Using Audio to Support Instruction

Faculty members interested in exploring instructional uses of audio recording have a lot to choose from these days when it comes to purposes, strategies, equipment and support. Lectures and student presentations can be recorded in class for broadcast or podcasting at a later date. Students can listen to pre-recorded audio documents as supplements to or replacements for traditional reading assignments, and they can also incorporate audio recording into field studies and documentary investigations. As a substitute for marked-up text and written comments, faculty members can also give students individualized audio comments on their assigned work.

These varied purposes and opportunities can be pursued more or less effectively with different audio recording and distribution strategies. To help faculty members explore these strategies, the Teaching Resources Center has pulled together some notes about audio recording as a resource for teaching and learning. The notes are introduced by questions we've asked or been asked in conversatins with interested faculty members.

Purposes How and why do some faculty members want to use audio recording in teaching their classes? What problems are they hoping to address, and how can they tell when it works?  
Strategies Depending on what your purpose is for using recorded audio, what's the best way to go? Should you try to do this all on your own or get professional help? And what guidance will students need so that they can all participate fully?  
Tools & equipment With the wide range of audio recording tools now available, what's the best bet for the purposes and strategies you have in mind? Do you need a recording kit that will give you studio-quality files, or can you get by with an iPod or an entry level voice recorder? What if you want to clean up, edit or transcribe your recordings? Does that require special equipment?  
Campus and online support

Where can you go to get help in using audio with your students? What campus services and resources are available? What kinds of handbooks, tutorials and guidelines can you find on line?

Audible differences How do different audio recording kits sound? Can you really tell the difference between one and another? If so, what kind of differences are involved and when do they matter for teaching and learning?  
For your listening pleasure! Where can you go to hear some interesting audio work? Are there online exhibits and archives that present examples of audio projects that involving interviews, science reporting, social and cultural documentaries, personal narratives and the work of acoustic artists? If so, what does it take to listen to them  
Why Bother? What's the best reason for trying to incorporate audio recording into teaching? What is this likely to improve? Where do audio recording efforts fit with the traditional concerns of teachers and students?  

There's more below about purposes, strategies and rationale. . .

Purposes: Efficiency and effectiveness


Digital audio recording and distribution tools have expanded opportunities for faculty to build audio recording into the way they teach and advise students. With a modicum of time and attention (and very little, if any, extra equipment), faculty members can now include the following as routine features of how they teach and interact with students:

1. Recording and distributing in-class lectures, discussions and other forms of in-class talk
2. Recording out-of-class audio comments that students can access as online course content, help and advice
3. Giving students individualized audio comments on their course work
4. Incorporating online audio documents as student "listening" assignments
5. Helping students design and conduct audio recording projects of their own
You can find more information about what's required to have a go a each of these purposes, and where to get help, by looking at the following tables:

Table 1
displays the options noted above as different teaching applications, identifies what you need to get started and suggests where you can get help at UC Davis.

Table 2
compares a range of different "kits" for making your own digital audio recordings at different levels of audio quality. You can listen to sample recordings from different recording kits and different microphone placements by viewing Table 2a and Table 2b. See Table 2c for suggestions about copying audio recordings to a computer: converting, transcribing and editing files.

Table 3
lists campus services and online resources for working with instructional audio. Includes links for UCD services and resources; audio craft, philosophy and gear; audio content on the web as collections and exemplary projects.


Strategies: Get expert help or do-it-yourself?

Faculty members can do a great deal on their own to incorporate audio recording into their teaching, but for some projects and applications technical assistance may be advantageous, or even necessary. It is not always easy to tell ahead of time which projects require what, but here's an abbreviated guide.

Do it Yourself
Among the relatively easy things for faculty members to do on their own with audio recording are the following:

-Prepare a list of assigned online recordings for students to listen to as course content
-Record brief notes and comments and post them without editing to all members of a class
-Record comments on student papers and projects and post them online for access by individual students
-Record lectures and post them online for manual download and subsequent review

The skills required to perform these functions involve nothing more than what's required to browse the web, set up a course SmartSite, and use a small, hand-held digital voice recorder--or the built-in microphone on a laptop computer. Assistance with SmartSite is available from the IT Express Help Desk, ET Partners, and Mediaworks. Assistance with audio recording in the classroom is available through Classroom Technology Services.

