If you’re looking for an example of a clear and direct documentary-style argument, watch this video. Hopefully, you’ll be a little more forgiving about Apple’s skeumorphism, and a little less patient with their current design scheme. Regardless, I think you’ll be impressed:
I listen to a lot of audio texts. On the train on my way into work. On one of my dog’s three 20-minute walks everyday. While I’m folding my laundry. While I’m cooking. On long drives. Every once in a while, I’ll commit to a nice long audio book (Dr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was great!). But most often, I turn to podcasts. There is so much quality audio material out there that I just have to share some of it with you. Obviously, this list isn’t definitive. I myself subscribe to more than a dozen podcasts, and I’m listening to other stuff I find on the web all the time. In no particular order, I offer you five resources for absolutely great listening and/or thinking about audio production…
The show’s homepage describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” What I like most about the show is how inventive and experimental it is. The way the producers manipulate and weave together sound effects, conversations, metaphor, science, and commentary is truly stunning. I have to say that there’s really nothing else out there quite like it. The show’s hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, strike a perfect balance between curiosity, fun, discovery, and storytelling. Given the show’s overt commitment to educating fascinating its listeners, it would be easy for the show to bear some resemblance to PBS or children’s programming. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The subject matter and the complexity of the exploration firmly establish that this is a show for adults (and smart, supervised kids, too). Here’s an episode to get you started: “23 Weeks 6 Days.”
The show’s site describes itself like so: “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.” It is hard to describe. Mostly everyday people. Sometimes with ordinary stories. Sometime extraordinary. But there is no audio program in the country that demonstrates the power of storytelling. The use of theme across stories and an obvious attention to narrative skills are the main reasons why this is most popular podcast in the United States. Here’s an episode to get you started: “Harper High School, Part One.”
PRX.org describes itself as “an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.” More simply, it’s a repository for some of the best audio content available. From single sort texts to longer documentary texts to ongoing audio shows, PRX probably has more absolutely stunning content than any other source. What it lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in its variety, accessibility, and the wonder of stumbling onto something you never heard coming. If you have a habit of losing hours at a time down the rabbit hole that it YouTube, you might want to be careful with PRX. Or bring a friend to keep your head about you. The experience can be overwhelming. Here’s a page for one of PRX’s more popular series to get you started: “The Moth Radio Hour.”
These last two sites have a bit more to do with production than with consumption. How Sound’s tagline is: “The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling.” The format is pretty consistent. Rob Rosenthal, the show’s regular host, usually begins by introducing a topic relevant to producing audio documentaries. They he offers and example of a text that has addressed the topic in a successful or innovative way. Often he manages to track down the original producer of the text he’s introduced, and interviews them about producing the text. The show is manages to remain understated and unassuming, despite the fact that it is essentially a showcase series. The analysis and behind the scenes explanation for production challenges and innovation are always fascinating and instructive. Here an episode to get you started: “The Loneliest Creature On Earth”
The show’s website offers its mission: “Transom.org channels new work and voices to public radio through the Internet, and discusses that work, and encourages more. Transom is a performance space, an open editorial session, an audition stage, a library, and a hangout. Our purpose is to pass the baton of mission and good practice in public media.” This site is rich with all sorts of different resources. Like “HowSound” mentioned above, the site offers several engaging and high-quality texts. But I think the most valuable resources that Transom offers are the process reflections of audio heavy hitters like Catherine Burns (The Moth Radio Hour), Sam Greenspan (99% Invisible), Andrea Seabrook (Decoding DC), and way too many others to mention. I also find Transom’s reviews of microphones, portable recorders, and editing software particularly helpful, as the reviews are always focused on Electronic News Gathering practices (interviews, etc.) instead of the recording and producing music. I’ve learned more about audio production from Transom than from any other sources. Here’s a re-issued classic text from Jay Allison called “The Basics.”
