RSS .92| RSS 2.0| ATOM 0.3
  • Home
  • About James Clay
  • New Stuff
  • Old Stuff
  • Podcast
  • 100 Ways
  • App of the Week
  •  

    Which video and audio standard should I use?

    August 3rd, 2011

    People like standardisation it makes life easier, it is easier to provide advice and guidance and removes barriers. The implication is that if everyone used the same device, the same formats and the same delivery mechanisms then it would be easier to deliver video and audio to learners and for those learners to create audio and video themselves.

    Audio is a little easier to standardise, most people have heard of mp3 and most devices can play mp3 files. That should make it much easier to roll out, however due to the fact there is a patent behind mp3 and licensing fees that need to be paid, means that some devices though can play mp3s can not record direct to mp3. These devices will use other audio codecs that play fine on the device in question, but not necessarily on other devices or through a browser. The solution in Gloucestershire College was to standardise on the Edirol R09H which records natively to mp3 onto an SD memory card. Yes it is expensive, but it does record to mp3 and the quality is excellent. Use of SD cards meant that it was very easy to transfer recordings to a laptop or computer and then share them on the VLE. The quality of the audio recordings were excellent.

    Of course though the mp3 standard is ubiquitous, recording to mp3 is not necessarily the best format to use, especially if you are going to do any kind of editing on the recording. If for example you are going to be using Garageband to edit the recording and create a podcast, then you are not going to want to use the mp3 format. The reason is that an mp3 file is compressed and uses what is called a lossy compression, in other words information is lost when the file is compressed. If you edit and then compress again, more information is lost. As a result you are compressing a compressed format and you will lose even more quality. This means you can get a less than satisfactory recording. For those who prefer a higher quality the Edirol R09H can also record direct to uncompressed WAV. This is CD quality and doesn’t use any lossy compression, so no loss of quality when editing the file. Of course the problem with WAV is that the file sizes are large so distribution is a problem, so the final edited audio file can then be compressed to mp3.

    It’s one thing to record audio, delivery is something else. Placing the audio file on the VLE makes it very easy for learners to access and download the recording in their browser. However for regular recordings it makes more sense to use RSS or podcast the recordings. This will allow learners to subscribe to the series of recordings through software such as iTunes and then transfer the recordings to a portable device such as an iPhone or iPod. The challenge here is not just technical, but also the recognition from practitioners of the importance of a regular series of recordings or podcasts.

    If audio is difficult video is much more challenging. Different cameras and devices record video using different formats and even when they use the same format, they may use a different codec. Modern operating systems generally have few problems using MP4 video files, both Windows 7 Media Player and OS X QuickTime X can play modern MP4 video files. Many mobile devices and smartphones can play MP4 files too. However one of the challenges facing FE Colleges is that many are still using Windows XP which doesn’t natively support MP4 and isn’t from a networking perspective the easiest to add that functionality.

    One solution is to upload the video to sites such as Vimeo or YouTube and use Flash. Flash is often the solution to the delivery of video on networks where native MP4 playback isn’t possible. The issue with Flash video is how do you deliver such video on mobile devices, many of which don’t have support for Flash? Also how do you deliver the video to mobile devices that are not network connected? Another issue is privacy, the problem with using sites such as YouTube is that they are public and it may not be possible or wanted that the videos are public.

    A key technological challenge for institutions is to answer all those problems without it becoming a barrier to learners and practitioners.


    100 ways to use a VLE – #75 Streaming live audio

    July 1st, 2011

    In the past if you wanted to “broadcast” live audio to learners you basically had to be the BBC or use a CB radio. The challenge was that the learner who was listening needed a receiver at their end.

    The internet now makes it much easier to broadcast live audio using tools such as Nicecast.

    Nicecast is the easiest way to broadcast music from your Mac. Broadcast to listeners around the world.

    The thing about Nicecast is that the stream is a simple URL. For learners this is not always that simple, for example they may lose, delete or be unable to find the e-mail that contains the URL. If printed on a handout may contain an error, or the learner may type it into their browser wrong.

