Using my phone to record audio for Moodle

This blog post is about how a mobile phone and a free internet service called iPadio, helped me to recover an awkward situation by recording audio from my phone – then adding this to a Moodle course.

I was running Moodle training for a client in Worcester. The day that was arranged I had access to my car so planned to drive – however due to the floods we had to postpone the training to a different day when I didn’t have my car, so had to rely on the train network. I was a little nervous as had to catch 3 separate trains, with not much time for changes – so if any of the 3 trains were delayed I risked turning up late. The client accepted this risk – so we went ahead.

As it happened my nervousness was justified as my first train was significantly late, meaning that I knew I would be late for the training. Many people in this situation (including me a few years ago) would at best find this distressing and at worst enter a mild panic – but I was able to execute a plan:

Robin Hood (1922) - Allan Dwan

Because the first part of the Moodle training involved attendees accessing an ice breaker activity – this could be started without me – all I needed to do was introduce myself and session to the delegates, and luckily I own a phone that gave me all the tools that I needed.

I used a service called iPadio (I have blogged about this in the past on numerous occasions) – this is a free service which I had previously subscribed to – and it allowed me to record an audio file simply by dialling a London phone number (therefore free to me as part of my minutes allocation) and talk to an answerphone to record my welcome message.

As soon as I had finished recording, I went to the iPadio website (via my phone) located the recording, and copied the URL for that recording. I then went into the Moodle course that I was using during the training and added this at the top of the course as a link. Ideally I would have downloaded the audio file, and then uploaded it as an MP3 file to the Moodle course,  but I couldn’t quite do this from my iPhone – so had to settle for linking to it instead

Then the final part of the plan was for me to phone my contact at the centre – explain the situation, and ask them if they could start the session for me – by simply finding the Moodle course, and playing the audio message I had left for them.

All of this I completed in less than 10 minutes from my phone whilst stood on a cold and windy platform at Leicester Railway Station, and I hadn’t even had breakfast or a cup of coffee at this point (and those that know me well, know that I don’t function until after my second cup of coffee)

Although not an ideal way to start a days training – it did show the attendees one of the powers of Moodle – to be used in situations where the teacher isn’t present (either planned or not planned) but where the teacher is still able to influence the class.

Usually when I do audio recordings, I am sat in my quiet office, with a headset on and using either Audacity (PC) or Garageband (Apple) – which gives me good quality audio recordings, however there are often situations when I want to record an audio recording when I don’t have this set up, and for this using iPadio is great – as all I need is my phone, the final file will be an MP3 which is the best for most purposes (if I used the built in sound recorder in my phone, it saves it in a proprietary format that can only be accessed by people with the same make of phone), and I can do various things including downloading, linking to, or embedding which covers all possible bases.

Why educators should use creative commons images?

I have regularly blogged about different tools to locate creative commons images, however I thought it would be useful for me to go into more information about ‘why’ we should use these – and not just from the logical response of staying on the right side of copyright law.

To start with, we need to understand what Creative Commons is. The following YouTube video explains this quite clearly. This is a New Zealand based video but the principle is the same in the UK and elsewhere.

Now onto the question of  why? I will be talking about this in an event next week, for which I have created an audio and an associated transcript (pdf) below.

Why it is important that educators use CC images (audio)

Why it is important that educators use CC images (transcript)

So – as well as the legal reason for using Creative Commons images, there is also the moral and educational reason – in that we need to prepare our current learners not just for their current studies, but also for the workplace beyond.

I was running some training at a primary school, where I introduced them to the idea of the Xpert attribution tool, and how this attaches the reference to the image, and if we get primary school children used to seeing correct referencing of images, when they get to secondary and FE/HE levels, they will be more familiar with this notion.

How to locate images on Wikimedia and embed into Moodle or Blackboard

There are lots of people that work in education that sadly think that Wikipedia is the work of the devil, and think that it will undermine academia as we know it, and should be banned at all costs. There are others that think Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information, and there is no point of looking elsewhere for facts.

Regardless of your viewpoint on Wikipedia (which hopefully is somewhere between the 2 extremes above), one aspect of it that is very useful, is that there is lots of high quality media (mainly images, but also videos and audio) available on Wikimedia – that can be easily (and legally) embedded into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard.