So that’s it. I’m running across great resources all the time, so I know there must be plenty more out there. Please feel free to respond to these or add your own. Use the comments below, respond to this link in FB, tweet it to your followers, or whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to say. Just don’t be shy about letting me know you responded somewhere. I’d love to see what other resources people know about out there
Here at my home institution, we’re in the process of redesigning the first-year writing curriculum. We’re hoping to conceive of a sequence of courses more responsive to emerging digital writing technologies and the social networks within which text circulate. You can pretty much guess the usual topics under discussion for inclusion in the curriculum: web texts, audio texts, video texts, YouTube, WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc. As well as including theoretical discussions about traditional writing practices, theoretical theory, research, etc. It’s a rangy discussion that I’ll not go into here.
I’ve been incorporating digital texts into my own writing classrooms for several years now—with varied success. When designing the assignments (audio interviews, video commentary, etc) or classroom practices (blogs, twitter, etc) I have to negotiate several factors within the context of my particular classroom and institution. What access do students have to required software or hardware? How will I contextualize these texts/practices within more traditional notions students (and colleagues, for that matter) have about Writing? How will I fairly and assess these texts and how can I communicate those criteria to students? What role with the students have in shaping the assignment or assessment? These questions are complicated for anyone hoping to use digital and/or social technologies in their classroom. This complexity is one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by teaching writing. But enough about me.
These motivations and concerns—these questions about texts and practices—get even more complicated when introduced into discussions of curriculum design. A writing program which hopes to effectively integrate new media writing tools and practices on a programmatic basis must consider several factors in addition to those I’ve mentioned above. One of the most important is to establish a set of baseline core digital literacy skills which can be expected of all instructors and all students. This isn’t to say that instructors should expect their students to have already acquired these skills prior to entering the classroom. Instead, the list is intended a set of skills which the instructor should feel comfortable expecting as part of the successful execution of a particular assignment. An instructor might dedicate some class time to covering the skills needed for a particular assignment. For instance, if an assignment calls for the students to create blogs, the instructor might offer a live or screen-casted tutorial on how to perform the expected task. Those students who don’t yet have the necessary fluency in those skills would require access to additional resources by way of one-on-one work with the instructor or possibly convenient access to a writing center well-prepared for consultations related to such tasks.
The trick, I think, is to make sure that there is a common set of digital literacy skills across a variety of instructors, assignments, and students. Under these sorts of circumstances, it is most likely for everyone involved to take advantage of rich and varied skill set. Students might assist other students or even their instructors in cultivating such skills. The same could be said for collaborations and shared knowledge among colleagues.
All this is merely to contextualize the list I’m about to offer. The thoughts above in no way reflect the official positions of my home institution, nor do they represent those of the curriculum revision committee. What I’m offering here are some of my initial thoughts on the subject as I prepare to bring them to conference with the committee. As is almost everything with this blog, the positions and assertions are provisional, and thus are open to any feedback or commentary you all might have. I should also note that the fact that this is a “top-ten list” is pretty arbitrary. I do think, especially as part of my own invention process, that having a limit to the number or “essential” skills/practices does encourage a bit more rigorous reflection than a more comprehensive and rangy list. That said, let’s get to that list, in no particular order…
Upload a YouTube Video
Create a WordPress Blog
Embed Media in WordPress Blog
Twitter – Follow others, hashtags
Facebook – ????
Upload and Circulate a sound file (SoundCloud/?)
VideoCapture (Jing) -
Still Capture (Snippet)
Record / Edit Audio File (Audacity/Soundation/Garageband)
Upload and Circulate a photo (Instagram/Flickr)
And here are some others I’m not so sure about…
Capture and Edit a still image (cameras, web cams, smartphones, Gimp, iPhoto, Photoshop)
Capture and Edit video (cameras, web cams, weVideo)
So that’s it. My first impulse is to say that a ten-item list seems pretty much right in terms of length. Also, I’m going to have to work on figuring out how to create a balance between the general skills and the specific tools. And that might end up being a little problematic. Because Facebook. Some tools, like Facebook and Twitter, have become the skills themselves. But FB is so much more closed. I’m just not sure how to frame it in terms of a skill. Well, I’ll have to think that through a bit more later.
For now, if you feel like responding with your own ideas, make sure to respond to @trauman via Twitter, or tweet a link to your own blog post, or whatever it is you do to respond to stuff like this.
