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.

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Reversing the order of a Moodle Course

Many years ago, when I was teaching at a college, and at the same time responsible for the ILT/e-learning provision within that area, I used to hold regular course rep meetings with students (I would give them a free lunch as an incentive) so that I could find out things about what they liked or didn’t like about the things we were doing. These proved really useful meetings and many things were changed or implemented as a result.

Picture of someone doing a headstand in front of a frozen waterfall

Upside down

One thing that came up in a meeting, was a student suggested that it would be better if the content on the VLE was displayed in reverse chronological order – e.g. the most recent stuff appeared at the top and older stuff moved down accordingly. At the time I had never seen this done before and the other students thought it was a stupid idea, but I saw where he was coming from, and as services like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, News Feed etc have evolved the norm is for the most recent content to appear at the top of the list and everything else to move down – so it makes sense that the VLE could do the same – if a course is 30+ weeks long, why are we asking the learners to scroll down through content and resources that they covered 9 months ago?

I have tried this technique with a few courses that I have been involved in, and I think it is a better way of working – the only problem was that within Moodle there wasn’t an automatic way to do this, I either had to pre-create my weeks in reverse order and then set the restrict access settings for each week to make them appear at the right time, or I would create the weeks content as I went and would manually drag this topic to the top of the list when appropriate. Neither solution was ideal and not something that most teachers would have the time or inclination to do.

However – whilst searching for something else on the Moodle plugin site I came across something called ‘Weekly format reversed’ a plugin that will do exactly what I want – automatically reverse the course for me. I haven’t tried this yet as none of the moodles that I am working on at the moment want this approach, and looking at the comments it looks like there were a few bugs, but hopefully if enough people use and contribute to this plugin they will get sorted out. This way of working may not work for all people, but is certainly something that is worth trying, and things look very different when viewed the other way up.

If nothing else – this reduces the need for excessive scrolling, which is one of the main considerations when designing a VLE area.

Adding a file into a Moodle 2 content area

Many people that use Moodle will know how to add files directly into a Moodle course, which works fine for some situations, but there is a risk that one ends up with a long list of files appearing on the course page, without guidance to the learners as to what to do with them.

Personally I hate seeing Moodle (or any other VLE system) courses that look like this, as it doesn’t make for good teaching and learning (we don’t usually go into a teaching session, give the students 3 or 4 handouts, and then let them get on with it – we usually explain and talk to the learners what we want them to do with the resources).

So – rather than uploading files in a long list – what I like to do is to add a narration around the files, explaining to the learners what I want them to do with each of the files or resources that I am sharing with them. For this I need to choose a Moodle resource or activity type. If it is a very simple topic, I may add a ‘page’, other times I add a ‘book’ (which allows me to have multiple pages within the resource), or I could use a discussion ‘forum’, ‘lesson’, ‘Quiz’, or ‘assignment’. As long as whatever I choose gives me the WYSIWYG editor (the row of icons that looks a bit like a word processor), then I can use this technique.

The following video will take you through the process:

Part of the beauty of this technique, is it becomes very easy to move content around within the Moodle course – in that if I want to re-arrange my teaching order, I may have 1 link for the topic (which itself links to 4 or 5 other files) – I only have to move this one link and the files go with it, rather than having to move the 4 or 5 files in turn.

Another place where I use this technique a lot is with the assignment tool. If I want students to submit work through Moodle, and I am giving them an assignment brief (e.g. in the form of a word document) I can create an assignment within Moodle. Add the link to the assignment brief and any other required documents into the description, and then the learners are accessing the brief in the same place that they will be submitting their work – which is much neater than putting the briefs in one place and them submitting their work in another.

What got me started in online learning

Earlier in the summer I was running some staff development, and a reluctant attendee asked how a sport science lecturer (as I was) ended up getting into online learning, so I told them about my first foray into this area of work.

In my first full year of teaching (1998), one of my units was a level 3 ‘diet and nutrition’ and one of the assignments was to carry out a basic analysis of a week’s diet, compare this to energy expenditure and then make suggestions of how to improve the diet. Or in other words the assignment from hell for a Level 3 sport student. Even though this should have been completed earlier in the year, I hardly had any work handed in on time as most students tactically worked out they were only ever going to get a pass, therefore there was no point in doing the assignment on time, instead they would wait until the end of the year and finish the assignment once teaching had finished. The problem was that I had about 40 students, and every single one came to see me for help with the assignment, and although I willingly helped them, if I spent 30 minutes with each student, that equated to 20 hours of my time – and I was still teaching on other courses – so for about 2 weeks at the end of term, if I wasn’t teaching I had a permanent queue of students outside the office waiting to see me (and I was part-time so wasn’t get paid for all this extra work).

I realised that the help that I was giving the learners was effectively the same over and over again, so the following year (and I now had 3 groups to teach, so 60+ students) I decided to create some information and instructions on how to complete the assignment. This included a worked example (Excel), a template diary they could use (Excel), an animated presentation that explained the steps that were needed (PowerPoint) and an instruction sheet (Word) which hyperlinked to the other files and a few useful websites as well. I didn’t have a VLE at my disposal, but we did have a shared network drive that I could upload files to and the students could access. So I uploaded the work to there, created a simple printed instruction sheet of how to locate this shared drive which I gave to the learners when the assignment was handed out. The result was that a larger percentage completed the assignments on time, some even got merit and distinction grades. Those that still waited until the end of term, when they came to see me, I gave them the instruction sheet again, sent them away to find a computer and come back if still not clear, most were able to follow the online support so I only had about 2 students to work with 1:1.