As organisations scramble to set up online courses, the reality is that most people won’t have the time or money to generate their own high quality media – and I don’t think we need to, seeing as there is so much media out there that we can easily and legally use – the key is the academic structuring of this information and the asking of challenging and stimulating questions around this available media and information. e.g. the image below identifying a muscle in the human body – I couldn’t draw this myself, and it would be a waste of my time trying to.
Musculi coli sternocleidomastoideus

The video below shows how easy it is to find an image on wikimedia and embed it into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard

The accessibility benefits of using audio in teaching and learning

My last 2 posts in this blog, have looked at the use of audio within teaching and learning as follows:

In this post I want to think about some of the accessibility benefits and issues for this area of work. Firstly (and sadly) a lot of people use accessibility as an excuse not to use audio more, often stating that they don’t want to use audio in case they have a deaf learner in their class.
No hay más ciego que el que no quiere ver...

This is a commonly misunderstood area – as (although it may sound silly) many deaf learners actually find audio content really useful. Agreed, if someone has no hearing then audio is of no use to them, but many people that are identified as being deaf have some hearing, and many of them will have hearing aids that will amplify noise so that they can hear something. For these learners accessing a lecture is often difficult as the hearing aids will pick up all noise in the room, including the lecturers voice, mutterings from other learners, the hum of the strip lighting, the squeaking of pens etc. making it very hard to hear. The use of induction loops has helped this issues to a certain extent, but still isn’t ideal, as you hear the tutors contribution but not necessarily what other learners say. If however as part of the process an audio file has been produced summarising the key learning points (and remember you can always get the learners to do this – see my post on ipadio) – a deaf learner can in a quiet environment (e.g. their bedroom) listen to this – altering the volume accordingly so that they can hear it through an ordinary audio player and pick up some extremely valuable information that would otherwise have been missed. With this in mind, when I record audio, I amplify the recording slightly (which is very easy to do with things like audacity) – as it is always possible to turn the volume down, but it isn’t possible to turn the volume up above its maximum.

Another question that I am often asked is “Do we need to provide a transcript for all the audio recordings we make?”. This question again is another barrier (excuse) that stops people using audio, as the time to create such a transcript puts them off.

Personally, my interpretation of the law (and I am not a lawyer – so do not take this as legal advice) is as follows:

The law (Equality Act 2010) states that

  1. We have to make reasonable adjustment.
  2. We have an anticipatory duty, to be prepared for a variety of disabilities and associated possible adaptations.

So – what does that mean? Part 1 is simple – yes if we are using audio and we have a learner who states that they need a transcription then we need to provide it.

Part 2 – is more tricky. Many people interpret this as we should produce the transcripts upfront, but this doesn’t make sense to me, as if we followed that logic through it would mean for every session someone delivers, they would have to turn up with their resources printed on a variety of colours of paper, in different fonts sizes and fonts, and in audio format, Braille format, videoed as British Sign Language etc. This to me wouldn’t be a reasonable expectation.

So I don’t automatically provide transcripts, however what I have done with a few organisations that I have worked with is ensure that there is a mechanism in place to create such transcripts if required (e.g. if a student asks for one) – very quickly (this I think is a reasonable adjustment). Many people ask me if there is a technological solution to converting audio to text, and sadly there isn’t a fully reliable one, so my solution would be to just employ a very fast typing temp, who could listen to the audio files, and transcribe them. The problem here is many organisation would then argue over whose budget would pay for this temp (e.g. is it central, is it the teaching team(s), is it learner support). Personally I think it should be a central budget – as the key here would be getting it done quickly and the organisation should have a procedure in place to do this if a student requests it. I am aware that most organisations don’t, which is a shame as it would be a very simple mechanism to put in place.

So in summary – we should not avoid using audio on accessibility grounds, instead we should embrace it, if we can make sure that audio recordings are clear and recorded at above average volume then great. If we do produce transcripts up front then brilliant but of not possible then having a mechanism in place to create them should suffice.

Top tips for sharing audio files with learners

I use audio a lot in my work, both for giving learners feedback but also for the creation of learning objects. One way to use audio is for each week or topic of teaching to provide a short audio file to set the scene, to provoke thought or as a form of additional information for those that want to take the topic further (differentiation). Many people will use their VLE to house these audio files – and if we do this there are a few tips that we can apply to make this process easier for ourselves and the learners. The following video will explain some of these ideas, and the details are further explained below.

Using leading zeros when naming files

If we are producing a sequence of audio files (e.g. 1 per week) – if we name  the files:

  • Underwater Origami Week 1
  • Underwater Origami Week 2
  • Underwater Origami Week 3
  • ……
  • Underwater Origami Week 9
  • Underwater Origami Week 10
  • Underwater Origami Week 11

This is OK if you have less than 9 weeks in total, but if you have 10 or more weeks, what can happen is when the files are saved together in a folder either on a computer or an audio playing device (e.g. mp3 player/phone) – the order of them may be displayed alphabetically, and with the above scenario, this would look like:-

  • Underwater Origami Week 1
  • Underwater Origami Week 10
  • Underwater Origami Week 11
  • Underwater Origami Week 2
  • Underwater Origami Week 3
  • ……
  • Underwater Origami Week 9

So to avoid this, it makes sense to save the filename with leading zeros e.g.

