JISC RSC Learning Technologies

JISC RSC Scotland North & East

screenshot: MyStudyBar

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Download MyStudyBar Overview MP3

I was joined yesterday, for a quick Skype audio chat, by my colleague, Craig Mill (or should that be James Bond!), the eLearning Advisor for Accessibility and Inclusion, to chat about the RSC’s newest resource – MyStudyBar, part of the EduApps suite.

MyStudyBar is a floating toolbar containing 15 specially chosen apps, broken down into six categories, to support learners with literacy related difficulties such as dyslexia.

MyStudyBar is free to download and use. It can also run directly from a USB memory stick. Handy, if you’re using multiple computers. It’s also extensively supported by a range of tutorials.

Download MyStudyBar

In the last post about the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MEL SIG) I recorded a short audio interview with Carol Beattie using Skype, the free software app that lets make voice calls over the internet . So I thought I’d write up the process of recording a Skype conversation using software.

Recording Skype conversations make a great basis for creating podcasts. For example, interviewing subject experts or recording conversations with peers at different locations. My colleague, Martin does this in partnership with Kevin Brace, formerly of JISC RSC West Midlands. Their monthly podcasts using Skype are an excellent example of how useful this technology can be. Martin’s in Edinburgh and Kevin’s based in the West Midlands. You can listen to their podcasts here.

If you’re familiar with Audacity, the open source audio editor, you may be tempted to use the stereo mix facility to record your Skype conversations. Unfortunately, that won’t work because Skype uses your soundcard’s playback channel so that you hear what the remote host is saying AND it also uses the recording channel to transmit what you are saying. Therefore, Audacity will only record your side of the conversation. Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there that let you record Skype conversations. If your on a Mac, there is Audio Hijack Pro and Call Recorder. On the PC there’s CallBurner, HotRecorder and the oddly named Pamela. That’s just a snapshot. There are many more alternatives.

So for the recording I did with Carol Beattie about MELSIG, I used Skype and CallBurner. It’s quite a wordy process to describe – much quicker to do than to write up so I’ll start with a process summary.

Process Summary

1. In CallBurner, go to Options > Configure > Recording window check the Store raw audio box
2.
Import This Side.wav and Other Side.wav into Audacity for editing
3.
Run your new .Wav file through The Levelator to optimise audio
4.
Create an MP3 file with ID3 tags for putting online

Process

1. After you’ve installed CallBurner go to the Options menu and click on Configure…

We have two tabs here: General and Recording. Under the General tab I tend to leave Start CallBurner when I start Windows unchecked as I don’t record skype calls on a regular basis. One less thing to hog my memory. These are personal preferences though so its up to you!

Next is the Recording tab. We have various options here. In the Audio Format section you can record directly to MP3 or a number of other formats by clicking on the Change… button.

Regardless of audio format, this will produce a single file. This may be handy if you want to quickly put a file online without any further editing or if it’s just for personal use.

However, one of the handiest features of CallBurner, and for me the most useful is the ability to record both sides of the conversation into separate uncompressed files. Just check the Store raw audio option.

When you record a Skype conversation, CallBurner creates a date-stamped folder with a single combined MP3 file containing your audio conversation (if that’s the audio format you’ve chosen) and if you’ve chosen to store the raw audio it will create two further files: This Side.wav, your audio and the Other Side.wav, the remote caller’s audio. This allows you to do individual editing of tracks, where you can for example adjust levels, remove ums and ahhs etc and you have the benefit of working with the raw, uncompressed .Wav files. It’s always a good idea to work with raw files when editing as they contain more audio information.

2. Now that we have the two raw audio files the next step is to import them into Audacity to do a bit of editing. Open Audacity and go to the Project menu and choose Import Audio… then open Other Side.wav and This side.wav.

