30 October, 2007

Creating and Editing Audio Using Audacity

We've been asked a few times about using Audacity to create and edit audio files - but sadly I've no time to create training materials.

But wonderfully there is plenty of help out there on the Web. GuidesAndTutorials.com have a getting started guide for Windows users, while Steve Sloan at San José State University has created an Audacity getting started guide for Mac users.

If you've got something a bit more advanced to do have a look at the Tutorials section of the Audacity Wiki.

And let us know how useful you find these tutorials and if you think there is anything missing - if there is a demand for it, we'll try and develop our own.

26 October, 2007

Out Of Institutional Control

Been reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Northwestern University closing their own email system. Instead students get their email hosted by Google Apps Education Edition.

This article gets me thinking because often in Learning Technology Development we use similar freely available or relatively low cost services to create learning resources and experiences, or as easier to use tools than the ones available in an all-in-one VLE solution.

The things that we have to consider are:

Extra administration - Students might need accounts setting up (will the process put any of them off from doing this?). Can we support any problems the students have when using the service (the institutional VLE takes a massive amount of time to support just by itself)?

Here today... - How long with the services be around for? Can we back up what is created (for reuse, migration to another system, in case it needs to be shown in the future during an audit). If you created things in a more closed environment (e.g. Second Life) you might not be able to back them up as such. Materials in an environment like this won't have the lifespan of those 10 year old OHP slides that were still in use when I was a student. Is that seen as acceptable by the academic staff who use them, and those in management positions who will be allowing people time to keep creating resources?

This extra work can put people off using technologies, and that's not bad if it means the benefit of using the technology isn't worth the effort. I think some of the best and most innovative use of technologies in Teaching and Learning is done by people who are passionate about what they think can be done, and therefore put a lot of time, effort and focus into integrating it into their teaching. The worst uses of technology are probably by people who are told they have to use something, don't want to or know how to use it, and therefore don't integrate it's use into a larger strategy. There's nothing wrong with choosing to use 10 year old OHP slides over a Second Life meeting area, if they fit in with what you want to achieve.

12 October, 2007

Converting Text to Audio

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning has articles in MP3 format. It's useful to me as I don't get much time to read, but spend ages walking to places. Perhaps we could similarly offer resources to students in multiple formats and a central copy of text to audio conversion software in Learning Technology Development, could be used for this.

I've looked at two pieces of software that can create audio files from text files. NaturalSoft's NaturalReader, and TextAloud from nextup.com. It's difficult to compare them completely as NaturalReader doesn't give you a full demo, while TextAloud does, but I can compare:

Quality of voices:
Both let you use high quality voices (e.g. AT&T NaturalVoices, VoiceWare's NeoSpeech) which we'd need to use, and both allow you to change the speed of the speech in the recording. NaturalReader allows you to choose which voices you have, including UK English which is nice.

Import Function:
Both allow you to import text, PDF, Word and HTML files to convert to audio.

NaturalReader Professional Basic costs about $40 (£20), including a high quality natural voice, and NaturalReader Enterprise Basic costs $80 (£40) for 4 voices and a batch conversion function. Important if we were going to use it a lot.

TextAloud would cost $55 (£28) with 2 high quality voices.

So really there is not a lot between them as far as I can see. I'd like to test the NaturalReader Professional as this looks best value. If it was used a lot we would perhaps need the NaturalReader Enterprise. There is also a Developer version that can other applications can call on the command line to convert and batch convert files. This would be useful if we tried to put together an automated system, where perhaps staff could send in a text file and automatically receive an audio version back.

11 October, 2007

Basic Internet Security: Version 1.0

The Basic Internet Security guide for students without security software on their computers is now updated and on the Edge Hill University: Learning Services website on our guides page.

It contains information on useful free software that can help keep your PC safe from harm, and tips on other things that you can do.

Thanks for suggestions on how to develop it from people.

04 October, 2007

Methods of Distributing PowerPoint Files in WebCT

We've been asked about how to prepare PowerPoint files for use in WebCT.

Nothing particular has to be done to prepare PowerPoint presentations for use in WebCT, unless they are very large. For PowerPoint presentations with very large file sizes (e.g. over 50 MB) it is worth staff asking your contact in Learning Technology Development to run a copy of their file through a piece of software called Impatica for PowerPoint which reduces the file size.

If staff link to the PowerPoint presentation from an Organiser Page (e.g. the Homepage) they should set the file to open up in a 'New Browser Window' to enable the students to save or print the file.

Even then, occasionally some students have had problems saving or printing the files. This is because there are both browser settings and operating system settings that could affect how the file opens. Because of this some staff choose to set up a discussion area on the Discussion Tool and attach new PowerPoint files to discussion messages on there. This seems to work very well as the student has to download the file to their computer before opening it.

02 October, 2007

Video and Audio Files in WebCT (Version 4)

We're having more and more people using video and audio files in WebCT. There have been a few issues with student computers reacting differently, and the files not working for some.

The methods of distributing video and audio that seem to work for all students are:

1: Put the file on the streaming server. You'll need to speak to the Learning Technology Development officer that works with your faculty. This is the best solution for video files as they are large, and there is limited space on the WebCT server.

2: Add the file as an attachment in a discussion message. The students can download the file from there and listen to it on their computer or portable media player.

3: Add the file to a .zip file (in Windows right click the file and select 'Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder) and make the file available from an Organiser Page, for example the Homepage. Putting the file in a .zip file means that WebCT won't get confused by the settings on different computers, and will allow the student to download the file before trying to run it.

4: If you don't mind (or like the idea of) files that you've created being available publicly, you could host video files on a video sharing site (e.g. YouTube) and link to them from WebCT. For example Professor Alexandra Juhasz of Pitzer College is using YouTube as a central part of one of her modules.