In this project we examined the use of “Audio Journaling” as a multi-faceted practice and participatory research method to engage young participants in forms of creative expression, self and peer-based reflection, and participatory assessment. In a paper published in the Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference in Norway in June 2018, we share our experiences from incorporating this approach in three different participatory media programs conducted with adolescents in Gaza, Jerusalem, and New York City since 2011. In prior work, audio diaries have been used as reflective probes with young adults for conducting social research, and with the visually impaired to elicit rich contextual experiences informing HCI design. Our findings illustrate how audio journaling can be used with adolescents in participatory media programs to capture spontaneous and introspective experience-focused accounts with emotional resonance, while revealing the process of sense-making in a lightweight and unobtrusive manner. We believe these practices can enhance participatory learning, co-creation, and peer-based evaluation of program outcomes.

Through our experiences we found audio-journaling to be a fairly promising and complementary tool if incorporated as a regular activity among participants, especially for media-based programs. Audio journaling can be self-administered, which offers the possibility of reducing some demand characteristics for program staff involved, and receiving more honest or frank responses.  It can be conducted as a private activity, which may increase the validity of responses to more sensitive topics. Audio journaling also provides an alternative to written journaling and questionnaires for populations with limited literacy or linguistic capacity, including new immigrants, young children or those with certain disabilities. Among the young participants in the intensive media workshops, audio journaling provided a less strenuous and more immediate alternative to writing-up reflections on paper or in online blogs. Audio journaling was easily incorporated into the program structure; participants could capture their reflections at many opportune moments in the program or at home and while actively engaging in outdoor experiences.  

As with any tool, audio journaling is not effortless to setup or ideal in every situation. It requires specialized equipment (such a digital audio recorders or Apple iPods), which also adds an expense. However, affordable audio recorders are becoming more widely available and most mobile phones allow audio capture. Training participants to use the devices for audio journaling requires some preparation and time. In many cases the devices may have been acquired as part of the educational media program itself, whereby participants are expected to learn to use them for their creative media projects and interviews; hence they can be leveraged for participatory assessment. Audio journaling does currently require time and effort, on part of program staff, to carefully transfer, organize, transcribe, anonymize and analyze; hence it may not always be ideal for programs with very limited resources. However, this can be streamlined with newly emerging dynamic audio tools and platforms. Overall, we believe audio journaling is a worthwhile approach that is relatively easily incorporated into existing media-based workshops or as part of program assessment methods to support a rich, engaging, and reflective experience for participants, educators, and program staff.

In the future, audio journaling can be augmented using digital tools for capture, annotation, sharing and analysis. In prior work, mobile interfaces have been devised to capture audio recordings synchronously with hand-written gestures on tablets for note-taking and retrieval, while prototype applications have been designed for adolescents to capture, annotate, and share audio-visual media as story threads on handheld devices. Sonic Gemshave been proposed as wearable devices to unobtrusively record fragments of domestic sounds. These can be coupled with embodied digital mementos like the Family Memory Radio or mobile tools for audio blogging, sharing, collective reflection, and participatory analysis among the adolescents themselves. Designing such ubiquitous audio-based tools in conjunction with audio-journaling practices, may support a more cooperative and participatory approach to learning, creative expression, and assessment among young people.


Sawhney, N., Graver, C., and Breitkopf, E., 2018.  Audio Journaling for Self-Reflection and Assessment among Teens in Participatory Media Programs. In Proceedings of the 17th Interaction Design and Children Conference (IDC ’18),Trondheim, Norway. ACM.

Sawhney, N., Dougherty, A., Shim, L., and Lopez, R. 2013. Aago for Mobile Media Narratives Created by Teens: Lessons from Co-Design, Prototyping and Evaluation. Workshop on Enhancing Children’s Voices with Media and Technology12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA. 

Sawhney, N., 2009, June. Voices Beyond Walls: The Role of Digital Storytelling for Empowering Marginalized Youth in Refugee Camps. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (pp. 302-305). ACM.

Copyright All Rights Reserved © 2019