The Institute of Acoustics Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control Q&A by Professor Keith Attenborough
by: Professor Keith Attenborough
The Institute of Acoustics Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control is intended to provide sufficient specialist academic training to satisfy the educational requirements for Membership of the Institute of Acoustics. The Diploma has been presented since 1975 and is widely recognised as the educational qualification of choice for the professional practitioner in acoustics. Several Universities grant IOA Diploma holders partial exemption from their requirements for the award of related MSc degrees. About 100 students per year register for the Diploma and much of the recruitment follows recommendations from successful candidates. The IOA Education Committee, Education Manager and the Diploma Tutors and Examiners sub-committee strive to keep the Diploma up-to-date and professionally relevant. This contribution is about its current structure, routes to learning and recent developments.
- How is the Diploma studied?
The Diploma can be studied either through attendance at an Accredited Study Centre (Derby, Leeds Beckett, London South Bank and Solent) typically on a day-release basis or through a tutor-supported distance learning programme with Centres in Edinburgh, Dublin, Bristol and Milton Keynes. The Diploma ‘year’ starts in late September or early October and finishes in the following October with completion of an individual project.
- What is required to pass the Diploma?
A total of five Modules must be passed: three compulsory Modules (General Principles of Acoustics (GPA), Laboratory and Experimental Methods and the Project) and two Specialist Modules (chosen from Building Acoustics, Environmental Noise, Noise and Vibration Control Engineering and Regulation and Assessment of Noise). The pass threshold on each Module including coursework is an aggregate mark of 50%.
- How does the distance learning option work?
Tutored distance learning is a convenient option for those who are either unable to obtain day-release or do not have a Centre within reasonable travelling distance (such as overseas candidates who are registered with the Milton Keynes group). Each distance learning candidate has a Regional Tutor who mentors and helps candidates with any study problems. DL candidates attend a series of day-long tutorials at their respective DL Centres either in person or remotely through Zoom. Most overseas candidates use the Zoom access but increasing numbers of UK students do this as well. All tutorials are recorded and available at any time to DL candidates through the IOA Moodle classroom. The Distance Learning notes for GPA consists of ten units and is supported by five of the tutorials plus a revision tutorial near the time of the written examinations. Each GPA Tutorial overs about two units. Each Specialist Module is supported by two full day tutorials plus a revision session. The Tutorials are intended to support the course material and provide an opportunity for students to seek guidance on specific areas. Typically, tutorials will include lectures, worked examples, problem solving sessions and opportunities to discuss problems with your tutor and other students. The distance learning pattern of study is like that at accredited Centres, however, whereas Centre-based candidates carry out laboratory work regularly through the course, DL candidates are required to attend four days of Laboratory Schools in Liverpool, Dublin or Dubai to pass the Laboratory Module. The assessment of the Laboratory Module is based on four written reports and a laboratory notebook. Not only does the laboratory work help with understanding the more theoretical aspects of the Diploma, a high importance is placed on Diploma candidates having ‘hands on’ experience of the kind of measurements and measuring equipment they will use in their future professional practice. The laboratory sessions also enable DL candidates to meet each other and thereby set up a ’self-help’ support network. The DL laboratory centre in Dubai is proving popular with the increasing number of candidates from the Middle East and India. For the past ten years there have been roughly equal numbers of distance learners and Centre-based candidates each year.
- How much time does the Diploma take?
The amount of time involved in completing the Diploma depends on each candidate’s background and inclination. With little or no appropriate background, the General Principles of Acoustics (GPA) Module can involve about 120 hours of study including coursework and tutorials. Each Specialist Module might involve about half of this study time. So, after adding on the time required for the project and the laboratory sessions, the Diploma could involve more than 300 hours of work.
- What is the blended learning programme to be launched this September?
A series of professionally produced videos will be used to supplement the distance learning programme from the start of the next Diploma presentation. They are not simply recorded lectures but include animations and animated graphics. Not only will they be available to DL candidates for viewing at any time but also they will be used in the regular tutorials. Although they do not cover everything in the course, they will enable the tutors can concentrate more on working through past examination questions and on helping candidates practice relevant calculations rather than spend most of the time simply working through the course syllabus. Potentially, also, these videos will make the Diploma more attractive to overseas candidates and thereby help with the Institute’s commitment to increasing the overseas intake on the Diploma.
- Are there any disadvantages of tutored distance learning centre-based learning?
One potential disadvantage for our tutored distance learning candidates is that they don’t have the same access to a University library and its resources as centre-based candidates. The IOA tries to make up for this partly by subscribing to Barbour Index which gives DL candidates access to British Standards related to Noise and Vibration and to some related reports and books. Another potential disadvantage is the extent to which we rely on tutoring from a few motivated but busy consultants. While they will not have the same teaching experience as tutors who are University staff, they are an invaluable source of information on the requirements of professional practice and can offer their experience of real-life case studies.
- How important is the project?
The Project Module requires candidates to carry out and report a substantial investigation into an acoustics problem or issue. It should involve a range of different skills including both measurement and calculation and, ideally, involve a research element. The Project is important in contributing to the postgraduate status of the Diploma. For this reason, it is an individual rather than a Group Project.
- How is the current pandemic affecting the Diploma?
The lockdown has meant that this year’s written examinations have been replaced by time-limited at-home examinations. The candidates have had to scan their written answers and submit them online. To allow for the resulting ‘open book’ nature of the examinations, the papers were amended to reduce the proportion of marks for ‘bookwork’. Also, the potential lack of facilities and opportunities for on-site measurements during the current lockdown has meant that some Project proposals have had to be amended.
Looking ahead to the next delivery starting in the Autumn, Centres are proposing their modes of delivery to enable social distancing and either limiting the number of candidates or offering the laboratories more than once. Similar constraints will apply to the DL laboratory sessions. At the time of preparing this contribution the arrangements had not yet been finalised.