Update: Recording 7 – Blue Yeti USB microphone (cardoid setting):
Many thanks to those who evaluated our microphone test recordings. Here is the list of devices we used, matched to the recordings:
Recording 1 – Zoom H1 Handy Recorder
Recording 2 – Logitech ClearChat Pro USB Headset
Recording 3 – Samson CO3U USB microphone
Recording 4 – Samson UB1 USB boundary microphone
Recording 5 – Audio-technica lavalier microphone
Recording 6 – MacBook Pro 2008 built-in microphone
So it seems that the majority (myself included) voted the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder as having the best quality sound. What I like about the H1 is that it produces excellent results for a decent price (£78 on Amazon with a 2 GB micro SD card) and its incredibly versatile – both with spoken word and musical instruments. If you have a video camera with lousy on-board audio then use the H1 to record the sound separately then you’ll have to sync up the video and audio in your editing suite but it will be worth it. Its a great solution for ‘vox pop’ interviews. If using it for podcasting or recording at a desk I would advise using a mic stand with the Zoom as its very sensitive and tends to pick up vibrations and other sounds if you place it on a desk while recording. The downside is that it has lousy build quality, very plasticky - within a week the battery compartment door had broken and the cover for the micro SD card had snapped off. But if you can live with this – and are less clumsy than I am – then its an excellent choice for an all-rounder.
Two or three surprises: the built-in mic on the MacBook Pro did surprisingly well showing that sometimes for rough and ready audio recording the internal microphone on a laptop (or smartphone) will do just fine. But I was surprised that the two Samson mics didn’t score more highly – the CO3U is normally an excellent mic but sounded muddy as did the UB1 which, incidentally, we use as our audio solution for group web conferencing. Perhaps there are some settings I should have adjusted in Garageband to get the best out of them?
Thanks to everyone who commented and do let us know if there are any other microphones you would recommend.
In our roles we are often called upon to create audio content for various projects, such as adding voice-overs to presentation slides or audio narration to Xerte learning objects. This morning I spent some time testing our various microphones to see which one is best for general purpose audio recording. The test consisted of me narrating a standard script into each microphone which was recorded into Apple Garageband (with no effects) and then exported as a 320 kbps stereo mp3 file. I kept the recording level consistent for each microphone and, on export, Garageband performs a normalisation on the audio levels. Not particularly scientific and I’m sure audiophiles will scoff, but the test will do for us. The microphones I tested were:
I have uploaded the resultant recordings in random order below. See if you can match the microphone to the recording and better still perhaps you can say which in your opinion has the best audio quality. Don’t forget to use a decent pair of headphones or speakers. When we have a few guesses and comments I will reveal all!
On Wednesday afternoon at ALT-C 2011 we attended a session delivered by Steve Milligan from Collaborate, a UK company specialising in web conferencing and other collaborative solutions. Steve covered a range of best practices, tips and tricks which, although focused on the Adobe Connect solution for web conferencing, could equally be applied to other big players in the web conferencing space, including Blackboard Collaborate, GoToMeeting and the open source Big Blue Button.
We found it refreshing that, although sponsored by Adobe, the session wasn’t a sales pitch for their web conferencing product.
Here is a summary of some of Steve’s tips for the effective moderation of
TIP 1 – Learn how to be a participant in a web conference – attend one yourself and take note of what worked well and what didn’t;
TIP 2 – Plan your session thoroughly with learning objectives, content and interactions. Think about such things as numbers of participants and network quality/bandwidth available;
TIP 3 – Get familiar with the tool – attend training sessions and refer to the documentation;
TIP 4 – Practice, practice, practice! Record your practice sessions and get feedback from colleagues;
TIP 5 – Create social presence both before and during the session – use Facebook/Twitter before and polls during the session;
TIP 6 – Know how to call when you need help;
TIP 7 – Put up an introduction slide showing participants how to set up their audio (see below);
TIP 8 – Visualise your learners/participants and keep an eye on chat at all times (possibly using a co-moderator);
TIP 9 – Engage with energy – put enthusiasm and excitement into your voice and use body language as much as possible;
TIP 10 – Encourage interaction – use chat, polling, emoticons, whiteboard, audio questioning etc.
Finally – always follow-up properly – send recordings, feedback from session, web links and notes, questionnaire/survey.
Ultimately running successful web conferencing involves planning and practice, knowing the software inside-out and having the confidence to interact and engage meaningfully with your participants. The aim is to make the technology disappear so that you can concentrate fully on the meaningful interactions.
We will hopefully be putting into practice many of Steve’s suggestions as we pilot Adobe Connect alongside Blackboard Collaborate and Big Blue Button this academic year at the University of Bath. If you would like to keep informed on how we get on, please leave a comment and we’ll be in touch.
We’re attending ALT-C 2011 (‘Thriving in a Colder and More Challenging Climate’) this week which is held at the University of Leeds. This is my first ALT-C which I’m excited about, whereas Marie is an ALT-C veteran! Our ePoster ‘Collaborative Workflows for the Participatory Design of Open Educational Resources’ can be downloaded here (eposter 0224). We’ll also be attempting some live blogging of some of the sessions we’ll be attending, decent wireless provision permitting! We’ll also be tweeting from @jpodcaster and @marie_s
We seem to have been too busy recently to even manage a short blog post but I thought I should try and put something up here before joining everyone else and heading off on my hols!
Last week, we had two pieces of good news. The first was that we’ve had a paper published in Ariadne on our experiences over the last year piloting Elluminate Live! (Ariadne, for those not familiar with it, is a web-based journal published quarterly by UKOLN – a centre of excellence in digital information management, funded by JISC and based here at the University of Bath).
We were asked to do the paper back in February following a session we ran introducing UKOLN staff to the potential of tools like Elluminate. Staff attended both physically and virtually and seemed to go very well except we hadn’t prepared for what to do when you get an unplanned fire alarm! All staff in physical attendance had to leave the building and gather outside in the icy blasts while those attending virtually were left chatting among themselves and having a play with the tool!
Our second piece of good news is related to the first in that we learnt that we have been successful in our bid to the University’s Teaching and Development Fund and have been given funding for the next year to extend our piloting of web-conferencing tools further – specifically, we’ll be looking at:
“Using Collaborative web-conferencing technology to enhance participation by prospective students from widening participation backgrounds”
Our first in a series of Apps of the Week is the free task manager Wunderlist from the interestingly named Berlin start-up software company 6WunderKinder.
My criteria for a decent task manager is simple enough: flawless sync with all of my devices (MacBook, iPhone, iPad, work PC), a simple UI that gets out of the way when you don’t need it, and a way to assign tasks to projects with the ability to flag important ones or set due dates. I’ve tried Things and Omnifocus but found them to be too complex for my needs. Although I appreciate their power and functionality I spent more time setting them up and getting stuff into them, then working out what my ‘next step’ is, rather than actually ticking off some tasks.
Wunderlist is a web app with a beautiful UI that works on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. It is easy to add projects/contexts via ‘Lists’ and there are keyboard shortcuts for adding new tasks which can be flagged as important or have a due date attached to them. Backgrounds can be customised (some are a bit garish to say the least) and a great feature is that you can share Lists with colleagues. On the downside there is currently no way to add repeating tasks or links to emails, although you can add links to locally stored files in the notes area of a task.
I can highly recommend Wunderlist for anyone that is looking for a lightweight, simple and free task manager that syncs across platforms and devices.