Recently, I was awarded a grant to purchase some audio equipment for a series of interviews I’m working on. I’ve got about $4000 to spend, and I need to be able to conduct interviews with as many as for subjects (plus me) on location at conferences or via Google+ Hangouts. There’s a lot of thinking that has to go into this, and I’m still working out my equipment needs. I’m really trying to resist the urge to purchase all the equipment at once. I just think it would be smarter to put together a plan and then see how each bit of equipment works before I purchase four of them at once.
My first piece of purchased equipment is the Sony PCM-M10 portable audio recorder.
I’m going to write a review of this unit later, but for now, I wanted to put it to use with a variety of microphones to see how it sounded. (Also, a good friend of mine is thinking about purchasing a portable audio recorder, and I wanted to let him know how this one sounds.)
There’s nothing very scientific about these recordings. I simply unboxed the recorder, loaded the AA batteries into the compartment, turned it on, and started testing. I should also note that each of these microphones connects to the unit via an XLR cable, so I also had to purchase a Hosa Hosa Line Match cable (see link below).
I’ve provided pictures and links to each of the pieces of equipment I’m using. (disclaimer.) I hope you find the tests helpful. Please feel free to contact me via twitter (@trauman) if you have any questions or suggestions.
Shure SM58 mic into the SonyPCM-M10, recording level low
Shure SM58 mic into the SonyPCM-M10, recording level high
Rode Procaster mic into the Sony PCM-M10, recording level high
Rode NTG-2 mic into the Sony PCM-M10, recording level high
Audio-Technica ATR2100 mic into the Sony PCM-M10, recording level low
Audio-Technica ATR2100 mic into the Sony PCM-M10, recording level high
Sony PCM-M10 recording with the on-board mics, mic sensitivity low
Sony PCM-M10 recording with the on-board mics, mic sensitivity high
(Disclaimer: The links I’ve provided to product descriptions on Amazon are affiliate links. That means if you click through and purchase something via one of those links, my Amazon account gets a very small percentage. Any money I earn from these affiliate links goes directly to the expense of hosting this site. Any extra money (long shot) would go toward purchasing more equipment for review, for use in my classroom, for use in my scholarship, and for my colleagues to use in their own classrooms and projects. Every little bit helps. Obviously, you should always fully consider and research any equipment or book purchase you make. I hope this site helps.)
My students and I just finished our first day of audio recording for this semester. I wanted to share with you some of the equipment and logistics we used to organize our activities.
Working in groups of three, students developed a set of interview questions specific to each individual student. The interviews are related to the semester’s first major assignment: A description and reflection of the “work” a person “does.” The students wrote questions for themselves, as well as for their group members. Each student selected and ordered questions from those questions directed and him/her, followed by some prewriting in preparation for the questions.
We had also spent two days of class getting familiar with the the basics of Audacity, the microphones, and Soundcloud. Also working in groups, students recorded and edited some small files in Audacity, saved them, and uploaded them to SoundCloud.com.
Working in groups of two or three, one student would interview another. However, because almost no consumer computer can work with more than one USB microphone, we could only capture one side of the interview. Students had to learn the technique of incorporating a restatement of the question into their response in order for the recording to make sense. Once the interview was over, students saved and exported their unedited interview file. Then they uploaded the file to Soundcloud.com. Then another student in their group took his/her turn interviewing, until everyone had completed an interview. Given the risk that students might run out of time and not be able to upload their file, they were required to bring a USB drive to save their file for later uploading on their own time. As an alternative, some students used their Dropbox.com free account to upload their file for later upload to SoundCloud.
