Learning Technologies Show 2015

Our apprentices (from the right) Tom, Me. Jennifer & Dan

Our apprentices (from the right) Tom, Me. Jennifer & Dan

Yesterday found me at the Learning Technologies Exhibition at Olympia representing the eLearn Design Consortium. As a self confessed insomniac I normally have a fitful sleep in the earlier hours, the morning of the exhibition I was up at 5am not though insomnia but trepidation. I still find it amusing I still ‘geek out’ at this sort of thing, although it’s not that surprising given that I feel we really are in the tech era – it’s here now, not in the near future as we have spouted over the last 2 decades.

I arrived early. An opportunity for a cup of java and an early look round. What struck me was the size of the expo, everything seemed well laid out there was a number of “studios” for seminars. My initial fears of a combined Learning Technologies and Learning & Skills effort were unfounded

As ever these excursions are a great source of inspirations, you can’t very well buy up every VLE, LMS OR CMS offering, and there certainly were some gems. From drones to computer based training giants such as Lynda.com. But what did strike me was the main staple was VLE/LMS/CMS or resource-creation and supply.

Now we have Moodle and we have Apprentice Learning Technologists to create our own content but there is huge market for producing material for external organisations.

So I’m exhibiting on the Design eLearn stand, you can find out more from the project link at the top of my blog, and there is a wide range of interests parties for the level 3 and level 4 courses on offer.

  • From those wishing to deliver the courses
  • Those wishing to have apprentices
  • Those wishing to gain qualification in order to move into the sector
  • Those already in the sector wishing to professionalise their current skills
  • To those wanting to sign their wife up as a present (personally I find wine, flowers and chocolates tend to work well)

I was also trying to desperately fix an MS Surface (RT 2) that is reporting “No Battery”. A new error for me, and one that beat me and a fellow former IT support engineer.

The three apprentices we have are there with one of their Mentors and they are gracious in posing for cameras! They are posted to Twitter in seconds. They were set a task to identify down useful devices and blog internally.

With their permission I will post copies of their findings to this post as they appear internally.

Andy

New Web Address & Gravatar

Gravatar

Gravatar

In preparation for (hopefully) upcoming podcasts I have revamped the blogs Gravatar, in part to make it less cluttered and in part preparation for the podcast art, as well as registering a new web address for the blog at techlec.co.uk which just gives me a little bit of an easier location to promote the blog/podcasts.

“Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?”

Andy

Microphone Solution for Podcasting

I have been toying around with a number of existing solutions before I consider investing in better quality kit, some of it out of curiosity…

Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset: I can imagine great on the go, personal recording

iPhone Built-In Mic:  On the go, for impromptu focus groups

iPhone Earpod Mic: I can imagine great on the go, personal recording, great sound and preferable to the M55

Boundary Mic (Sub £10): yet to test

ASUS Transformer T100 Tablet Microphone: yet to test

Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 Webcam: This certainly is the current solution I have, but it does give an echo/open-room effect if it is positioned on top of the monitor

Samson C01U Mic: A rich, high quality recording but the audio does come out a lot quieter requiring gain/levelling filters to be applied

I think the iPhone solutions are comparable and would depend on a solo or group recording. The rest are clearly outshone by the Samson C01U which has a far richer quality to my voice (I am trying not to wince too much at the “Essex” accent.

See what you think by listening to the sample (only  normalise applied) here: http://vocaroo.com

I have been considering the mid-range cost solution of either the Samson Meteor or the Blue Snowball. The Meteor is stunning to look at, portable but only cardioid (directional), the Snowball offers cardioid/cardioid -10dB/omnidirectional but does remind me of an old webcam. Most reviews also comment on the comparable Samson Co1U, which work have, another cardioid only mic. I think I would be torn between the all three as each has their own strength but lacks the others…

  1. Samson Meteor – I love the look and portability, good price
  2. Blue Snowball – Love the options (NOTE: not to be confused with the Snowball ICE which is slightly cheaper and lacks options)
  3. Samson C01U – better audio quality

Testing the Samson C01U has convinced me that it should be the baseline that I compare all other mics against, coupled with the majority of review recommending the Blue Yeti if you can afford it as it has the looks, quality and options. At current retail, £99 85, eBay may be the way to go!

