Dawson came up with a plan. He approached an Oregon State University faculty member in the electrical engineering department about creating a noise level alarm. Once a prototype had been created, Dawson introduced it to his classroom.
"After the alarm went off quite a few times, the students developed an intuitive sense about their noise level so that the alarm rarely sounded," Dawson said. "Sometimes I used incentives — rewards — for their complying, but most of the time I didn't need to, as most students ... encouraged the others to be quieter. They could talk, but the alarm reminded them when their noise level became excessive."
It wasn't until later that Dawson realized his device could be equally applicable in a school bus environment.
Dawson, who has done extensive research on the subject, said that many incidents have occurred because bus drivers do not have an effective means of quieting students. Not only is noise distracting to the bus driver, it also can conceal issues such as bullying or assault because the driver cannot hear what is happening in his or her bus over the din.
Dawson pointed out that "there's a lot of research that shows that noise level causes aggression. And these bus drivers — who are just normal people — when they get around this loud sound every day ... it causes stress and it affects how they act with the kids."
Dawson's device allows the user to set a threshold level — the noise level that should not be exceeded — as well as adjust the sound or volume of the alarm itself.
"When the ambient noise level on the bus reaches the set alarm threshold, an alarm goes off to indicate to the students that their noise is too loud — as determined by the driver or school district," he said. "The alarm will continue to sound until either the driver manually turns it off or the noise level in the bus goes below the preset noise level threshold."
Dawson has submitted a patent application for the device and is currently approaching companies about developing the alarm for the school bus market. His finished prototype, he said, could be integrated into the video survelliance on a bus, a mobile two-way radio or GPS system.
"Now it's about trying to get people to see that this is an age-old problem and it's never really been addressed," he added. "There hasn't been something that will really work that I know of, and I really believe that this [alarm] will be effective."