Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tips for Recording Audio

Many people find it odd to record audio by themselves for online courses. Here are some tips to increase the quality of your recorded audio:
  • Sit up straight or stand: Your breath and voice are obviously related. Good posture will help you project your voice better and let you take longer, deeper breaths. Standing will also make you feel more like you're presenting to an audience. 
  • Smile: This sounds silly, but it is possible to hear when someone is smiling. Your voice will sound brighter and you'll seem more positive and personable. 
  • Talk with your hands: Even if you're by yourself, try to act like you're speaking with another person or presenting to a group. Using your hands is part of that. 
  • Be dramatic - add intonation: Speaking in your normal tone of voice in a video will seem more monotone than would if you were talking with someone face-to-face because we don't have the other communication cues. Turn it up a notch when you're recording audio, especially if there is no video to go with it. It may seem to you like you're exaggerating, but to your listeners it will seem normal since we're used to television voices that are way more dramatic than those in real life. 
  • Consider speaking from an outline rather than a script: When you read a script, it is usually going to sound like you're reading a script. Having a conversational voice is important. Just make an outline with a plan of the things you need to cover so that you still sound extemporaneous but you cover everything. Reading a script also sometimes causes people to stumble because it's hard to look back and forth between the script and what's on your screen. 
  • Don't speak too fast...or too slowly! There is a happy medium. If find you're out of breath, you're speaking too fast (or nervous - why are you nervous?! Chill out.). But speaking too slowly can cause your audience to be bored. If you're not sure about your pace, show the video to a few people and then ask if they thought you spoke too fast, too slowly, or just right. Don't bias them by telling them what you're looking for before they watch it though. 
  • Do a test: If you're new, record a small bit and then listen to it and learn from what you're hearing. It's hard to determine what you sound like while you're recording. Recording an entire tutorial with something wrong is really disappointing. You may notice you overuse a transition word like "so" or "um."
  • Start with something easy like a story, or your favorite topic: If you start by telling a story or with something you feel comfortable with, you could reduce the learning curve since you'll naturally have more intonation in your voice if you're excited about it. In online course development in general I recommend starting with whatever you find easiest so you have some small successes under your belt. 
  • See if you can find someone to talk to, if you're into that kind of thing. I always prefer to record by myself so I can do it over and over again and not worry about someone watching me, but if you're used to talking to people, finding at least one person to talk to could help you get acclimated. Good people to snag would include significant others, family members, or student workers. Just make sure you still have a good mic set up.
  • Have a drink nearby. Not that kind of drink! Hot water or tea with lemon or honey is best, but have at least a glass of water handy. I read you should avoid milk products 15 minutes before recording, I think because they cause you to produce more mucus. I find that when I'm highly caffeinated, it is not a good time to record because I speak really fast, plus I always use a ton of creamer in my coffee. 
    • Pause and take a drink here and there. Don't treat it like a marathon. 
Speaking of mics...
  • You can do everything above perfectly, but if your mic is messed up it won't matter. 
    • Sometimes it is necessary to go into the control panel and adjust the levels if it's too quiet or loud. 
    • Other times, the positioning isn't right and there are a lot of pops or mouth noises (you don't want your students to nickname you "the mouth breather"). If you're wearing a headset mic, you may need to move it up or down.
      • One time I had a mic that picked up the air coming out of my nose too much and I had to position it awkwardly to get it further from my face. It sounded like I was wheezing! 
    • Sometimes the program you're using continues to record from the built-in mic rather than the USB so it sounds like you're in a really big room. This can happen if you open the program and then plug in your mic. Always plug in the mic and then open the program. 
    • If you're having trouble with the mic, ask for help. I am happy to help UWEC faculty. 
  • Get the best mic you can. If you're going to be recording a lot of audio, invest in a good mic. I used to be happy with cheap Logitech mics, but it turns out Logitech is no longer producing consumer level mics and the last batch we got was just ok. I have a Yeti mic that is fantastic and cool looking! 
    • If you use a free standing mic (vs a headset) speak very closely to it. 
  • You can get even fancier and use a pop filter when you're recording with a free standing mic to avoid those popping p's. 
Feel confident that you'll continue to improve. The more you do it, the better you'll get. Same with anything. If it's your very first time recording audio, expect a slight learning curve. But don't be a perfectionist. It's usually not worth it. 

Oh, you may also want to put a note on your door that you're recording so you're not bothered when you're in the zone. Of course, turn off those outlook notifiers and your phone. 

Add any other suggestions in the comments, please! Thanks to Beth Kranz in LTS and the following websites (along with my experience) for the content.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Using Adobe Captivate for Branching Scenarios

Last semester I worked with a few faculty to try using PowerPoint for branching scenarios. What I mean by "branching scenario" is this: the learner clicks on the screen to make a decision and then they go to a different slide depending on what they chose, then they can continue to the next question or go back and try again. Another use would be a software simulation so that students get some practice clicking on the place on the screen they would if they were actually using the program. So, it's a low stakes way for students to practice and gain familiarity with feedback.

PowerPoint didn't work very well for this. So, I decided to re-explore Adobe Captivate. I used Captivate a lot at my last job and kind of hated it. I think it was version 4 then, and now 6 is out. It's like all Adobe products - lots of options. Although I used it a lot, I never felt like I really knew what I was doing. However, it has gotten better and now it publishes into HTML5 so it's accessible on iOS devices.

The biggest advancement in Captivate, to me, is it's integration with PowerPoint. You can do most of the work in PowerPoint - a much more user friendly environment - and then pull it into Captivate to add the buttons, branching, and quizzes. While you're working in Captivate, you can edit in PowerPoint and then go back to Captivate. Then it publishes into a Flash/HTML5 video so it plays much more consistently than it did when we were just using PowerPoint.

Another cool thing about Captivate is that it can create roll over captions, which means you put your mouse over something and then info pops up about it to explain a bit more. A very user friendly option for this functionality is Thinglink, but Thinglink is pretty much a stand-alone deal, whereas these Captivate roll overs can be incorporated right into a tutorial.

Captivate also does a great job with quizzing right in the tutorial and it now offers some advanced interactions like Articulate.

I haven't used it a lot, but I made a video showing what I know now about adding click boxes, buttons, and roll over captions. You'll probably want to make it full screen. It is in HD but takes a minute to focus once in full screen.