If you think of MP3s you may automatically think of people illegally distributing music files, but the format brings some serious benefits that can be embraced in the classroom.
MP3 or MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, is a standard established by the Moving Picture Experts Group for compressing audio files, while maintaining the integrity and quality of the piece of music. The resulting computer files can be easily transferred between devices.
Put simply, MP3 compression removes sounds that the ear doesn't hear. For example, when a cymbal is struck in an orchestra it would momentarily blot out the quieter sounds of, say, the strings. MP3 compression would, therefore, remove the sound of the strings for that instant. Fundamental to this process is a science called psychoacoustics, or the study of how the human ear perceives sounds.
For schools, one advantage of MP3 is that it turns any computer into a listening station, not just for music, but for all types of audio. On top of this, by adding a microphone and recording software you have a simple and cost-effective way of getting sounds recorded in the right format for a host of multimedia packages.
It's not just about music, though. For example, the Talkingbooks website (currently being redesigned) allows you to download books in MP3 format and has plans to add course-based materials, too.
However, if it's music you're after, then services such as PlayTime and Audio Network offer royalty-free tracks for schools to download.
Of course, the most obvious uses are in music and the arts, but it can be used across the curriculum. Try combining archive photos and images with MP3 files of historical recordings, music from different cultures or sound effects from various countries to provide a "picture of the past" that books can only hint at.
Imagine children making up a story, drawing the illustrations and writing the text, recording themselves reading their story, and then saving it all as a multimedia presentation on a CD.
Indeed, the same technology could be used to store readings, singing tests, concerts or any kind of audio information. Perhaps a child who is not a good writer could orally present information in science, maths or any other subject, and keep a record of it on a CD-Rom as an alternative to written essays or tests.
As MP3s can now be played and recorded on a range of devices, from PCs, to hand-held computers and even mobile phones, the technology is there for learning to stretch way beyond the classroom.