A note about the microphones: Although this is the first time I’ve used these mics for this type of assignment, they seem to work really well. In order to understand why I chose these mics, it’s important to understand the difference between the two most common types of mics: dynamic and condenser. I’m no audiophile, but I’ll tell you that there is an enormous difference between these two types. Condenser mics are generally much more sensitive than dynamic mics. As a result, when recording with a condenser microphone, you get a crisp, strong representation of a speaker’s voice, but you also will end up capturing much more of the ambient noise from the environment (echoes, air vents, refrigerators, computer fans, foot steps, barking dogs, passing cars, people talking in the hallway, etc.) If you can get yourself into a very quiet room with limited ambient noise, you can get an amazing recording with a condenser microphone. As you could probably guess, most classrooms or other generally-accessible campus facilities aren’t very suitable for condenser microphones. At the other end of the sensitivity spectrum are dynamic mics. Compared to condenser mics, they are generally very quiet. It’s usually much easier to get a good quality voice recording in a wider variety of environments with a dynamic microphone. This is because the mic isn’t sensitive enough to pick up most of the background noise. But the downside of these microphones is that it can sometimes be difficult to get a recording that’s loud enough to use. Also, dynamic mics are more rugged and durable than condenser mics. …
For these reasons, among others, I chose a dynamic microphone: the Audio-Technica ATR2100
So far, they are working out great. We can just plug them into the USB port on the front of the computer, which prompts the automatic installation of generic drivers, and the microphones are ready to go. The sound is a bit on the quiet side, so we have to increase the microphone levels in Audacity all the way to maximum. Even then, some of the softer-spoken students had a bit of a had time getting their recording volume up to optimum levels. Not perfect, but the absence of ambient room noise and the isolation from students recording nearby far outweigh the limits of the microphones. Additionally each of these microphones has its own headphone jack on the underside of the microphone. Plugging into this port eliminates most of the confusion related to headphone ports I’ve experienced in the past.
A note about Audacity: It’s free, and it can do everything students will need to be able to do for this type of assignment. At its most basic level, Audacity lets students adjust audio levels, cut-and-past audio from one track to another, edit on multiple tracks for layering effects, and to export as an mp3. More advanced techniques which Audacity offers include slowing/speeding clips, noise reduction, compression, limiting, and other audio effects. Additionally, Audacity’s interface is almost identical between Mac and Windows operating systems. And did I mention that it’s free?
A note about SoundCloud: I love SoundCloud. When students have a finished audio file, they can upload it to SoundCloud and share it in all sorts of ways. It’s a lot like uploading a video to YouTube or attaching a file to an email message. There is a simple uploader at SoundCloud’s site where students can post their file and enter in other information like a title, description, tags, etc. However, I think my favorite aspect of SoundCloud is how easy it is share the audio files. There are sharing buttons built into the interface that link directly to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and WordPress. The WordPress functionality is what I like best. Students can get an embed code which they can then enter into their WordPress.com blogs (which each of them has for this course) and share it with me and their fellow students.
A note about headphones: I highly encourage students to bring their own headphones. For lots of reasons. First, the alternative is to edit without headphones (which I don’t allow), or to use the headphones I provide (which aren’t very good). Last year, I invested in a large lot of inexpensive earbuds. They look a lot like iPhone earbuds, but they are very cheap. They cost me about thirty cents each. But they really don’t sound very good, and they break pretty easily. Not to mention I also had to pick up some disposable foam covers to go over the earbuds so some other student could use them in the future. These cost me $2 for about 200 of them, so it’s not a big deal, but it’s another thing to carry around and to remember. If you do have it in your budget, I would look for something inexpensive, super durable (I mean like a Mack truck) with padded ear cups. Without hesitation, I would snag a half-dozen or more of these: Monoprice 108323 Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphones.
Of course there’s more to say here, but it’ll have to wait for another post. For now, I’d love to hear of your own adventures within audio assignments in composition classrooms.
I’ve not been all that public about my new position at Columbia College Chicago. Fifty years ago, people would have called it radio silence. But in this age of the always-on newsfeed this silence merits little note. Except my own. Because the silence has been mine. And hopefully, now it’s over. Moving is complicated. So is a new job. And a new city. And saying goodbye to friends. And a slew of garden-variety complications exacerbated by any move. Needless to say, I’m somewhat settled again.
And the first thing I want to say is that I’m incredibly proud and thankful to be working at Columbia College Chicago (which I’ll now refer to as CCC). So far, the students have been a revelation. Most coming from a lower-middle class background with a career-focuses embedded somewhere within the arts or arts-supporting-professions. I’ve got dancers, radio producers, set designers, fashion majors, music agency, etc. A solid percentage of my students’ experience of academic environments is that of the outsider with plenty of brains and ambition, but little correspondence between their own investments/preoccupations and the most standard academic focuses of high schools and larger academic institutions. To some degree–and I’ll admit I’m a newbie just trying to get a foothold–I get the sense that this is a place that attracts academic “outsiders.” But of a relatively specific sort. Not the sort who arrive at an institution ill-prepared to dive-in to the rigors of a traditional four-year university. And not the sort who lack the focus to succeed. Rather, I’m getting the sense that most of my students are young men and women who’ve finally found a place that has institutionalized and certified the professionalization and career tracks in which they are interested.