Do it yourself . . with a little planning and help

With a little pre-planning and technical support, the following functions are also within the reach of many faculty members.

-Record lectures and post them online as podcasts that students can "subscribe" to automatically
-Record and edit faculty commentaries as primary course content (e.g. pre-recorded lectures)
-Record class discussions, student and guest presentations and forums
-Help students design and conduct audio recording projects of their own

The UC Davis podcasting interface is elegant, efficient and simple to use for both faculty and students. More and more classrooms are being set up with companion audio recording facilities. Audio recording kits that are suitable for podcasting lectures can also be reserved through Classroom Technology Services or purchased for $100-200. Expert staff are also available through Mediaworks to help faculty members prepare audio course content. In all these matters its important to keep in mind the need to identify and protect intellectual property rights. More information about that can be obtained through the UC Davis Library campus office of Technology and Industry Alliances. Two other resources for working with instructional audio are faculty members who have already taken a step or two down this path (check with the TRC for references) and students themselves, some of whom have learned to use audio recording and editing equipment for purposes of their own.

One of the most difficult audio recording challenges is recording groups of speakers who are spread out around a room, as is often the case for class discussions. Some accommodations can be made by using wireless handheld microphones as is done on some of the talk television shows--e.g. Oprah, Donahue, Jerry Springer--but in large groups, passing around the mica may require an assistant. Another option is to have speakers in class discussions come to the front of the room or stand before a microphone on a stand (a format used in some town meetings, conferences, etc.). Yet another option is to use multiple microphones and disburse them around a large table or room. None of these arrangements are ideal, and they all require more attention and equipment than recording a single presenter or even a small group of panelists with a single microphone from a fixed location. For all these reasons, faculty members interested in making good recordings of classroom discussions should consult with technical staff in Mediaworks, Classroom Technology Services or the Teaching Resources Center (TRC).


Plunge ahead, but consult first with expert support staff
Some audio projects will benefit greatly from professional assistance and equipment, and the campus offers exceptional resources of this sort. Efforts aimed towards public distribution and broadcast, for example, should be developed in consultation with staff in Mediaworks and UCD's copyright advisors. The same is true for the following:

-Recording public events, conferences and performances
-Developing instructional audio materials for broadcasts, public webcasts, archival venues
-Initiating collaborative audio production projects with off-campus entities and contractors
-Developing plans for long-term or large-scale audio recording and production facilities


Rationale: Audio as a new and old teaching medium

Audio is both a new and an old teaching tool, with ties to both tradition and innovation. Talking aloud is the medium in which lectures and discussion take place and have taken place for centuries, but few lecture-discussion courses these days engage students in thinking as critically about what they hear as about what they read. That's in part because reading rests on a foundation of somewhat durable and transportable materials. Books, articles and essays, screenplays, poems and the like are not only published, they are printed and distributed in forms that can be held up, looked at time and time again, parsed, and perused both individually and collectively. Not so for the sounds of talking in class. Thoughts expressed in lectures and discussions may endure through memory and note-taking, but the actual sound of the talk itself is evanescent. Each phoneme uttered instantly displaces the one that came before and is similarly extinguished by the sound of the next.

Audio recordings can alter this equation significantly and bring audio literacy into the same realm of critical discourse that the university fostered for texts and figures. Recorded audio is more durable and transportable than speech. It can be reviewed and examined again and again, as many people do in using audio recordings to learn a new language. By preserving the acoustic countours, nuance, timber, and rhythm of what someone has to say, audio recordings also can bring to life a "voice" and extend its presence across boundaries of space and time. Examined closely for both form and content, audio recordings can enrich classroom discourse. They can serve as a common starting point for class or small group discussions and analysis, and do so in much the same way that instructors use written texts, films or their own classroom lectures. In accounting for both speech and thought, or the sounds of a particular time and place, audio recordings can enrich teaching and learning in ways that are hard to achieve through text and talking alone.