See Part One: Choosing the Right Microphone
Now that you have a good recording setup in place, the next steps are getting something recorded and making it sound good. There’s a huge variety of options for recording audio, but I’ll discuss using Audacity in particular here. To be sure, there are much more powerful programs than Audacity, but they tend to be costly and very complicated to use—which won’t help people who aren’t interested in professional audio and just want to record something for people to listen to.
Here’s why I recommend Audacity to most people, especially beginners:
The more we create and share resources with others online, the more important it is to make sure that our voices are heard…literally. Choosing the right microphones, recording room setup and techniques, and audio file formats can make a startling amount of difference. This article is the first in a series that will help you know what to look for, what to avoid, and how to get the best sound wherever you are. This time around, we’ll focus on microphones.
The first step in recording good audio is choosing the microphone that will be listening to you. Every microphone has a particular pattern in which it receives sound waves from an audio source, called a pickup pattern. The most commonly used types of microphones are omnidirectional, bidirectional, cardioid, and shotgun. Continue reading
It’s just after your first class and the students are filing out of the room and you happen to be standing near enough to catch a few of their comments. You only get snippets of the conversations, but you hear…
In a face-to-face class, your presence is partly defined by your demeanor, persona and actions while in front of the class.
An intro, to let students know what will happen in the class; a highlight, to capture the meaning of the subject; a heads-up, on what to expect; and maybe, a rationale, for the format in which the course is delivered.
To accomplish all of these in a quick and engaging way takes more than a syllabus or a course homepage. It requires condensing the course description and combining the presentation with multimedia or special effects…like a movie trailer.
According to a report by the Chronical of Higher Education, course trailers have become increasingly popular with the growing use of social media. The report cited Harvard University as an early adopter of course trailers because students there spend the first week of the semester “shopping” for courses they may want to take. So course trailers are a big help for boosting student interest and attendance.
Here is a course trailer for CS50 at Harvard University, a course that focuses on an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming:
If you haven’t ever had a virtual reality experience before, you probably will in the next twelve months.
Virtual reality is coming online in a big way. VR headsets for high-end gaming PCs started shipping this past spring. This fall, Sony is launching a VR headset for its PlayStation 4 game console. Beyond gaming, Google has been experimenting with VR for two years, using phones and a cardboard holder. The low-tech, low-cost solution was designed to get VR into the hands of as many people as possible, and Google has already managed to get many developers on board with cardboard, creating games, simulations, and more. Google has created K12-focused Expeditions, where users can get the full 3D and 360-degree experience of being somewhere very few could ever go–like the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, and even the surface of Mars. YouTube is also filling up with 360-degree 3D videos that are meant to be consumed with virtual reality devices. But VR isn’t always just consumptive–apps like Tilt Brush allow users to create 3D paintings in midair. And Google is getting ready to launch a more sophisticated VR platform with its next Android release in a few months, to build on and enhance their Cardboard platform. 2016 is the year of virtual reality.
As an instructional technologist, my natural tendency is to get excited about new technology and its potential in higher education. My instinct is to imagine all the possibilities that the next big thing affords for our classes and to push for the rapid adoption of the latest and greatest tech. But in the case of virtual reality, I’m a little skeptical that it’s going to be a true transformative technology for a couple reasons.
Technology is changing how we do everything. Gone are the days of classroom strategies that focus solely on using static content to engage students. Thanks to high-definition (HD) video ubiquity in mobile devices, tablets, laptops, etc., engaging in real-time (instantaneous) with folks across the globe without leaving home is feasible and affordable. To take it a step further, video conferencing, or as some may describe as web conferencing, webinars (web seminars), or webcasts, enables online collaboration with limitless implications for student engagement, in the US and abroad.
The formal definition of video conferencing, as defined by Merriam Webster, is:
- a method of holding meetings that allows people who are in different cities, countries, etc., to hear each other and see each other on computer or television screens.