Final thought: I had read that you could use console mics, most of them are made by Logitech. Could not resist a go of our Wii Mic. It works, its poor! http://vocaroo.com

Andy

Podcast Editing with Audacity

Untitled

 

The following post, although primarily about podcasting, can be applied to any voice recording that may be done by educationalists – such as….,

  • verbal guidance for an assignment to support those with reading difficulties
  • verbal feedback for submitted work
  • to accompany a presentation (for homework, absent students or snow days!)

 

Audacity is a great free piece of audio editing software and can be found here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ . You will also need the LAME MP3 Encoder (look around the site under “optional downloads”. There are loads of tutorials for Audacity on the web, and it is surprisingly easy to get to grips with (even if the interface is a little bland). This is not a definitive recommendation, but it is based upon a range of webpages, YouTube videos and Podcast recommendations (a number of them conflict). Most do say their is no right order or guidance on what to include/exclude. You are encouraged to experiment and choose the best options that YOU think makes you sound best.

 

  1. Bring in your recording
  2. Remove noise (if you can detect small waveform “bumps” when you have been quite)
    • Select up to 5 seconds of white noise (quite time). Its a good recomentdation to record a 5 second sample of white noise at the start or end of your recording in advance!
    • Select the NOISE REMOVAL effect and select the button for step 1
    • Select all your track and reselect NOISE REMOVAL effect and select OK for step 2
  3. Apply the LEVELLER effect to even out high and low points in your audio
  4. Trim out unwanted audio, you might want to generate (not an effect) SILENCE over an area you don’t like rather than remove and shorten audio.
  5. Bring in Intro & Exit clips
  6. Move clips left or right by using the TIME SHIFT TOOL <–> (see the red highlighted box in the image above)
    • use CTRL and scroll wheel to resize audio quickly
    • you can grab the bottom of each audio track, and drag up to reduce height of each track.
  7. Fade in and out your Intro and Exit clips as necessary
  8. Adjust the gain for each track so that they are ideal volumes with each other track (you don’t want you intro over-shadowing your voice) by adjusting the small – + slider to the far left of each track.
    • Double clicking the slider will bring up a larger floating dialog box for precision settings
  9. Apply the COMPRESSOR effect (this will make your voice richer, whilst reducing peaks)
    • Threshold: 12-20, recommended 14
    • Ratio: 2:1
  10. Apply the NORMALIZE effect (This will set it to a baseline point, effectively reducing loud tracks/clips and increasing quieter tracks/clips)
  11. Finally export you file – name your file appropriately, this will be picked up as metadata by a number of systems to help searches, such as YouTube.
    • Artist Name:  Andy Crissell
    • Track Title: Introductory Podcast
    • Album Title: The TechLec Podcast
    • Track: 0 (set 0 for that initial podcast where you are setting up the rest of your podcasts)
    • Year: 2015
    • Genre: Podcast (you will need to type this in)
    • Comments: Introductory podcast with your host Andy Crissell
  12. Optional: Save as a .WAV file. This is because the LAME MP3 Encoder is more suited to music. There is a method to utilise iTunes MP3 encoder to produce a better job – see Further Reading #2 below or #5 (unchecked at time of post)

So why the order I have up above?

  1. NOISE REMOVAL : I would think that noise removal is easier in a “clean” state and not from audio that has been made more complex from effects
  2. SILENCE: There is bound to be an “um” and an “er” in there somewhere!
  3. LEVELLER: the same reason as noise removal
  4. COMPRESSOR: enrich the audio
  5. NORMALISE: Ready for output (at least if it comes out too loud or too quite I have some baseline to work with

Final thought: Changing TEMPO (under effects) may well alleviate the speed I talk, slowing down by -10 to -15%

Further Reading:

  1. http://theaudacitytopodcast.com/tap060-how-to-record-and-edit-a-podcast-with-audacity/
  2. http://theaudacitytopodcast.com/tap010-audacity-and-itunes%E2%80%94making-not-lame-mp3s/
  3. http://www.lockergnome.com/media/2012/04/19/how-to-make-vocal-audio-sound-better-in-audacity/
  4. http://www.steeple.org.uk/wiki/Simple_guide_to_editing_in_Audacity
  5. http://www.steeple.org.uk/wiki/Encoding_mp3_with_iTunes

 

Andy

 

Bett 2015

Google powered VLE

Google Gunning for Moodle ?