Now we need to make the track stereo while we edit the tracks so that the audio tracks stay in sync. To do that click on the drop down arrow next to the name of either track and choose Make Stereo Track

We can now edit the file as necessary. If you want to know more about editing Audacity they have a tutorial page on their website. You may also want to include an audio ident. This is usually a short piece of audio at the beginning and end of your audio file. This creates an identity or branding for your audio. When listeners here it they immediately identify it with your audio. It’s used extensively in Radio. If for example you hear the intro music to Desert Island Discs you probably immediately associate it to that programme and know that you are listening to Radio 4.

When you’ve finished editing your audio the next step is to make the tracks mono again. This tends to be a lot easier to listen too than having one speaker in the left ear and the other in your right ear. To do this go back up to the dropdown menu beside either of the tracks name and choose Split Stereo Track.

And then for both tracks click on the drop-down menu and choose Mono

Now go to the File menu and choose Export as WAVE… and save your new file.

3. A handy little tool I’ve used since it came out in 2005 is The Levelator. The screenshot below from wikipedia shows an example of what it does. On the top stereo track you’ll see that the volume level varies – it gets louder and quieter (the amplitude of the wave). Once you run it through The Levelator it levels out and optimises your audio file shown in the bottom track.

screenshot: The Levelator - before and after

The Levelator has a very simply interface. Just open it up and drag your .Wav file on top of it. It will then optimise your audio. This will create a new file and append output onto the title. In this example the new file will be called melsig.output.wav. There are no user adjustable attributes in The Levelator, just drag and drop and it creates your new file.

 

4. Final Step (honest!). The most common audio file format on the web is MP3. This compressed format offers a good balance between sound quality and file size. So we need to convert our newly optimised .Wav file to MP3 format. If you’ve got the lame encoder installed for Audacity then you can do it there but I prefer to use iTunes, the free media player from Apple, to convert my MP3 files. For me, it has a better interface and has the bonus of allowing you to embed an image to your file so that it can be displayed on your mobile device (if it supports that function) or on your computer.

Fire up iTunes, Go to the Edit menu and choose Preferences. Under the General tab click on Import Settings. Set the Import Using: to MP3 Encoder and the Setting to Good Quality (128 kbps) which is more than fine for spoken audio.

Now go to the File menu and choose Add file to library… and locate the .Wav file you want to convert. Add it, then locate it in your library. Right-click on the file and choose Create MP3 Version

This creates your new MP3 file. Locate that in iTunes then right-click on the file and choose Get Info. As you’ll see in the screenshot below we now have a mono MP3 file.

 

Next, is to fill in the ID3 information under the Info tab. This is the info that’s displayed on your MP3 player.

The final thing to do is to add your image. This could be your institutional logo or something you’ve designed yourself to identify your audio. Possibly not your Simpsons avatar which was the only image I had to hand at the time :-) Click Add… then locate and add your image file.

That’s it! Phew :-) Your new MP3 is ready to be uploaded to your blog or where ever you’re sharing it. In Part 2, I’ll be looking at the more fun (for me), geeky way to record Skype using a mixer and audio recorder.

 

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Download MELSIG Overview MP3

Carol Beattie, Academic Development Advisor (eLearning), from the University of Chester kindly joined me in an audio chat to discuss the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MELSIG) – formerly the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes Special Interest Group.

The group is open to FE and HE and is free to join. There are also face-to-face meetings held throughout the UK. I attended the one at Glasgow Caledonian University last year and it was great to see what other institutions are doing with media enhanced learning.

Resources mentioned in the audio chat

The next meeting is at the University of Sunderland on the 21 April 2010. The programme is available here.

The MELSIG group has a support wiki which includes 100+ Ideas for Podcasting and the Podcast Repository. It also contains information about the community driven book.

If you want to keep up-to-date the latest meeting announcements or have a question there is a JISCmail list for that too.

Launch full version in new window

We had an RSCtv session scheduled to run on the 9 April but I decided to do a screencast instead due to the Easter holidays. So here’s a 19 minute screencast on Mindmapping with Mindmeister. Mindmeister is a an online mindmapping tool.