- the holding of a conference among people at remote locations by means of transmitted audio and video signals
While there are a number of solutions that exist to host virtual meetings, it’s important that standard features embedded in these systems are easy to use and work seamlessly during an online session. Some of the more common features include the ability to stream HD video, instant chat, screen sharing, recording, and the use of a whiteboard to jot down important points during the meeting. While nothing compares to face-to-face interaction, these tools help connect users in ways that a teleconference (see definition) are incapable of doing.
Some of the usual suspects—Skype, Webex, Gotomeeting, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Avaya Scopia, Blue Jeans, Polycom, etc.—have worked tirelessly to create user interfaces that are intuitive and function with minimal to no latency issues. In order to make an informed decision, it’s important to develop and prioritize the functionality that’s paramount to a successful implementation for “you.”
Voicethread is a tool that FITS has recommended to faculty for several years. For the past two years we’ve had a site license, giving all of our faculty and students access to the pro features, but we’ve been shy of promoting it too widely. While it’s a great tool, there were some oddities to the workflow of using it, which meant that we were more comfortable helping faculty use it while working closely with a FITS consultant rather than putting some resources online and hoping that instructors would figure it out on their own. It was on “the secret menu,” one might say.
Recently, Voicethread has provided some updates that might make it a little better for a wider audience, but it still has its quirks. For those instructors who may have been introduced to Voicethread in the past and decided it wasn’t right for you, I offer this review of the new version of Voicethread.
“What then, is the Singlularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” –Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p.1. Penguin Group, 2005
Ray Kurzweil predicts that this Singularity will occur sometime in the first half of the 21st century. I don’t think I am really ready for it! I have enough trouble keeping up with the simple changes in educational technologies that impact my institution and my work on a daily basis. These rapid changes affect me in a couple of ways. First, I need a strategy to stay abreast of the latest and greatest tools. Second, I need a reasonably quick way to assess these emerging technologies and determine if further investigation is worthwhile. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted by bright, shiny things and sometimes will go down the rabbit hole and consume inordinate amounts of time trying new things without any regard to their usefulness and impact, simply because they are new. While I don’t have any really good answers to my dilemma, I can share a couple of recent activities that may help formulate a mini-strategy for dealing with technological change. Continue reading
For years, faculty have asked me to recommend a tool that would make it easy for them to conduct online video conferences with students. Every time I tried to answer this question, I felt like one of those announcers selling an experimental drug with dangerous side effects. “Do not use Connexium™ if your students are unable to install Java 10.2.9.3 on their computers. Do not operate on low-bandwidth connections or enable video sharing with more than two participants while using Connexium. Connexium is not a virtual whiteboard replacement and cannot be used to record meetings. Ask your instructional designer if Connexium is right for you.”
That all changed when I started using Zoom. Zoom provides the key features most faculty ask for with almost none of the unpleasant side effects that come with other tools I’ve tried. Here are a few examples.
- Minimal setup and installation – So far, we’ve found that students can join a meeting even if they’re in one of our computer labs or using a computer that doesn’t allow them to install desktop software. (Some of our students connect from locked-down computers at their workplaces, so this is an important feature.)
- Up to 50 participants per meeting – This is true even for free accounts. For larger meetings, it’s $54.99/month to upgrade to a limit of 100 participants.
- Android and iOS mobile apps – In my experience, these apps work very well and include the most important features available in the desktop version of Zoom.
- Screen sharing and remote control – All participants can share their screens and hosts can even take control of a participant’s machine if needed.
I love technology! I am always one of the early adopters. I must have the newest and shiniest gadget or software that is still in beta. Right now, I have a preorder in for the Leap Motion Controller, an input controller that senses your individual hand and finger movements so you can interact directly with your computer. How do I plan to use it? I have no idea, but it looks “cool.” Such is my relationship with technology. Cool is good.
This obsession with the latest and greatest technology sometimes clashes with either practicality or, more importantly, common sense. As instructional designers, we are always looking for ways to help our faculty be more productive in designing and implementing blended and online courses. Likewise, we are always seeking creative and innovative approaches to improve student engagement. Continue reading