Thursday found me at Betts with my organisations Learning Services Manager Rhys and one of our Learning Technologists Milan. I have to say that for the first time there were a wide range of real powerful systems and some well known players, the programming curriculum was well represented with a range of programming & robotic based systems…

  • Lego: not only with their technics range but full kits for literacy and numeracy with adaptable lesson plans to boot
  • Sphero: both globe and cylinder models @ http://www.gosphero.com/
  • Romo: This was fun, impre4ssive and they have really thought about their products @ http://www.romotive.com/ 
  • Raspberry Pi kits

There was also a real push to move from tablets themselves and into the real world with 3D printing set-ups in abundance and augmented reality…

  • Green Screen by Do Ink app for the iPad
  • Augmented Reality leader Aurasma
  • relative newcomer Junaio
  • Samsung Gear VR powered by the Oculus Rift  – yes this was real, and seemingly around the £200 mark!

One of the key highlights was an invitation by Epson to see their developments of their short throw projectors that whilst already winners in a range of awards were still pushing boundaries with not only the ability to collaborate between projectors globally but with impressive upgraded software that has seen real leaps and bounds in recent months. I have first hand knowledge of this as my organisation were recently subject of a case study whereby we made recommendations to their software that I am glad they have implemented. These recommendations,  in part, came from our experience with SMARTs Notebook software which is well integrated in our organisation. Epson then pointed out they now had formed a partnership with SMART whereby they would be distributing their software as an option! wow, the best of both worlds.

More was to come from Epson in thier decision to enter the educational market with printers and not just any old printer range…

  • Pro inkjets at low cost (I did notice their entry at £150!)
  • as fast as laser printers
  • 80% less power consumption
  • Less heat output
  • no fans, no requirement to bee free from walls
  • less components
  • less carbon footprint
  • 50% cost savings in Total Cost of Ownership over a 3yr period
  • lockable compartments (loved this feature!)
  • and a high capacity bagged ink delivery system (I kid you not!)
Proof!

Proof!

Google were definitely gunning for Moodle, and although not matured and seemingly still a collection of apps, you cannot deny the appeal of a free, wide-spread option whereby most learners will be already familiar with a large amount of services. I would love to see that 5 year roadmap of Google Education!

A final mention should go to a great range of products by www.personalprojector.co.uk with the most impressive being the Pico Genie P50 Pro – an extremely small pocket sized LED projector that looked tiny and versatile.

 

Andy

Podcasting Tips

Podcast

In preparation for producing the first podcast for this blog I have been listening to a range of podcasts on podcasting. The following is just a brief collection of good practice or noteworthy information that really has been from notes I made as I went along.

