For most of 2017, I have been singularly striving to find academic applications for audio. This search began with a post on classroom uses for Spotify, which inspired me to present at our Faculty Forum. Now, here we are. I’ve tried to coordinate with my colleagues to help students find and record their voices, from the earliest stages of ideas to the final iterations of multi-stage projects. Podcasts, mashups, audio archives, original content in every genre: all of these are available at students’ fingertips and each one can help students solidify understanding and explore interests.
Why audio, when everyone else in the world is pushing video? Well, I have my reasons.
On the user side, there are multiple reasons why audio is preferable to video. First, there are fewer distractions, both on the input side and the interface. (There are fewer moving parts and clickable areas). Second, I’m am also an auditory learner and I respect that many of my students are too. I need to hear something to learn it, and I appreciate the ability to replay snippets or whole segments. Third, research and anecdotal reports tell us that audio projects–podcasts specifically–can make students better researchers. Fourth, audio projects and production skills allow students to share what they learn with a broader audience. Will Richardson calls this “The Global Refrigerator Door.” Last–and maybe this speaks to the state of my life these days–I need to be able to dip in for a few minutes and pick up wherever I am–home, car, or anywhere in between. Audio allows me to do this on demand and on the go.
I’m am also an auditory learner and I respect that many of my students are too. I need to hear something to learn it, and I appreciate the ability to replay snippets or whole segments.
On the production side, many of the same principles hold true: fewer distractions, more focus on narrative and less on “noise.” Interestingly enough, students seem to have more patience, or at least a broader spectrum of expectations, with audio than they do with video. They are so accustomed to slick, stylized videos that they almost become paralyzed at the prospect of producing a video on their own, at least towards academic ends.
Interestingly enough, students seem to have more patience, or at least a broader spectrum of expectations, with audio. They are so accustomed to slick, stylized videos that they almost become paralyzed at the prospect of producing a video on their own, at least towards academic ends.
My approach is to try to combine “consumption” and “creation” in equal proportions. In modern foreign languages, listening is crucial for comprehension and cultural content. This means including authentic audio early and often. Even at the earliest stages, it’s essential for students to see themselves as active players in the modern language media game, recording and reflecting on their progress. (It’s fascinating for them–and for me–to “listen back” to see how far they have come.) As students move from beginner to intermediate levels, the notions of pronunciation and progress combines with research and teamwork as described above.
Here are some of the resources and podcasts that I have found most fruitful.
Spotify – Though many talents in the music industry have mixed feelings about Spotify, it is still a major player in the streaming market. I think Spotify has significant applications in schools, even though it is a one way street, meaning students can listen but not upload content. Explore beyond the pop hits and promoted playlists and you will be surprised at what you might find: audiobooks, podcasts, archival recordings, and more.
Soundtrap – I have written about Soundtrap here before, and since then I have thought of even more applications. By combining recorded audio–voice and instrumental–beats, loops and found sounds, Soundtrap can allow a group of students to combine their own strengths in a PBL environment. Imagine the musically gifted, the technically savvy and the rhetorically refined all using their talents to tell a singular story across academic areas!
SoundCloud – Though some predict that the end is nigh for SoundCloud, it is still a stand-up sandbox for musicians, DJs, podcasters, remixers, thinkers and tinkerers. Surf to SoundVloud and you can find audio from pros, pundits, podcasters, professors and future prospect. Can it find its footing and funding? Can it differentiate itself from Spotify and Pandora, perhaps on its strength in the maker/thinker/tinkerer space?
Clyp – Clyp is new to me, but the fact that some Twin Peaks fans/audiophiles have hitched their wagon to Clyp’s star tells me something. Clyp features an open API that developers can utilize to add audio uploading to their site or app. Can it find an audience? Can it absorb some of Soundcloud’s customers if they part ways with the platform?
Audacity – “Simple,” “stripped-down” and “solid”: those are three words I’d use to describe Audacity. Yes, there are some tricks you need to learn to work with different file formats, but once you do, Audacity becomes a robust tool to record and process audio on its way to your prefered platform.
Freesound – “Freesound aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, … released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse.” This is what they say and they deliver on their promise. I’ve used snippets from Freesound in podcasts and audio track. I’ve been pleased with the variety and quality every time.
Voice Memo – The Voice Memo app is perfect for capturing ideas, practicing pronunciation/presentations or reflecting informally on process or progress. Really any digital voice recorder will do. The two-step workflow of Voice Memo > Google Drive allows students to pull together, in a singular portfolio space, the primary project (e.g. essay, video, mode elaborate audio) and the supporting documentation. I really like the way this workflow invites reflection and iteration.
The Daily [The New York Times] – In less than a year, Michael Barbaro’s The Daily has gone from “Can a traditional outlet tell a story in this way?” to “Let’s see what else the Times has to say about the news of the day?” The Daily is an open window into the day’s news and the conversations that reporters and sources have.
Up First [NPR] – What sells Up First is the pace and the dialog. The depth of coverage and attention to detail is what one would expect from NPR but the urgency and intimacy is different. Up First is really a strong offering in this new space.
Latino USA [NPR] – If I told you there was a podcast that covered politics, music, health, arts, culture, and business…you’d be interested, no? If I told the Anchor and Executive Producer was a Peabody Award-winning journalist…you’d be more interested, no? Now I’ll say that it tells compelling, surprising, unusual stories all the time…you’d be even more interested, no? Listen to Latino USA for stories for hoy y mañana.
Wow in the World [NPR] – The producers of Wow in the World say it is “a podcast and a new way for families to connect, look up and discover the wonders in the world around them.” With so much swirl around homework–read worksheets and tri fold triumphs–wouldn’t it be something if families could listen to a podcasts like this together and talk through lessons they learned. In a meta twist, families could occasionally respond to programs with their own “Wows!”
With so much swirl around homework–read worksheets and tri fold triumphs–wouldn’t it be something if families could listen to a podcasts like this together and talk through lessons they learned. In a meta twist, families could occasionally respond to programs with their own “Wows!”
Hidden Brain [NPR] – “The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves.” Combining science and storytelling, host Shankar Vedantam weaves fanciful yet fact-based narratives. Why do we behave the way we do? Why can’t we see what is so apparent sometimes?
Kind World [WBUR] – Episode #39 (adult children dealing with a parent’s dementia) stopped me in my tracks and episode #41 (Jim Abbott’s life, in and out of baseball) sold me. The stories on Kind World are intimate, intense and intelligent.
Once students are familiar with the expectations, the workflows and the technical aspects, students can move from completing pre-scripted tasks to exploring the media. When is audio the best way to explore a topic versus text or video? How can they apply technical skills they learn in one (academic) area to another? How can they refine skills and expand understanding semester to semester, year to year in one discipline? Which podcasts can students bring to class and how can they establish criteria to evaluate them?
I believe all of these questions are worth asking as the audio landscape expands and evolves.