Audio explorers right on track

27th August 2010 at 01:00
A group of pioneering professionals is carving bold new technological pathways through recordings and shared expertise

The reason Scottish education is highly regarded for its creative use of ICT is not hard to find. A small but energetic band of teachers has, from the start, been teaching themselves, trying things out and - crucially - sharing freely with colleagues all they discover. It's the opposite of the culture that exists in the commercial world, where new knowledge and skills are jealously guarded and used as pawns in the promotion game.

David Noble, below, is one of this band of educational explorers. As a chartered teacher at Hillside School in Fife, a special school where he is studying part-time for a doctorate of education, he has recently been building base-camps and clearing paths through the realms of audio.

"I've a passion to encourage and support educators experimenting with recording and sharing their voices, and taking part in recorded conversations," he says.

Now that most mobile phones support audio recording, he says it's easy to capture thoughts as an event unfolds, and to share these with the world. "There are half a dozen ways of sharing audio online. So when you're at a conference, why not try speaking to someone and recording it - or record your own thoughts? John Johnson and I tried this for the first time at last year's Scottish Learning Festival with 25 different people.

"It worked really well and was nominated for an award. So at the next Learning Festival we'll be delivering a session on audio recording for teachers. There'll also be a hive of audio activity around the place, with people dialling in with interviews and reflections on the day."

The EDUtalk website that grew from that first festival trial has been regularly updated, he says. "We've put up over 100 examples of educators around the world using mobile phones in different ways to capture audio. We've also set up a bimonthly online panel discussion, called EDUtalkr, with topics and panellists suggested by the education community."

The recordings could hardly be simpler to produce, says Mr Noble. "All you need is a mobile phone. And there are lots of resources out there, most of them free, as well as websites that improve the quality of the audio and help you do interesting things with it."

For a teacher just setting out on the audio trail, his recommended shortlist includes EDUtalk, the audio editing program Audacity, ScotEdublogs, the Levelator, and iTunes University.

"Apple's been on the ball with podcasting since digital audio first became available and could be shared online," he says.

"So if you go to the iTunes music store, it's as easy to search for a podcast as for music. Pupil-produced or school magazine podcasts have a presence there and can be subscribed to by schools around the world. There's a whole education directory. For high-flying students there's also, rather wonderfully, iTunes University, where anyone can access courses and lectures from the top universities around the world."

The Levelator is a piece of free software that takes the hard work out of buffing up your audio, he says. "It's one of the best tools in ages. Instead of simply recording on Audacity and exporting as an MP3, you add an extra step with the Levelator. Then when you listen, it's all been equalised and normalised - so everyone's voice in a group discussion is at the same level and the noise has been reduced. It works a treat."

With a little experience, other free resources can be explored and combined in powerful ways, he says. "Take EDUtalkr, our online panel discussion. The way that works is we have half a dozen people around the country in a Skype conference call - a penny a minute on your mobile - with a call-recorder called Pamela running in the background.

"So as soon as we hang up, it's all captured and made available as an MP3 file. But we also dial into a resource called Ipadio, which lets us broadcast live on the internet. So anybody can listen in to the discussion and contribute questions or comments through Twitter or email - which are then fed to the panellists. It's just great."

All this audio is not mainly about technology at all - that's just a means to an end, says Mr Noble. "It creates connections, it saves time and it enriches our work.

"We're saying to people: `Think about how audio can be used to take policy forward, to reach out to people, to deliver CPD. You might not have the graphics but, if audio is facilitated well, what you do have is a very rich dialogue.'"

Douglas Blane

Edutalk: see

David Noble: see http:twitter.comparslad


Sharing curriculum change through the EDUtalk project. David Noble will present a session on September 22 at 12.30pm at the SECC, Glasgow.

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