Weeks 8 & 9: Audio


Audio can be found everywhere on the web—for example, accompanying video or on music platforms—but services that support the production and distribution of user-generated audio have never taken-off like YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.

Audio on its own is a much rarer medium on the internet, with many platforms but no social media giant. As an impactful stand-alone piece, or as the vital element in video, audio development is an important skill for educators to engage learners in the multimedia space they occupy outside the classroom.

This week includes a crash course in the basic technical skills in producing audio. We will learn the importance of transcripts for persistent audio files, and we will explore the opportunities found in student-created audio activities.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed Weeks 7 and 8, you should be able to:

  • Design and configure audio for learning.
  • Develop and edit audio for learning.
  • Implement accessibility strategies for audio.
  • Discuss audio production projects for students.

Topic 1: Designing and Developing Audio for Learning

Audio presents two important avenues for supporting learning. As a stand-alone medium, audio offers a simple way to deliver short narratives and explanations. As a component of video, audio plays a key role in supporting viewers’ understanding. In a world where educators often develop less-than-perfect media in the midst of their more-than-full days, flawed video can be tolerated but flawed audio will diminish understanding.

Audio for learning is usually produced in response to specific educational needs, but often you will hear audio files referred to as “podcasts”. Podcasts are typically a series of audio files recorded for a similar purpose or about a similar topic created at intervals and offered to an audience. If you want to create your own podcast, you would commit to releasing a new audio file on a regular basis and distributing it via a podcasting platform (Benton, 2019) that allows easy subscription.

Creating audio for learning requires a microphone and a recording device or application. It is likely that you already own a few microphones. There is almost certainly one on your device if you own a laptop or desktop computer. Phones and tablets also feature microphones. You may want to read the optional “How to Record Audio on a Mobile Phone” (2019) article. Audio production for learning doesn’t necessarily require fancy equipment. If you have a headset with a microphone for participating in web conferences, then you have the starter-level gear for creating audio. If all you have is the microphone in your computer, then you should definitely see what kind of quality you can get before going out to buy something new.

If you do decide to get a new microphone choose a USB microphone to work directly with your computer. There are different types of microphones, and you will want one suited to voice recording or podcasting. You can learn more about microphones at the “Choosing the Right Microphone” (Media College, n.d.) optional resource.

Audio files should (like video, which we will learn about in future weeks of this course) be kept to short segments on a specific topic. A target of about 5 minutes, with a maximum duration of 10 to 12 minutes, should be your goal.

Platforms to host and offer distribution for your audio files are included in the Resources section. We recommend Audioboom and SoundCloud services to host your audio files. You can also upload audio files to your WordPress site. Once there, you can embed an audio player on a page or blog post using the Add Media feature.

Activity 1: Readings and Resources

We start this week with Curtis Carter’s short article on design principles for instructional audio.

Read “Instructional Audio Guidelines: Four Design Principles to Consider for Every Instructional Audio Design Effort” (Carter, 2012) via TRU Library. When reading Carter, consider the principles set out by Mayer (2014) in his chapter and video (Harvard University, 2014) presented in Week 2. Will any of these apply to audio on its own?

Carter’s four principles are sound, but I would add one more example to the first principle of narrative style. A conversational style of narrative, either as a casual discussion of a topic or an interview style of questions and answers, is a format well suited to instructional audio and easily produced by educators.

One key difference between Mayer’s principles and those set out by Carter is that Mayer has been able to establish research that backs his principles over several decades, while Carter’s principles are well-reasoned and supported by prior educational experts.

Activity 2: Source Audio for Educational Use

Sometimes there is existing audio that will support your learning, or existing audio files that can be remixed or mixed with your own recordings to create an effective learning support. Like all media used in education, you should be aware of the copyright implications of using various sources for audio.

One popular source for license-free audio is the Internet Archive. Other collections of public domain or Creative Commons licensed sounds and music are also good sources.