Running order

a.The first 4m12s is a general overview of mindmapping so if you already know about mind maps you can skip this bit.
b. 3m45s I mention dyslexia and mindmapping. Here’s the urls for that section Mind Mapping for Dyslexics and Memory and Mindmaps from the Brite Centre
c. 4m10s – General features and creating a basic mindmeister map.
d. 13m25s – Sharing a map.
e. 14m40s – Publishing a map.
f. 15m30s – Embedding maps into blogs. I’ve written up the process here.
g. 16m20s – Notifications. Get notified by email, sms or twitter when a collaborator makes changes to a shared map.
i. 16m45s– Toggle History View button. Lets you see who has made changes and additions to a map. You can travel back in time and see the map being created. This could be a useful feature for assessed group work.
j. 17m55s – Recap

Something that I didn’t mention on the screencast but is useful to know is that you can collaborate in real time. So if you’re working collaboratively with colleagues or students you’re automatically assigned a colour and you can see changes on the map as they happen. There’s also a chat feature in the premium version and you could also use skype to discuss your ideas.

So that’s a quick look at Mindmeister. There are lots of other features not mentioned including the ability to work offline, the mobile edition and the various tools and widgets. I’ll leave that for another post though :-) If you’ve got any questions or queries don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Photo attribution:  Photo of Tony Buzan in screencast is licenced under creative commons. Taken by Jay Cross

Launch full version in new window

Image Resizer is a free tool from Microsoft, part of their PowerToys for XP suite, that lets you quickly resize images by right-clicking on an image file and from the menu selecting the size you want. Especially useful when you’ve maybe got large images coming off your digital camera and you want to resize them quickly down to a manageable size to send, for example, by email or to put online to a website, blog or twitter.

Process (once installed – shown in screencast)

1. (Optional) You may find it easier changing to Thumbnails view in the folder you’re viewing so that you can see what images you want to select for resizing without having to open them first. Go to the Views dropdown menu and select Thumbnails. The Filmstrip option also gives you a thumbnail view.

 

2. Right-click on the image file you want to resize and from the menu choose Resize Pictures.

3. This brings up the Resize Pictures window. Choose your desired size from the list of preset sizes - to specify your own see step 4. This will create a new file and the file name will be appended by the preset size name of the image you chose. In this example the new file is called R0010125 (Small).JPG

4. (Optional) Click on the Advanced button. This gives you the option to resize the image to your own size requirements. It will work out the exact dimensions to keep the same aspect ratio of your image so that it’s not squished but both boxes need to be filled in so if you’re not sure, pick a size for the height or width and put a 0 in the the other box. Image Resizer will work it out for you.

The other option you have here is Resize the original pictures (don’t create copies). I’d use this option with caution unless you’re sure you’ll never need the original image file again and you don’t have a backup copy. You might want to, in the future, use the image in printed material where you’d need a larger resolution file and you might be stuck with a small image, for example 640 x 480. You could still use it but it would be fuzzy.

In the screencast I mention several ways to select multiple files for resizing.

Here’s a quick recap.

i. In the folder window press Ctrl + A on your keyboard to select all the files.

ii. Hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard to select a continuous block of files between the first one and last one you click on.

iii. Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard to select multiple individual files (non-contiguous).

Download Image Resizer

…and Scot-BUG too. Did you know there are two Scottish VLE User Forums? One for Moodle - SMUG and one for Blackboard - Scot-BUG.

The two Scottish RSCs and the Higher Education Academy hosted a joint user group meeting to, among other things, discuss the future activities and organisation of VLE user groups in Scotland. [Agenda]

Stephen Vickers from the University of Edinburgh led the session on the way forward for the groups by asking participants to vote via a voting handset (clicker) on various options such as having joint forum meetings, online meetings and special interest groups. The results will be available shortly.

In the meantime here are the joining details of the two respective JISCmail lists to keep up-to-date with the latest announcements of forum meetings, ask questions and share your knowledge.

SMUG (Scottish Moodle Users Group)
jiscmail.ac.uk/smug

Scot-BUG (Scottish Blackboard Users Group)
jiscmail.ac.uk/scot-bug
website: scot-bug.org.uk