I have just completed the “Audio Assignments” section of my free online Digital Storytelling DS106 course and I have learned two very important facts. Having struggled through the creation of a 14 minute radio interview, I now have the utmost respect for the technical wizards who work “behind the scenes” to craft a radio show. Secondly, I have a new-found appreciation for the power and possibilities that Audacity, the free Macintosh, Linux and Windows audio editor and recording application, has to engage students in K-12 classrooms. With its wealth of online resources and support, Audacity should be a standard classroom and student application.
My “Interview/Music Mashup” audio assignment followed the Dickie Goodman interview style. Feeling that it was important to share the powerful ideas and learning that is associated with the DS106 phenomenon, I decided to create an investigative radio interview. I directed 20 probing questions at two “anonymous” DS106 students and they, in turn, answered with relevant snippets from popular songs.
The K-12 Perspective
What have I learned during this exercise that might apply to K-12 students?
First, and foremost, students today are engaged when they use technology to support their learning. The fact that Audacity is a free, open source application (that runs on a variety of operating systems) means that students can install this application on their home computers and work on an audio assignment outside regular school hours.
For example, I’d recommend that students be required to collaborate with partners as they produce audio assignments such as the following:
- Social Studies students might create a campfire talk between Radisson and Groseilliers as they discuss exploration and fur trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Can you hear the cracking fire, the loon and the wolves howling in the distance?
- What would two privates, who are in the front line trenches preparing to go “over the top” during World War I, talk about? Imagine the sound effects of battle that could be added to enhance the realism.
- Two students could compare and contrast a poem or novel in a Language Arts class.
- Music students might make a recoding of a duet together with an added “Extra Features” section which outlines the learning journey that they went through in creating the musical recording.
- Science students might create an audio interview where they ask questions of scientists such as: Archimedes, Marie Curie, Einstein, Euclid, Galileo, Frederick Sanger or Jonas Salk.
- Students who are interested in sports, might create an interview where they dissect a recent game and compare and contrast different coaching styles and player performance.
Regardless of the audio assignment chosen, I think that all students should include an “Extra Feature” that outlines what they learned during the activity, what they might do differently (if they were to select this same project again), and suggestions and tips for future students.
As an educator you would not want your students to upload their .mp3 formatted audio assignment to a web server. However, students could still transfer their home-created audio files to a USB memory device and bring them to school where they could be shared on a CD or showcased from the teacher’s computer behind the school’s firewall.
Regardless of the subject-specific learning opportunity presented to students, I can assure readers that using Audacity together with technology to tell a particular story is a powerful and engaging educational process.
The DS106 Perspective
For me, this audio assignment opened up an entirely new way of telling a story. True, I have used Audacity in past but I have limited my use to a very simplistic process. For example, in past, I simply recorded my voice and added any additional audio into the single, primary audio track in the Audacity application. However, this assignment challenged me to use multiple tracks for the announcer’s questions, the vocal snippet replies, and the the musical interlude. I even played with a robotic modification of the two student’s responses to preserve their anonymity.
I began by roughing out an interview script where I identified “20 questions” (based on the old radio show of the same name) that I thought might highlight some aspect of the DS106 phenomenon. I then searched YouTube for songs that I though might contain lyrics that would apply to some aspect of the DS106 experience. I must admit that I spent a great deal of time searching for the right music tracks. Furthermore, it is often necessary to listen to the entire song to find the most appropriate lyrics or the section where the audio is clearest. Unfortunately, during this time consuming process, there were many songs that were considered but rejected.
One thing that I would like to see is an efficient way to search for all songs that contain a specific word or phrase. For example, when I was searching for music that would help share with listeners the time commitment that students may invest in DS106, the only song that came to my mind was Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle”. Although the word “time” was in the title, Jim’s lyrics did not help me portray how busy students can be with this innovative DS106 course. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to efficiently search a comprehensive data base containing all the lyrics to popular songs. If you the reader can suggest a search technique to find possible lyrics and music, I would be very much appreciate if you could share your strategy through a comment at the end of this post.