Create or adapt a learning outcome from your teaching area that could be supported by an existing audio file. Using open licensed collections, find and download an existing audio file that could support your learning outcome. Upload this audio file to your media library in WordPress, and embed it on a blog post.

On your blog post, include your learning outcome and a paragraph or two on how you found the file and how well it supports your learning outcome. Link to readings and theory that support this use of the audio file. Finally, reflect on the suitability of this file. Would you want to edit this audio file before using it with students? How would you like to change it?

Once you have completed this post, visit at least three posts from other students and offer constructive feedback on their choices.

Your Open Learning Faculty Member will provide feedback on this activity.

Activity 3: Record Audio

The media you produce for Activities 3, 4, and 5 could become an element within your Assignment 3: ePortfolio of situated educational media. These activities could serve as a dry run for another piece of media, or you could incorporate feedback and your own reflection to submit an improved version.

To start with, there are a few basic elements that you need to establish on your computer before you begin recording audio.

The first element you need is a microphone. All modern laptops have a microphone embedded within them. If you are using an aftermarket web camera on your desktop computer, it probably also has a microphone.

You will also need recording software or an app. Most computers and mobile devices come with an audio recording app included. These apps, combined with built-in microphones, can record audio at a reasonably high level of quality.

Finally, in order to have more control in recording from a computer, software like Audacity is needed. You will also use Audacity to edit and modify audio files. Take a few minutes to download and install Audacity.

Use the “Record” tutorial (Audacity, 2019) to help as you set-up Audacity for recording on your computer, and then watch the University of Waterloo’s YouTube video How to Use Audacity to Record and Edit Audio (2011).

Remember: Whenever you start a recording for a specific project (i.e., not just testing the system) you should use a setting of at least 44,100 Hz for recording your voice. (Use 96,000 Hz to record music.) You should also start each recording with about 15–20 seconds of silence to give a sampling section for noise reduction if needed.

Make a short audio recording of your own voice or other audio in your home (perhaps you play the harmonica?). Be sure to leave about 15–20 seconds of silence at the beginning of your audio file. Export the audio file as an MP3 file and upload it to your WordPress site.

Embed this audio file on a blog post with a paragraph describing your triumph (and any challenges you encountered on the way).

Activity 4: Edit Audio

A key skill in using Audacity or any sound editor is being able to edit out portions of an audio recording that are not needed. This can include extraneous introductory or closing bits, or it could be the coughing fit right in the middle. Audacity works like most tools you’ve used on a computer: If you can select it, you can delete it. Portions of the wave-form that display your audio can be selected and removed to customize your audio.

Use a file you have recorded or sourced from elsewhere, and follow the steps in “Tutorial – Editing and Existing Audio File” (Audacity, 2019). Add your edited audio file to your Activity 3 blog post, along with a description of what you changed and how you did it.

Activity 5: Use Audio Filters

Audacity has many effects to allow you to alter and repair audio. In this activity you will try out the noise reduction effect, and perhaps a few others.

Most audio recordings made using a microphone connected to a computer will generate a low-level hum or hiss that sits in the background of an otherwise good recording. The noise reduction tool can help you remove this background noise. Read the “Noise Reduction” (Audacity, 2019) tutorial, and try it out on your first audio recording. If your initial recording didn’t have any background noise, use the “Oral Book Reports” (Unidentified & Meyers, 1967/1968) clip we heard earlier this week.

After you have removed the background noise from your audio file, export it with a new name. Upload it to your blog’s media library. Edit your original post from Activity 3 to embed the new file beneath the original.

If you have time, try out some of the other effects listed in “Index of Effects, Generators, Analyzers and Tools” (Audacity, 2019). The next most useful one could be “Amplify” (Audacity, 2019), which can be used to raise or lower the volume of an entire track, or just one part of it.

