Monday, 22 February 2010

Using Audacity for podcasts and other forms of digital storytelling

Audacity is a free, open source audio recording programme which is the standard among educators I know for almost all of their digital storytelling tasks from Podcasts to Reader's Theatre.

It is very straighforward to use and is cross platform (meaning it can be used on various versions of Windows as well as Macs). You can get more information about the program at Wikipedia.

You can download the Beta version here: Audacity Beta version 1.3.11 (recommended for Vista and W7)

My purpose in this post is not to sing the praises of Audacity as such (I think it does a great job at selling itself!), but to describe how we use the program in our class for recording various student activities.

Getting Started:
The first step to begin working with Audicity is to download it. You can do that from the link provided above.
Once you have gone to the download page, download the basic Windows installer (since I have a Vista machine, I downloaded the Beta) you then need to consider what jobs you will use Audacity for. For example, if you will be using it to work with .wma files, you will need to also download the “FFmpeg import/export library” which is found on the Download Page for Audacity in the “Plugins and Libraries” section. Also, if you plan on exporting your files as MP3s, you will need to download and install the “LAME MP3 encoder.” Be advised, that I did not implement the LAME encoder because I prefer the WMA format for my particular circumstances.
Once you have downloaded the basic Audacity programme and the plugin(s) you need to install them. Begin by installing the basic programme then the plugins. I restarted my system after the basic installation and before I installed the plugins. I would highly recommend the Audacity online Help section for detailed instructions.
After all the installations were complete, I did a brief sound check to determine the recording levels were correct and that the programme correctly exported and saved the test files.
Using Audacity for podcasts is extremely easy. In fact, in our class, the children are responsible for the entire job of creating one. However, to get to that point we have carried out several activities which helped them to understand the needs of their audience as well as organising their ideas in a clear logical format. For a good example of how to get organised for a podcast see this fantastic blog (
To begin with, I carried out a brief introduction to the reasons why we record things, what are podcasts, and why would people probably find them useful using TPS (Think, Peer, Share). I then went on to introduce the programme and allowed the class to explore the programme with a partner. During the introduction, I demonstrated what my voice looked like in the Audacity work area. We then experimented with other people’s voices and noted the variations and similarities.
Frome there, we practiced recording our own voices and those of our partners as well as saving them both as Audacity project files and as WMA files on our desktops. As a class, we then looked at and experimented with playing with the files, by cutting, copying, pasting, cropping tracks, using various filters, fading in, fading out, increase/decrease volume and various sound effects.
Eventually, we moved on to considering our audience’s needs in future podcasts. So, we looked at (listened to) some old time radio plays. The process, briefly, went like this: I found a dramatic piece of radio theatre and transcribed the script, not more than 1 or 2 minutes in total. I then saved the audio file and the script. During the lesson, when we were discussing the audience’s needs, I read, in as monotone manner as possible, the script segment while showing the Audacity recording window on the smart board. We then compared my reading to the actual radio play and discussed in detail what made the play so entertaining. Among the ideas were comments such as volume, pitch, speed and how the actors made their voices sound choked with emotion. Generally, the class came away with the idea that the actors had “a presence” which made the event standout in some way. They also pointed out how the use of sound effects, like people running, doors opening and closing and keys jingling, added realism and helped to create an atmosphere.
In most cases each podcast is the result of about three lessons of planning, collaborating, rehearsing and retakes. Because Audacity has been so easy to use the children find it no problem at all to stop, listen and re-record or do simple editing until they are satisfied with the finished product. Thus the class has become, increasingly, content creators with a growing level of confidence with each finished product.
Are you creating podcasts with your class? We would love to hear them! Tell us all about them in the comments.


mrjarbenne said...

We are creating podcasts in our class. In small groups, the students decided on what they wanted to report on, and then came up with the concept for their shows.

We then set up Google Reader accounts and subscribed to RSS feeds that could "feed" us the content we needed for the podcasts. The students capture the content from Google Reader via Evernote, and then cut the articles back into bite size pieces by editing in Evernote. Once they have gone through this process and have created a script, the students record their podcast using Audacity.

Earlier on, each group created a "theme song" for their podcast using a program called Acid Express from Sony. This is basically the Windows equivalent to Garageband, and allows us to ensure that the music we create for our intro does not infringe on copyright.

The students import the audio of their theme song onto the front end of their recording in audacity, export to mp3, then we send it to itunes.

You can check out our podcasts by searching the itunes directory for litcircuitvoices

I've set up a "podcasting booth" in our classroom with a Snowball mic. We record every day, with each group preparing an episode once every two weeks in a rotation.

The class is a Grade 5/6 split.

Duane B Thomas said...

..just a quick note from a University educator: I am using blogtalkradio to record class "lectures" so that students can listen to them on their phones.

Anonymous said...

Our topic was travel & tourism so I used windows Moviemaker to make a simple presentation about my hometown:
The students did a gist listening & transcription then made movies about their own towns based on this model.

Next, I recorded an interview a colleague about his hometown and made a movie (moviemaker) of that. Sts did a gist listen then transcribed the questions I asked. In pairs, they used these to interview a teacher around the college and made their own videos in Moviemaker. To add a written component, they put subtitles in the movies & created listening gap fill exercises for their peers.

The next module is Education so I want to get them marketing the college.

shital said...

hey, I really got to know of stuff which i have yet not had a chance to explore.But it sounds interesting and innovative, specially with children. As my experience says that drama is a successful tool in teaching that can be used in classrooms.Podcasts, to me, seems like could be used with adults as well during projects and presentations, where they could just record and re-record stuff until they are satisfied.
Being a teacher in today's world needs so much of innovation in terms of teaching tools,technology that this seems to be an interesting, simple and fun for the children to have their hands on. Educators are working on creating virtual classrooms by tech-tools like wikis, podcasts , blogs, etc.

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