It’s basically a large, urban college for creatives. Smart, motivated, and surprising students. To some extent, I can’t believe how lucky I am.
As an undergraduate, I majored in Architecture for a year, ended up only a credit short for a studio-arts minor, and majored in English Literature. My master’s degree is in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry. And after graduate school, I spent four-years as a full-time potter. The fine arts have always been a part of my life, and that background provides me with a wealth of knowledge–and surprising street cred–with these students. It’s something I’ve not experienced before.
While I’m here, I’m going to be making some major changes to my teaching practices. Not at all re-inventing myself. Rather, I now feel I have the freedom (from the administration) and the trust (of my colleagues and students) to push the limits of this particular institution in terms of digital writing practices in the first-year composition classroom. My first-semester course students will be producing both audio-projects and audio-visual digital projects. The texts we’ll be “reading” will encompass audio texts, online video, blogs, and selections from longer graphic texts.
I’ll soon be posting my course website for anyone who’s interested. Thanks for stopping by.
I’m still working to keep this summer’s storytelling moment. This week, I contributed this story to the “BackStory” project from the Center for Digital Storytelling. I’m also still experimenting with circulation across multiple platforms. Below are embeds from my four primary services at the moment: YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Cowbird. (I’ve also decided that Flickr will be my primary source for sharing images.)
Timbuk2 messenger bag.Custom color: orange/black/brown. I spent the extra $20 for the custom coloring for two reasons. I didn’t like the color combos Timbuk2 was offering. Also, it might make it a little more difficult to steal, but probably not.
Floppy hat. To shield my shiny dome from the sun and rain.
Small wood box for keys, watch, change, wallet, phone, etc. If I didn’t keep all this stuff in one place, there’s no way I’d remember everything.
Small, handmade soup bowl for various foods, depending on the day (actual bowl may vary). Tonight it’s the sauce for my shrimp scampi over rice. I can’t stress this enough. Eat with handmade tableware. It’s beautiful. This one’s made by Willem Gebben.
In the left window sill, a small, toy iron made out of… yep… iron. (Thanks, Daniel Weinshenker).
And a small model train caboose with Burlington Northern markings.
And in the right window sill, a 20″ box fan. I’m trying to see how far I can go into the summer without turning on the air conditioning.
In the closet (that you can’t see), I have my printer, paper cutter, stapler, scissors, flatbed scanner, and a two-volume set of “The Oxford Companion to the Book” (thanks, Tony O’Keeffe!). Also in the closet, a leash and poo-bags for walking my dog, Rilke.
Oh, and the desk is hand-made by yours-truly. All the cords, modems, and extra hard drives are contained within the desktop itself.
The chair cost me five bucks. And there’s a foot-rest under the desk.
Opposite the desk is a futon-couch, small end table, and small lamp. That’s it.
It ends up looking pretty simple. But the guts of the setup are pretty complicated. I love it.
And maybe this is weird to say, but if I had to replace all this junk, I’d buy exactly the same items.
So the guy knows how to tell stories. And here he is offering a structure or framework or set of principles to keep in mind as you craft a story. His advice and experience comes from a medium which affords him 120 minutes of story arc instead of the 2-4 minutes that I’m much more interested in, but that’s not to say some of the same storytelling techniques wouldn’t apply to a compressed format like digital stories. Watch the vid below. It’s pretty great. And I’ve offered my own listening notes below:
William Archer: “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” [not knowing, but wanting to know]
List of Criteria:
No “I want” moment
No happy village
No love story
The audience should like your main character.
A story should start off with a promise (to be fulfilled).
Characters should have “spines” & itches they’re always trying to scratch.
A story should have a strong, unifying theme.
WONDER: the most major ingredient a story should have, but is rarely invoked.