Activity 6: Combine Audio Files

A common requirement in producing a more refined or complex audio file is combining two audio files together. The “Mixing a Narration with Background Music” (Audacity, 2019) tutorial explains how to combine a narration track and a music file to generate a podcast. The recommended structure for a podcast is music intro, muted music during the narration or interview, and music outro: I recommend no music during narration. The principles are the same regardless of what you are combining. Have a look at Lee, McLoughlin, & Chan’s 2008 article, Talk the talk: Learner-generated podcasts as catalysts for knowledge creation to see how research supports the use of audio as effective educational practise.

For this activity, you will create an audio file on a single topic that is suitable for public or educational distribution. Use an audio file of your own creation for the narration. Keep it short, no more that 3–5 minutes, and cut or filter it as needed. ‘Add a music file from one of the audio resource sites on the Shareable Media page . You can crop the music file to work with your narration file. Create a new audio file that combines multiple audio files. Embed your new file within the Activity 3 blog post. Add a paragraph describing the process you used in creating your audio file and how you would imagine using it.

Your Open Learning Faculty Member will provide feedback on these audio files.

Topic 2: Accessibility Strategies for Audio

Audio presents an obvious obstacle for those with different hearing abilities, but it is also problematic for learners in situations where audio may be bothersome to others or interfere with other media. Transcripts are an important addition for any audio piece that will be a central part of your lesson. If your audio recording will be used for multiple offerings of a course, you should create and provide a transcript.

Remember the principles set out by Mayer (2014). We know that learning can be inhibited by having an audio narrative and identical text narrative consumed at the same time. Transcripts should be offered as a link to a new page or a downloadable file, so most students will use one or the other. One exception to this guideline is for English language learners. They often benefit from an audio file where the English text is also presented.

Composing your narrative before you record it can provide you with a ready transcript, but you can also generate a transcript using YouTube. First you must add an image to your audio file, and generate a video from it. You could do this in Shotcut or even in PowerPoint. Once you have a video version of your audio track, upload it to your YouTube account. A transcript will be automatically generated; however, this may take up to 24 hours. You can then access your caption transcript using the steps provided in “Edit or Remove Captions” (Google, n.d.).

Download your transcript as an SRT file. You can then open this file with any simple text editor like Notepad. You can edit your transcript to correct any errors, and then decide whether to keep the time-stamps.

Activity 7: Generate and Embed a Transcript for an Audio File

Take an audio file you have already produced or modified and generate a transcript for it, either using YouTube or another tool, or by hand. On a new blog post, create the context for your audio file so that it will have an effective impact on student learning. Embed your audio file and offer the transcript as a link either to another post or page displaying the text, or to a downloadable file.

Once you have completed this post, review the posts from at least three other students and comment as appropriate. Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Did others manage a technical challenge that you would like to learn more about?

Your Open Learning Faculty Member will provide feedback on this activity.

Topic 3: Audio Production for Students

Student audio production is an opportunity to pare down a project or report to its essential elements. Often the process of having to reduce content to ideas that they can verbally communicate forces students to reflect on what was important in the work they have done so far.

Recording audio is quicker than working with video, and it places lower demands on the person’s computer. Technically, audio development is a similar process to producing video. In addition to being a vital component of effective video, producing audio employs common practices in the creative process.

A side activity to introducing audio production to your students is connecting them with podcasts that relate to their interests and the curriculum in your institution. Collections of educational podcasts are too numerous to list here, just search in Google and you will find many highly rated choices. If you have any podcasts to share with other learners, please list them in the Weeks 8 & 9 Discussion topic.

Activity 8: Readings

Read Hicks, Winnick, and Gonchar’s (2018) “Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts”. This reading on student podcasting offers several ideas that could be used in K–12 or post-secondary education.

The link provided includes images, but it will count against your personal limit of free New York Times articles offered for the month. Another way to access New York Times is via TRU Library, then search for the article using the authors or title.

Activity 9: Student Audio Discussion

After completing the reading in Activity 8, respond to each prompt below within the appropriate forum thread.