In past, I would have began this assignment by recoding the first interview question into Audacity and then adding the appropriate musical segment as an answer. I would then continue repeating these two steps, which might span several days, until all 20 questions and answers were mixed to my satisfaction. However, knowing that on subsequent days, I would have difficulty making certain that the audio levels and that my microphone position were in the exact same location, I was concerned that there would be a noticeable difference between questions.
In order to maintain the same audio “balance” between all 20 questions, I decided to record the interview question track all at the same time. I had my script written out and I simply read out each question and left a three second placeholder interval between questions. Once I saved the respective Audacity project file (e.g. “interview-V1.aup”), I then could add in an additional track containing the vocal lyric answer which could be slid along the timeline and tweaked to fit into the respective “placeholder interval”. Knowing how much effort I was putting into this assignment, I made certain to save my “creations” on a regular basis. I used my traditional “version” naming convention and simply increased the “version value” each time I added a new lyric reply to a new question. This process allows me to save filenames as: “interview-V1.aup”, ”interview-V2.aup”, “interview-V3.aup”, etc. Should a “hiccup” occur, I can always go back and retrieve an earlier version to continue my work.
My tip to others who wish to create a Dickie Goodman-style interview using Audacity with musical lyric replies is to pay very close attention to the “sampling rate” of all components. Where possible, it is best if all audio portions can have the same sample sampling rate.
For example, when I started recording my main 20 question track into Audacity, I simply proceeded using Audacity’s default sampling rate which was set at the 44100 Hz level. In Audacity, one can set this sampling rate from a low of 8000 to a high of 96000 Hz. Obviously the quality of the recoding, together with the audio file size, increases as the corresponding Hz value increases. However, when I started acquiring my musical lyric replies, I failed to notice that most of these audio snippets had a slightly higher sampling rate of 48000 Hz. It was only when I was part way though blending these musical replies, that I noticed a particularly familiar snippet seemed to slow down and change in pitch when it was mixed with my primary 20 question track. It was then that I noticed the difference in the sampling rate between my question recording at 44100 Hz and the musical snippet at 48000 Hz. I explored all avenues and could not find a way to reduce the sampling rate on the individual musical replies without distorting the melody. So I continued blending my lowered sampled interview questions with the higher and more precise audio snippets. Once the final mixed interview track was completed at 44100 Hz, I simply re-saved the entire file at the higher 48000 Hz level which preserved the original melody speed and pitch. Unfortunately, this “tweak” sped up and slightly changed the pitch of my interview and any other components that were originally introduced to the mix at the lower 44100 Hz level. Once the remix interview was completed to my satisfaction, I used Audacity to export the project file as an .mp3 file which I uploaded to SoundCloud for sharing.
My recommendation is that you first open the song snippets or any other audio tracks in Audacity and determine the sampling rate that applies to most of the audio components. Once this value is established, start Audacity and change the default sampling rate so that this application will work without “hiccups” because now all your audio components will be utilizing a common sampling rate.
Lastly, but most important. In this musical mashup interview, I have used snippets from the following tunes listed below. In order that I might demonstrate the educational fair use of such music, I have purchased individual tracks for each of these songs on my iTunes card.
- In the Mood – Glenn Miller
- Magic – Olivia Newton John
- You Really Got A Hold On Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
- I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
- The Reverend Mr. Black – The Kingston Trio
- Who Let The Dogs Out? – Baha Men
- I’m So Excited – The Pointer Sisters
- Just My Imagination – The Temptations
- Makin’ It Work – Doug and the Slugs
- Eight Days a Week – The Beatles
- Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – Chicago
- Help – The Beatles
- With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles
- ABC – Glee
- Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing – Jay Wilbur & His Metropole Players
- I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter – Nat King Cole
- That’ll Be The Day – Buddy Holly
- I’m Sorry – Brenda Lee
- I’m A Believer – The Monkees
- Taking Care Of Business – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
- We Are The Champions – Queen
- My Way – Frank Sinatra
Unfortunately, many of the songs containing the musical snippets may be more familiar to the “more experienced’ listener as opposed to our younger students. However, this fact should in no way diminish the power of using an audio interview to engage students in a powerful, new and exciting way.
Take care & keep smiling