John Gieger

Harnessing the Power of Audio

The other day I was talking to a colleague about developing a new program and how he could best deliver content, especially lectures, to his students who would be scattered around the globe. Naturally, we talked about video and presentation best-practices, but he pointed out his sympathy for students who work full-time and still have to carve out a period to visually focus on a lecture.

The instructor also told me how he balanced a busy schedule and keeping up-to-date on things by listening to podcasts. They are perfect for commuting on transit systems, flying around the world, and doing chores around the apartment and he wondered about how he could create podcast-like content for his students.

With an increase in digital tools available to instructors (and students), we often look to the heavy-hitters like video and interactive applications to supplement digital courses. These can make online and digital instruction much more effective and engaging, as well as tackle some of the challenges of asynchronous teaching.  But often we forget that audio can be just as accessible to students and effective at fulfilling needs.

Using audio in the classroom is not a new idea. For example, in the 1920s, teachers harnessed the power of radio as a sort of assistant teacher in order to deliver “textbooks of the air” to their students. In fact, Chicago’s own WLS began broadcasting the weekly program “Little Red Schoolhouse” in 1924.  Thankfully, the days of having to tune-in at a pre-determined time to take advantage of audio are over.

So, if you’re interested in trying your hand at creating audio recordings for your students, here are a few tips to get you started:

Make an outline

Of course you can still go back and edit or re-record your lecture, but having an outline ahead of time will keep you on track, and away from rambling or mumbling improvisation. Remember that duration still matters when it comes to student attention/retention. 

Don’t limit it to yourself

If you set things up ahead of time, you don’t have to be the only person talking during your recording. If you can’t get someone to sit in the same room with you, it’s easy to create a panel-like interview by having a conversation on the phone while recording or have others pre-record for you and insert the clips into your own (with permission, of course). 

Quality Matters

Audio beats video when it comes to audience tolerance. Does the video look like it was filmed on a potato? If the audio is good, it may not be a deal-breaker. But if the audio sounds like it was recorded underwater, no matter how crystal-clear the image, your audience will have a hard time committing to deciphering the noise.

Remember they can’t see you

Ever listen to a live recording of an event where something happens and you only hear the reaction? It’s frustrating, like you’ve been left out of the moment. The same principle applies for your audio recordings. If you’re going to cite visuals, make sure to explain them verbally and clearly with enough detail that listeners can understand. If you’re going to lift audio from an existing lecture, listen to it yourself ahead of time to catch confusing moments.

You have delivery options

If you are hosting audio files on an LMS module (and behind a login), you may want to consider that students will want to download the file for later consumption instead of logging in each time. Save the files as M4A, AAC, or MP3 for the widest possible audience, and avoid WMA (Windows Media) and WAV.

Just do it

Even though you might hate the sound of your own voice, give it a try and get feedback. Just like video lectures, no one is perfect the first time they record.

And don’t forget to have fun!

John Gieger

About John Gieger

John Gieger leads the Center for Educational Technology in DePaul’s College of Education. After several years in digital archiving, John came to DePaul in 2013 to work in Teaching with Primary Sources, a program sponsored by the Library of Congress. Since 2016, he has been working to effectively integrate tech into classrooms and curricula. His professional interests include Interdisciplinary education, pedagogica/andragogical strategies, and drinking gratuitous amounts of coffee.

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