  • ID3 tags: the meta data that embeds details of an audio file within itself such as album (or podcast) the file might belong to, can be generated through a range of software, with audacity being one of them, iTunes is highly recomended as you can also attach your logo or image of your podcast. More on this as I work through my own podcast.
  • Audio Noise: Preferably record with no ambient noise. Eveything turned off, closed doors and maybe late/early so everyday living does not impact. Use a Pop Filter. A compressor (hardware/software) will “silence” out low/unwanted noise.
  • Audio Levels: If you bring in speech and music at the same audio level they will compete for attention, have the music dropped to a lower level from 0dB to -15dB. Use The Levelator (software to soften high and lows) or Chris’s Dynamic Compressor.
    • Note: Normalising a track will set it to a baseline point, effectively reducing loud tracks/clips and increasing quieter tracks/clips.
  • Audio filters: Reverb is a good effect in the fact that it makes it sound more like a hall, a lot of DJs prefer a touch of reverb to give emotion to your voice. Corouse is also another filter that adds mutliple layers of your voice – think “HAL” in 2001 a Space Odyssey.
  • Audio blips: remove stuitters, stammers and blips by either cutting or overwriting with silences in your editing software, as well as shortening long pauses – but not to short, it still needs to come over as natural.
  • File Type: work in wav or aiff uncompressed format.
  • Audio Terms:
    • Intro /Exit, Tail or Outro: whereby the show is identified with music. Often 30-45 seconds.
    • ID Tag: Guest voice – introducing themselves, your podcast and maybe a cheeky comment.
    • Bed Music: Background music behind vocal, either adding atmosphere or masking noise.
    • Rejoiner: is like a bumper but uses the shows theme whereas a bumper does not, brings listener back into the shop especially if you feel you have drifted from main content / feel
    • Stinger: a shorter sound clip or element (such as a gunshot or whip crack) to build emphasis between smaller sub-content, such as each news article, they also help to build longer transition and can often be found at the start of a longer transition clip.
    • Transition: between two segments, to help your audience separate section or topics, don’t over-use. About 3-5 seconds.
    • Bumper: a bumper is like a mini intro for a specific segment, there are also outro bumpers (a subtle reminder what they had just listened to. Add a voice-over to a transition and you have a bumper.
    • Logo: 10-30 seconds clip of music (nothing more complicated). This can go anywhere and helps identify a regular piece of content that may not happen at a regular timeslot.
    • Doughnut: Random  head and tail ad or promo mostly unrelated to your own content
  • Interviewing:
    • Know people’s names: Nothing worth than getting it wrong at the beginning and worse still throughout a podcast.
    • Prep questions: Keep them short and  to the point, have follow up question if initial answer is very brief.
    • Skype Recording: use Hot recorder, or record separately at either end and combine into one audio file (recommended: alternate a countdown between the two ends – one saying even and the other saying odd, this will aid syncing later).
    • Balance: Have each voice on different balance. One all on the right, the other all the way to the left.
    • Describe unseen: Your audio will not show visuals – ensure you describe.
  • Consistent content: Try and keep similar organisation each podcast, that does not mean you cannot have an “anything can happen in the next 5 minutes” segment. Such a set-up could be….
    • Round up month blog posts
    • Future projects (Teasers long term)
    • Feature (unique to the podcast and not in the blog with the exception of a transcript)
    • What’s coming up (Teaser short term)
  • Pod fading: Intervals become wider then stops without warning. To avoid this take a hiatus. I have already planned for this – a monthly podcast, limited to 15-30 mins, no podcast (or blog) over the summer months of July & August.
  • Feedback: Gain audience feedback and produce a specific feedback show if it gets to-much and could overwhelm normal podcast

Andy

 

Podcasting Software

Podcast

Software for my desktop PC is already sorted with the trusty Audacity and I have my Logitech Pro 9000 to currently suffice.

I have nailed down four IOS apps (having downloaded and played with a whole host of apps that have been disregarded due to anything from lack of features, buggy, restrictions. The following apps are worthy of use in order of preference:

  1. Garage Band: fully featured perfect if a bit of a learning curve. Good price especially the go you have it free as part of a recent IOS device purchase
  2. Opinion: simple interface minimal learning curve. Fun. recording, splitting, rearranging and audio import. Free version is limited to 10 minutes. £2.99 lifts this limitation. This app has just been updated to allow exporting to a wide range of other apps such as Dropbox and VLC player. I instantly purchased the ability to record longer than 20 minutes as I’m not limited by having to email and keep with 25meg.
  3. Rode Rec LE: great for simple recordings and records digital input. No frill. No editing. Use if you going to edit elsewhere such as on the PC. Great ability to download file by using browser window.
  4.  Wavepad Sound Editor (Special mention): this at first look like it is really flexible. However the app is buggy in parts. One to keep an eye on.

For what editing I might do in the move or away from my main PC I am going to use Garage Band. Things to bear in mind when creating a new file is to click the + in the top right and corner, select section A and select automatic. when returned to the main screen deselect the metronome, you are now ready to record your audio. I do like the fact you can add files to the app in iTunes, this is where I have kept my into and outro clips.

On completion of editing the final file can be sent via email or sent to Dropbox or iCloud. I choose to send mine to VLC player for final review and access the file through iTunes to move onto my desktop.

