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.
Harley Farris and I were recording a conversation for the Zeugma podcast out of DWRL at UT. We addressed this important question, but we couldn’t fit it into the edited version of the conversation. Here’s to hoping you find something useful, if not at least entertaining, in this short exchange:
Not only are writing researchers located in dispersed geographic regions, but also, historically, they have been divided by the languages they study and the academic departments or disciplines they inhabit. Now, however, Writing Studies as a discipline appears to be undergoing an “international turn” (Lunsford, 2012) as researchers exchange new methods, concepts, and approaches for analyzing writing practices. [...] To this theme, I added the idea of “multimodal” research to serve as the special issue’s common ground.
Although 17.3 isn’t at the heart of my own research and teaching interests, I find that each of the texts manages to offer something that informs my practices or raises an issue that I now realize I need to adopt as part of a more global, inclusive, and responsible professional perspective. Here’s a run-down of the contents:
Finally returned home from DMAC last night. Worked four hours before bed for my brother. And I”m in the middle of a ten hour day at work today. I’m exhausted.
But there’s more. Not only am I exhausted, I can feel ‘stuff’ piling up around me. My dissertation. Information. Responsibilities. News. The lives of my family and friends. Recent scholarship to read. And the list goes on. It’s really been getting on my nerves lately.
Well, not all of it. I’ve gotta call my sister. My grandma. A good friend in Ohio. Those sorts of things are great. But when I feel overwhelmed like this, everything suffers. Not just the stuff lower on my priorities list.
I’ve been thinking about this problem (not uncommon, I assume) for a while, but it really started to bite while at DMAC. So busy. Coming home so tired. But it’s so much fun, and so productive and rewarding! So I clearly have trouble with priorities and life-balance.
I’ve been trying to think about what I can cut, or trim, so that the things I really need to get done–and the things I really want to get done–start getting done. I’ve become increasingly aware of how much information I consume. It’s ridiculous. Twitter. Facebook. RSS feeds. Email. Whew. I don’t want to quit any of these information streams. Each of them offers something substantially different than the others. But there’s just so, so much within those streams that I don’t want to consume. There’s plenty of great information. Rewarding, important stuff. Entertaining, too. But the frequency just isn’t there. And then there’s the impulse to reciprocate someone’s twitter follow, and other reciprocal “followings” like that. I’m just not very good at saying “no.” Which is killing me in terms of social networks.
It’s time to winnow my streams. Stop following some people on Twitter. Unfriend a few folks on Facebook. Trim lots of feeds from my RSS reader. And get ruthless with email.
What will I do with any time I might recover from this info diet? Finish my dissertation. Write more digital stories. Share the products of that work as short videos, audio files, blog posts, etc. On the spectrum of consumer to producer, I want to slide myself back toward producer.
And now you know how I’ll be spending my Saturday evening. Tightening the nozzle on the social media stream. And writing something. And sharing it. For the first time in a while, I can’t wait to get home from work so I can get something done.
I put this digital story together in response to a prompt from my friend, Daniel Weinshenker. The constraints: one photo (which he provided, I didn’t get to choose); maximum length = 2 minutes.
(Text written before recording. Recorded using an SM58 microphone plugged into an H4n audio recorder. Audio edited in Audacity. Picture edited, panned, combined with music, and exported within iMovie.)