    Putting the URL, or even better embedding the live audio feed into the VLE will ensure that learners can not only find the feed, but also listen to it whenever the practitioner broadcasts. To be honest you probably want to e-mail the URL anyhow and any other communication channels that the learners use, Twitter for example.

    The VLE is only really one medium and reliance on any one medium is not good practice. However though if the VLE is used regularly for posting these kinds of feeds and links, then the learners will become familiar with going to the VLE to access them.


    Using Audio more

    March 17th, 2011

    Teaching has always had an oral tradition, teachers have spoken, learners have listened, conversations take place and learning happens.

    I suspect in most classrooms, lecture theatres and seminar rooms across the UK (and the world) there are people speaking and people listening.

    Though at this time I don’t want to get into a huge debate about the merits of lectures, that is something for a different time. The ability for learners to be able to access a recording of a lecture and listen to it again is something that can support learning.

    Students generally used podcasts to review lecture content, especially when they had difficulty with understanding lectures or new terminology.

    Scutter et al (2010)

    Yes there is another school of thought that says about lecture capture, as Mark Smithers notes:

    ..the large scale implementation of lecture capture is probably one of the costliest and strategically misguided educational technologies that an institution can adopt.

    Smithers (2011)

    One of the issues that I have with lecture capture though is that in isolation an audio recording of a lecture is insufficent in meeting the needs of the learners, as Scutter et al (2010) found.

    Students generally listened to the recordings whilst viewing the lecture PowerPoint presentations on a home computer.

    And as Smithers (2011) recognises

    The technology does nothing to engage the student who instead of sitting passively in a lecture theatre checking their text messages will now sit passively in front of a screen at home checking their text messages.

    Students will be “forced” to listen to the lecture recordings through a computer as the recording would not be enough to be of benefit without access to other resources such as Powerpoint presentations or handouts. Though is making available an audio recording of a lecture better than not giving the recording? There was an unconvincing study that said podcast lectures were “better” than real lectures. So though there are issues with lecture recordings, we shouldn’t as a result dismiss the usefulness of audio though for enhancing teaching and learning.

    Podcasts needn’t be just a recording of a lecture, they can be in a variety of formats. Podcasts are an effective mechanism to support learning. Due to the audio format, learners can download and listen to them on an mp3 player (such as the iPod) as they walk to college, or catch the bus. Likewise mp3 files can be burnt to CD and a learner could listen to them in their car, or on their home music system. Though portable, learners can also access podcasts direct through a computer and listen to them via the computer speakers (or headphones).

    Podcasts can be listened to more than once, enabling a learning objective to be reinforced or for revision purposes. Podcasts do not need to be length affairs, ten to fifteen minutes is more than ample for more educationally orientated podcasts.

    One way of creating podcasts easily is using a tool such as Audioboo that to put it simply it is an App on your iPhone that allows you to record an audio recording, add your location, a picture, tags and upload the lot to a website.

    Of course a podcast implies a regular series of broadcasts, you don’t have to do this to use audio for learning. One off audio recordings are also a good idea and can be used for a range of topics or activities.

    In terms of format, the simple monologue is quite difficult to carry off well, where it can work is in describing what is required for an assignment brief. The learner would listen to the recording as they go through a web or paper based assessment for example. I know one lecturer who uses audio recordings of himself asking questions that he plays back both via the VLE and in the classroom.

    Conversations, either one on one or small group are one way of making audio recordings more interesting. Panel discussions on topics by staff (or by learners) can be useful for learners and more engaging then a monologue on the subject. Discussions can be formal, informal, light-hearted or confrontational.

    Radio type shows with a combination of different formats certainly will work with learners, but require a lot more planning, editing and production. These could include external interviews, outside broadcasts or field recordings.

    “Professional” or external audio recordings can be more complex due to rights issues and copyright. However with the right licences (ERA for BBC radio broadcasts) or using statuory rights, it is possible to play back recorded radio programmes and and other commercial recordings in the classroom or lecture theatre for the purpose of instruction.