Andy

Podcasting

avatar

Having finally found my feet with blogging so that its workable for me I thought the next evolution would be Podcasts, Don’t get me wrong I have dabbled with the technology and ideas behind podcasting. I have dabbled in audio a number of times as a lecturer in the past including feedback embedded in assignments, guidance for activity tasks, audio-casting a full series of lectures to accompany existing presentations for absent learners (HE level) with most being well received. I have even created the odd music track to accompany various video projects (re-used a number of times across the years). But I have never created a Podcast in its full context:

  • Recorded, edited and saved an audio file ✓
  • Located on a webpage ✓
  • Audio jingles, effects & enhancements ✓
  • Created a series of related audio ✓
  • RSS Feed ✗

Hence the term audio-casting earlier as I have never set up an RSS feed. I have a number of milestones to reach in order to get the first Podcast off the ground

  • Modify a music track to have an intro and exit clip for each Podcast ✓
  • Identify a worthy topic ✓
  • Identify some apps for recording on the go, if the opportunity arises ✓
  • Identify a length and interval for the podcast to be sustainable ✓
  • Record and edit
  • Identify a platform ✓
  • Set it up
  • Publish to iTunes

The audience being made of those avidly following the blog posts to those that may listen to the podcasts in isolation – a ten to twenty minute length  every month is my aim with the current thinking of a TechLec “Month in Review” focus. Effectively a summary of the topics in the blog with updates, developments and maybe snippets of things that in themselves not worthy of a specific post but useful as side-notes.  There are a host of solutions as a platform for the podcasts but I do like to learn as much as I can from these activities and I think I would spend fortunes trying the easy options that cost and don’t really develop you. Thankfully, is currently seems, I can use the WordPress Blog itself – details in an upcoming blog as I  progress (or not!).

I am interested in recording via desktop and on-the-go with the iPhone 6 Plus using a variety of apps and devices, to be blogged about in future posts, these are already identified in the most part. My worries are that it may well be a bit rough around the edges, for the time being I am going to use the microphone of my Logitech Pro 9000 Webcam, not ideal in the long term, if the podcasts work out the way I intend I will likely purchase a semi-decent dedicated microphone for desktop and externally for my iPhone 6 Plus and on a final note my voice! I think I will naturally avoid those singular level monotonous vocal ranges  that some podcasts have, only being saved by sterling content, as I am fairly expressive but it will be at the expense of having a Thames Estuary Accent (that’s posh for Essex). Although I did have a past lecturer tell me that they would like to hear me carry-out a podcast as they could imagine it being engaging with my vocal range, I will let you draw your own conclusions from that comment!

Andy

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast

i2.cdn.turner.com

 

I now have two of these, especially as Curry’s were selling them at £18 across black Friday week with free delivery. Effectively the Chromecast allows you to display your favourite apps to a HDMI capable display. In the box you will find the Chromecast itself, a USB power adapter, USB power cable and a flexible adapter (useful for if your Chromecast cannot directly fit into a HDMI port). All this for under an RRP of £30. The power adapter is only needed if you don’t have a powered USB port locally such as in the TV. In my case I power one of my Chromecasts via a local Wii console which has USB ports at the rear.

Apps for IOS are minimal with YouTube and BBC iPlayer including Chromecast options. The videos are not directly sent from a mobile device to the Chromecast but instead sends the URL of the desired media to the Chromecast for it to fetch directly. The mobile device acts as a controller for video playback, volume and queuing up further videos.

Third party apps exist to send photos and videos but these can be erratic depending upon the strength of you network connections and bandwidth.

Using an android device rewards you with far greater benefits such as full screen casting of your device (Apple still prefers its own AirPlay setup). And the need for streaming photos has been made moot since Sky’s recent update and ability to stream photos through the Sky+ app.

I cannot see these being used in a wider teaching context mainly due to the fact that the Chromecast would need to be connected to a network, that is not to say it cannot be used, I’m wondering if it’s possible to tether to a smartphone – maybe a future trial.

Update: To tether to a smartphone your likely to need two devices 1) smartphone to act as “router” 2) device to perform connection activities (the iPhone does not list its own hotspot as an internal option within the Chromecast app)

Andy