So my first foray into online learning (even though many would argue this isn’t online learning) was motivated by time saving potential for me. It took me about 2 or 3 hours to set up, but saved probably 30 hours (of my unpaid time!) in student support, and the quality of the work was significantly better.

Having created the folder structure on the joint drive I realised that there was potential in this way of working, and I uploaded more and more resources throughout the year, and started to create a resource bank to support the subjects I was teaching.

In my next blog post I will continue the story of how this behaviour evolved into me using (and creating) a VLE to support my classroom delivery, in what would now be identified as blended learning with elements of flipped classroom – but over 14 years ago and about 10 years before these 2 terms became fashionable!

Taken from http://farm5.static.flickr.com/8258/8671894359_891da1da8b_b.jpg on 2013-9-13
Original URL – http://www.flickr.com/50251161@N08/8671894359/ created on 2013-04-21 12:50:39
Orin BlombergCC BY-NC 2.0

Adding subtitles to YouTube videos using CaptionTube

YouTube is a wonderful resource, it works on just about all internet enabled devices, it hardly ever goes wrong, it is easy to use and although there is a lot of low quality rubbish on there (in my opinion), there is also huge amounts of really useful high quality videos that we can use in education to enhance our teaching and learning practices.

A feature of YouTube that many don’t know about, is the auto-captioning option – in other words YouTube creates a transcript of the video without you having to do anything. If you are watching a video on the YouTube page and you want to see the captions, then there is a button below the video (currently to the right of the where it says ‘add to’) which is the transcript button – this brings up the transcript as a timeline below the videos and automatically advances with the video. This can be great for learners that have a disability (e.g. are deaf), but can also be really useful to find a key point within a video.

For example I often use short sections of the excellent TED talk video of Ken Robinson talking about schools killing creativity. If I want to locate a certain section within that video, I use the automatic captions that appear below it to locate the section that I want.

Because the transcripts are computer generated, they do contain errors – and depending on the clarity of the voice and the background noise of the video will determine the accuracy of the transcript. For some reason my voice never does well with automated speech to text systems, including YouTube.

However if you do want to override the automatic captions that YouTube creates with your own ones, then this is very easy to do – and for this I use a service called CaptionTube This is a simple system where you sign in (using a Google Account) you locate the video you want to caption (which could be your own or someone elses) and then you play the video pausing it at intervals to add your captions. If the video is your own, then you can add the captions to it there and then, if it isn’t your video then you can send the transcript to them to see if they want to upload it.

The following video (by John Skidgel) introduces the basics of CaptionTube.

Here is a video of mine that I captioned using this method. This took me 12 minutes in total from opening the page to my captions appearing on the video on YouTube.

Adding Captions to a video is a simple way to increase the accessibility of a resource, as well as potentially increasing the number of people that see your video, as the contents of the captions will get picked up by search engines (if the video is set to being public and listed).

Cropping a YouTube video before adding to Moodle

in April 2011 I blogged about how it is possible to use a service called TubeChop to crop a YouTube video and then embed it into PowerPoint, and this has been one of my most viewed posts on my blog.

I used to use TubeChop as well when embedding a video into a VLE such as Moodle or Blackboard, but have found that it hasn’t always worked, and doesn’t work on iphones/ipads etc as it plays as flash only – so I have found another far more reliable way of cropping a YouTube video before adding it to Moodle, by simply editing the embed code for the video. This technique works really well when accessing videos via Moodle on a mobile device, which I think is going to become a massive feature in the next few years.

The video below will show how to do this (apologies for the poorer than usual sound quality)

In summary:

  1. When we select the embed code we untick all of the option boxes below it.
  2. We copy and paste the embed code into something where we can edit it (e.g. word, notepad)
  3. We find the text “rel=0” and after it add “;start=xxx;end=yyy” where xxx is the number of seconds at which you wish to start the video, and yyy is the number of seconds at which you wish to end the video.

There are lots of uses for this technique – often when watching a YouTube video, you don’t want to show all of it, so cropping the bit that you want makes the process more efficient. You can also use videos as part of Moodle Quizzes, either in the question, the answer choices (it using multiple choice) or in the feedback. So if you find a video of something relevant to your area, you can crop it to just play a few seconds – then ask a question based on what the student has just seen, or have cropped videos in each of the answer choices (e.g. question could be which of the following videos shows the correct technique for ….) then show 4 videos clips, with one correct and 3 incorrect.

I am also a big fan of when using video, we need to instruct the learners what they are doing with it – e.g. asking them to observe something in particular, or critique the video, or watch the video then answer these questions… By breaking a video up using the cropping idea, we can easily add these textual instructions between the clips, rather than just dumping a whole video on the VLE for them to watch without a clear purpose.

This technique works really well with anything that allows iframes to be embedded (e.g. Moodle). It therefore may not work with Blackboard (in which case TubeChop may be still required). I also haven’t too date worked out how to get this to work in PowerPoint – so again for that I am stilling using TubeChop.

 

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.