    Audio has possibilities with assessment in terms of giving feedback to learners, the JISC Sounds Good project found that:

    Using audio for assessment feedback has proved popular with students and staff. It is probably fair to say most UK higher education lecturers would find it worth giving audio feedback an extended trial with at least with some of their assessment work.

    Most of the focus in this blog post has been on practitioners using audio, of course learners using audio is another way to enhance learning.

    Learners could use tools such as Audioboo to create a reflective audio learning journal, or create a podcast for their course that demonstrates their understanding of the subject for their peers.

    Audio assessment is often used in languages, but why has the tradition died out in other subjects? Yes there are issues with assessing audio recordings, but if we are really interested in personalisation and inclusion, audio assessment can be one way of ticking that box. Also technology can be used to speed the process up, it is possible now to digitally speed up recordings in a way that doesn’t distort voices so that they sound like chipmunks! This can speed up the marking process.

    Technology allows us to change where and when we listen. Technology allows us to listen again. Technology allows us to be heard too. There are many ways that audio technology and recordings can be used to enhance and enrich teaching and learning.

    References

    Bob Rotheram. (2009). Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback. Available: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/usersandinnovation/soundsgood.aspx. Last accessed 16th March 2011.

    Scutter, S., Stupans, I., Sawyer, T. & King, S. (2010) How do students use podcasts to support learning? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2), 180-191. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/scutter.pdf

    Smithers, M. (2011). Is lecture capture the worst educational technology?. Available: http://www.masmithers.com/2011/03/11/is-lecture-capture-the-worst-educational-technology/. Last accessed 16th March 2011.


    100 ways to use a VLE – #73 Hosting audio

    December 10th, 2010

    Though there are audio sites out there on the web that will host audio. Sometimes you may not want the recording to be public out on the web. In that case hosting audio on the VLE may be an ideal solution.

    If the audio is of a lecture on a tricky subject, or contains licensed content that you can place on the VLE, but are not allowed to freely distribute then placing the audio on the VLE may be a better option than uploading to a public site such as Audioboo. Sensitive recordings of research subjects, or patients, are more reasons why you may host the audio on the VLE.

    The final key reason you may want to place the audio on the VLE is that the recordings are of or by learners and they may not wish to have their work or their views available publicly. Of course there are sites out there that can be password protected, but at least the VLE does most of that hard work for you.

    Audio can be useful to enhance and enrich learning, one lecturer I know records short summaries of the lessons and the assignments. Some learners find this more engaging than reading them on paper or on the screen.

    Recording debates and discussions, allows learners to reflect and review them at a time and place to suit the learner, rather than just relying on notes and memory.

    By placing the audio on the VLE, you can place it in the context of learning, enabling learners to clarify how the recording works in respect of the rest of the course or topic.

    For ease of access, by placing the audio on the VLE, the learners will be able to click and download the audio file to place it on say a mobile device.

    Though the server may not be configured to deliver or stream video, it is often much easier (and places less technical demands on the server) for the server to stream audio. From a learner perspective, audio requires less bandwidth than video, so can often be easily accessed on poor internet connections such as mobile internet.

    Teaching has had an oral tradition that goes back for thousands of years. With a virtual learning environment, using audio recordings can allow learners a choice on how they access content, instructions and advice.


    Edirol R-09HR 24bit 96kHz Wave/MP3 Recorder

    June 16th, 2010

    We have been using the Edirol R-09HR 24bit 96kHz Wave/MP3 Recorder for some time now and I use it personally too for making audio recordings.

    The reasons are:

    Records natively to mp3 so need to convert any recordings.

    Can record to WAV, useful for those times you want an uncompressed recording for editing and later compression.

    It’s robust.

    The microphones have been calibrated therefore are excellent.

    You can use external microphones with them.

    They record to SD Cards. This means that once a student (or member of staff) has made their recording, they can remove their SD Card and pass the Edirol onto the next user. This does mean you don’t need as many for field recordings. It also means you don’t need a computer handy to “take” the recordings off- having said that it does have a standard mini-usb connection if needed.

    They run on AA batteries for what seems like forever.

    They will record one on one interviews and whole room conversations.

    Yes, they do cost more than your average audio recorder, but they are in my opinion real value for money.