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Last updated: August 31, 2006
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Thirty Years of Audio Recording
Peter Friedlander: Wednesday, 30 August 2006

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Using Recordings in Language Teaching
My own views on the role of sound recordings in teaching are highly influenced by my having been a language teacher, since around 1990, and having been involved in teaching via distance education since 1997. So for me there are three main reasons for using audio recordings. I would like to look briefly at each here.

Recording lectures for self study
I have learned a lot over the years by listening back to what I did in classes, and in some cases I made recordings just so I could listen back to what I did in a class. I have heard things on listening back which I was not aware of when I was teaching, some good things and some bad things. In some cases it also allowed me to listen back to interactions with students and then decide to do things differently, or the same, next time. One obvious factor in this is whenever I did this I had to get the students to agree to being recorded I felt, and sometimes it does not seem right, but at others it does feel okay. Due to this I have large archives of old lectures and tutorials, some of which are perhaps overdue for review, others I would probably prefer to forget about now. Perhaps the last point to make about this though is to a great extent what I do with recording for distribution and for assignments now covers this ground.

Recording for distribution
With language teaching, and with distance education, providing audio materials is a vital part of teaching. My initial exposure to this was based on the idea of getting a group of actors together to record selected sections from the dialogues etc. in the text book and some activities. So the first recordings I did for La Trobe were made in the old language labs in Humanities 2 with two native speakers which ended up as two cassette tapes to accompany first semester Hindi. Eventually I realised that it was much better to have the whole of the materials recorded, and it worked fine when it was in the form of an informal discussion, with my self and a native speaker and it ended up as a set of five cassette tapes. The originals made on the WM-D6C in my office, then in the David Myers building, and you can even hear ducks quacking in the background sometimes out on the lawns. But the duplication of audio cassettes drove me mad, and they were very bulky to send out. So I transferring the recordings and putting them onto audio CDs. I also kept adding more materials, with the masters now recorded on Minidiscs.
I then explored two other ways of generating content. I designed and developed a computer program on a CD to help students learn the script. This was then added to the materials to distribute each time, bringing the numbers of CDs with some units to six. Also using SubFM I tried doing Webcasts, normally with myself and two Hindi speakers going through the materials, and then archived the recordings. Some students listened live, some listened to the archived recordings, everybody liked the broadcast type of discussion of the materials who gave me feedback.
This year I have changed over to distributing the materials as MP3 files on a CD as a large number of students were telling me they were converting the audio CDs to MP3 files to play on their iPods. So students now get for the initial unit a single CD containing the equivalent of around 18 Audio CDs and a computer program.

One of the keystones of distance education language teaching when I began to do it in 1977 was cassette tape exchange. The idea was simple; students record assignments and send them in. I listen to them, add comments and send them back. It actually works quite well and I still use it, only it is not always on cassettes nowadays. Also, there is one perennial problem with audio assignments. Many students record their assignments apparently standing in a tin can with a howling gale blowing though it, and the gain turned down to almost nothing. So the quality of the original is often very poor, but as long as I can hear something I will accept it.

For about the last three or four years students started to complain that they did not have cassette recorders and wanted to send materials as CDs and audio files. Initially I was enthusiastic but then discovered there were millions of formats of audio files and variations on what an audio CD could be. I was driven mad by all the formats and sampling rates when I attempted to edit them on the computer. It was no good I found either specifying formats as most students had no idea what their computer was doing, or even how to name files apparently in many cases.

I tried insisting on cassette tapes only in 2005, but found many people now claimed that they had never even heard of cassette tapes, and how can I argue with such views? I decided to give up my Luddite approach and let people send stuff in any format this year. Why? Because I had found a solution to the format problem.

Now I simply play all assignments on speakers and record my comments onto the Memory Stick Recorder. Then I save the originals and comments as MP3 files and email them back to the students, or in the case of students who don't use email, dub the comments back onto a cassette, as some still prefer this medium, and post the comments back.

Mounting Sound files on the Web
To put your sound files on the web yourself you might also need to learn how to use a web site design and management program like DreamWeaver, and have access to a web site. I won't go into that aspect of using sound recordings here.

Over the years I have been making recordings you can see the technology has been constantly changing. I think in fact that it's also got not only better, but easier to use.
I think it is now quite possible for individuals to make their own fairly high quality recordings of lectures and tutorials and easily download them to PCs and make digital copies of them to distribute to students.

What next? Well I think there are two interesting developments which I would like to investigate; podcasting and multi person voice chats. Podcasting is now a well established medium and I intend to take it up in 2007 for my units. Multi person voice chats are now available using Skype, which allows for up to five people to take part in an online voice chat and I am going to be trying this over the next year and look forward to incorporating that into my teaching, and recording of teaching materials.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.