Blogs in education: podcast

Audacity icon

Download a podcast about using blogs in education – complete with sound effects! Hear the ice cream van and Ruth grilling a bagel! Here you have 730 words in 4 minutes 25 seconds, in an mp3 file about 1.5 Mb in size.

I’m using the following…

  • iBook G4 (no analogue sound input, usb only)
  • Logitech USB microphone – about £12 from Dixons, Belkin make looks the same
  • Audacity sound editing software with the Lame Mp3 library for MP3 export
  • A script in TextEdit

I can’t speak without a script as I’m uming and ahhing too much if I make the words up as I go along. The mp3 file linked here was the second take, with some tweaking of the text. Audacity settings were as follows…

  • 22050 samples per second sample rate
  • MP3 export set in preferences to 48Kb rate (half the lowest quality for music mp3 players)
  • I set an FFT filter to cut the treble after about 8 kHz to remove the ‘sibilants’
  • I used the ‘normalise’ filter to bring the peak level up to -3db, the Logitech microphone is not the most sensitive and the default recording levels are a bit low

The script is posted below the fold of this blog post. I’d appreciate any feedback about difficulties in playing the 48Kb/s mp3 file.

Blogs in education: the script…

Weblogs or blogs for short are simply Web based diaries. You add an entry to a blog and that entry appears at the top on the Web page that the blog produces, previous entries move down the page. Most blog systems will display a certain number of entries on the main page and then move the earlier ones into monthly archive pages. Blog systems are designed to be easy to set up and quick to use. If you can use e-mail, then you can use a blog.

Most blog systems allow for images to be uploaded and included in entries and some provide file space for uploading and linking PowerPoints and Word files. An important feature of blogs is that readers can add comments on each entry – rather like an online forum but a forum but with a different emphasis.

Educational uses of blogs include: as class diary for a specific group of students, as notice-board for a whole cohort, and even as a space for students to write themselves.

Students producing their own blogs requires careful thought. Web pages are cached by search engines and can be held in ‘frozen’ form for years – for this reason students might want to post under an assumed name. You also need to check College regulations about external publication by students. Some students find having their own page to show off work a motivational factor. Some teachers use blogs as notice boards for whole cohorts of students. I would suggest switching off the commenting in this case and possibly adding an e-mail list facility so students can have new notices e-mailed to their inbox.

I find that I have most success with blogs used as class diaries – each class has a page. I can pop a summary of each lesson on the blog, and I can add links to Web pages with exercises, explanations, interactive quizzes or demonstrations. The blog can then be used by students who were at the lesson as a reminder of the main themes (and homework) and as a guide to carefully chosen and relevant Web pages. Students who had to miss all or part of the lesson can find a summary, possibly with text-book readings and some links that will enable the student to get the gist of the lesson and be able to join in a little more next week.

I usually leave the comments option open, but have a feature where people who wish to add comments to an entry have to type in a random number – this avoids the spamming of blog posts by automatic programs on the Web. I also set the options on the blogging system so that any comments are e-mailed to my address as soon as they appear. As I do not list the course blogs in any directories or search engines, I find that spam isn’t a major problem.

Students will only use the comment feature if they have a problem with that week’s entry or if you build feedback in as an activity. I have booked a blended learning room (a room with PCs, projector and desks) and have had students researching Web links and posting them back with evaluations as comments to a blog post. This makes sure that students know how to use the comment feature, and it ‘breaks the ice’ so to speak.

After an academic year has passed, you will have built up a year’s worth of Web links and short summaries of topics. Blog posts for revision can provide students with links back to your own posts in the archive grouped by topic. At the end of the course, you can mark all the year’s posts as ‘draft’ so they are not visible on the Web page and alter the date stamp. You can then simply mark each entry as ‘published’ week by week and the next group of students will assume that you are doing lots of work on their behalf! Blog posts can be exported and used to set up a permanent Web site for a subject or class – the bodmas blog now has around 40 thousand words of text all added week by week over a couple of years.

In summary, blogs provide a simple, weekly method of building up a Web page to focus students and record your progress.

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