  • Underwater Origami Week 01
  • Underwater Origami Week 02
  • Underwater Origami Week 03
  • ……
  • Underwater Origami Week 09
  • Underwater Origami Week 10
  • Underwater Origami Week 11

This way if the files are arranged alphabetically, they will remain in the correct order.

Use CamelCase rather than spaces

If we have spaces in our filenames, when these are displayed as web addresses the space is often replaced with a %20 – which then stops the filename from making sense, so I tend to avoid spaces. What I do instead is use CamelCase – this is where all the words are lowercase, but the first letter of each word is capitalised so that it stands out (and creates a bump – hence the name CamelCase). This makes it easier to read on the eye.

  • UnderwaterOrigamiWeek01

Adding meaning into the filename

With the example that I have used so far, this works if we know what is being covered in each week, but if a learner is coming back to this at a later date to revisit a topic that they are struggling with, or need for their assignment – if they don’t know which week each topic was taught in it can be frustrating trying to guess which file they want, so adding a brief description at the end of the filename will help e.g.

  • UnderwaterOrigamiWeek01-Introduction
  • UnderwaterOrigamiWeek02-TypesOfPaper
  • UnderwaterOrigamiWeek03-FoldingTechniques

Makes a lot more sense.

If using dates use yymmdd format

If you want to include a date in a filename – then use the yymmdd format, or reverse format – e.g. todays date is

9th July 2012

This would be recorded as the year first (12) then the month (07) then the date (09) to give a final date of 120709. The reason we use this is if the files are arranged alphabetically – if we have used this format they will also appear in the correct chronological order. e.g.

  • 120608UnderwaterOrigamiWeek01-Introduction
  • 120615UnderwaterOrigamiWeek02-TypesOfPaper
  • 120622UnderwaterOrigamiWeek03-FoldingTechniques

Zipping the audio files for easier downloading

If distributing the files each week via the VLE then that is great if the learners are diligent enough to access the VLE, to select the file and download it onto their audio player or computer. However it is worth considering as well as doing this, also putting all the files into a folder, zipping this up, and uploading this zip file as a file – this way the learners have the option of downloading the whole series in one go, rather than having to visit every link in turn and save etc.

If you are recording the files as you go along with the teaching, then this can be done at the end of each term for example for students to download retrospectively, or if the audio files have been produced in advance, then you have the choice of doing this at the beginning, so they have the files in advance.

Another important feature when using audio files is to use the metadata options – which will be covered in the next post….

Using a phone to capture audio and make learning more fun

This is the 4th entry in a series on making learning more fun.

Students carry mobile phones around with them, and something that mobiles phones can do very well is record audio, either into the phone itself, or into a web based system such as Ipadio. (Which I have blogged about before)

We can use these ideas as a way of bringing variety (and therefore more interest / fun) into the learning process.

To listen about how this may work, here is an ipadio recording on this topic, that I have linked back into this blog.

Visit to hear my latest ipadio phonecast

If you use things like Moodle or Blackboard then the embedding mechanism works even better, providing more information and a more attractive player.

Ideas of how you could use this technique:-

  • Ask learners to interview each other, whilst they role play characters within a scenario
  • Ask learners to explain the topic just taught using audio only (and therefore no visual information)
  • Ask learners to create memory rhymes for key information
  • Ask learners to reflect at the end of the session on what they have learnt
  • For the teaching of languages, the possible uses of this is enormous – the tutor could send an audio file to the learners each day in the language they are learning, or the learners could practice their speaking and then the tutor / peers can provide feedback.

This is an area where teaching can be radically transformed with just a bit of imagination.

How to use DSpeech to convert text to audio

DSpeech is a free piece of software which can be downloaded to a computer, or can run from a memory stick as part of the eduapps suite, and it allows a user to convert text to audio in MP3 format (so they can listen to it on computer or music player)

I like this piece of software, as it puts the learner in control of their adaptions rather than having to rely on someone else to either dictate for them, or to do the conversion, and this isn’t just useful for students with disabilities, but any learner who may not want to read a long piece of text, they can listen to it instead – and if they listen to it a few times (e.g. whilst doing something else) then they can pick up useful information that they would easily miss if just trying to read the information.