Starting on Wednesday of Week 9, respond to at least two posts in each thread with observations, possibilities to extend the thought, or alternative options.

  1. Post a one-paragraph description of a learning outcome from your teaching area, or from an educational context you supported, and a way in which it could be supported by student-generated audio or a podcasting project as an individual endeavour or a student group project.
  2. Some of the activities in the readings require preparation and class time to facilitate. Consider your teaching context, and try to develop one or two strategies for reducing the time required to have effective use of audio for learning. Share these in a post to the appropriate forum. Review the posts from other students and try to build on the strategies offered in a comment.

References and Resources

Readings and Resources

Audacity. (n.d.). Download [Software application]. http://www.audacityteam.org/download/

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Noise reduction. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/noise_reduction.html

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Record. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/record.html

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Tutorial – Editing an existing audio file. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/tutorial_editing_an_existing_file.html

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Tutorial: Mixing a narration with background music. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/tutorial_mixing_a_narration_with_background_music.html

AudioBoom. (n.d.). https://audioboom.com/

Carter, C. W. (2012, October 26). Instructional audio guidelines: Four design principles to consider for every instructional audio design effort. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 56(6), 54–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-012-0615-z

Google. (n.d.). Edit or remove captions [YouTube Help Center post]. https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2734705?hl=en&ref_topic=7296214

Justin Hicks, Laura Winnick and Michael Gonchar. (April 19, 2018). Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:5S4T-V9R1-JBG3-61VJ-00000-00&context=1516831.

SoundCloud. (n.d.). http://soundcloud.com

The Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo. (2011, April 13). How to use Audacity to record and edit audio. YouTube. https://youtu.be/2gM12DIIwA0

Unidentified (Speaker), & Meyers, M. (Collector). (1967/1968). Oral book reports with 18 year old white female, New Haven, Connecticut [Speech audio recording]. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/afccal000204/

Optional Readings and Resources

Audacity. (2019). Amplify. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/amplify.html

Audacity. (2019). Index of effects, generators, analyzers and tools. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/index_of_effects_generators_and_analyzers.html

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Digital audio fundamentals. https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/digital_audio.html

Audacity. (2019, November 15). Audacity manual. https://manual.audacityteam.org/

Benton, B. (2019, October 11). The 9 best podcasting hosting services (for every podcaster). Discover Pods. https://discoverpods.com/best-podcast-hosting-services/

Edirisingha, P. & Popova, A. (2009). Podcasting: A Learning Technology. In S. Mishra ed. Elearning. New Delhi: IGNOU, 2009, 66-69.

Hart, J. (2019, November 21). Audio & podcast (creating and editing) tools. Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. http://c4lpt.co.uk/directory-of-learning-performance-tools/audio-podcast-tools/

Harvard University. (2014). Research-based principles for multimedia learning [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJ3wSf-ccXo

Hew, K. (2009). Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: A review of research topics and methodologies. Educational Technology and Research Development, 57(3), 333-357. http://ezproxy.tru.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=39767997&site=ehost-live

How to record audio on a mobile phone. (2019, March 29). In wikiHow. https://www.wikihow.com/Record-Audio-on-a-Mobile-Phone

Lee, M. W., McLoughlin, C., & Chan, A. (2008). Talk the talk: Learner-generated podcasts as catalysts for knowledge creation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(3), 501-521.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Multimedia instruction. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. Elen, & M. J. Bishop (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (4th ed., pp. 385-399). Springer Science & Business Media. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5

MED-EL. (2013, August 16). Understanding sound waves. YouTube. https://youtu.be/XLfQpv2ZRPU

Media College. (n.d.). Audio: Choosing the right microphone. https://www.mediacollege.com/audio/microphones/choosing.html

Media.io. (n.d.). http://media.io/

Spreaker. (n.d.). http://www.spreaker.com/

Voicethread. (n.d.). http://voicethread.com/

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