Audio via Blackboard
An overview of using Audio in Teaching and Learning, and an introductory guide to the facilities of Blackboard VLE for supporting audio-enriched content and communication.
Audio media, in the form of voice recordings, musical soundtracks, sound effects, audio description, and real-time two-way communication, can improve the clarity, accessibility and depth of all types of learning materials and environments. Sound is a powerful tool in engaging students with their subjects and their peers, and for reaching them in new environments, and through new channels. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard allow students access to learning materials through all sorts of online devices, both mobile, and in the home or classroom, and audio materials can further liberate them by obviating the need to read from a screen or page. Sound enhancement is also of course an important access point for students with disabilities.
The Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is capable of delivering learning materials in many formats, including text, audio and video, as well as multimedia enhanced presentations. This document addresses the use of audio via Blackboard. For advice on using still images and moving images in your VLE please see our related advice documents (below). Blackboard enables any file type to be uploaded for viewing, and allows you to provide audio material in a variety of file types to suit your institution and student requirements. With the addition of third-party products, you can expand Blackboard's features for the creation, storage and delivery of audio content with features such as recording and simple editing of voice recordings within the Blackboard environment.
In addition to the recording or uploading of files, Blackboard also allows direct communication between teachers and students in mixed media formats, including live and recorded sound, which can be exchanged in real-time chat, by podcast or by direct download, allowing fluent and natural communication within a group.
At any one time, there are multiple versions of Blackboard being used across the community. We will cover the ‘native' audio capabilities of a typical Blackboard (7.3) setup, as well as the expanded features available with the addition of the Wimba Collaboration Suite, which gives enhanced audio and video features, both for content creation and group interaction. We will concentrate primarily on the audio features of Blackboard and Wimba, and though other relevant areas (such as messaging, chat, video etc) may be touched upon or mentioned, this is by no means an exhaustive guide. For more in-depth guidance on the use of Blackboard, please contact our free helpdesk or have a look at our e-Learning Resources pages
Audio can be used in most areas of Blackboard, but is most widely used in the Course Content Areas and some Communication Tools.
Course Content Areas
The bulk of a course's content is located in the Course Content Areas and this is where audio is most likely to be stored. Your audio files will be pre-prepared audio and mixed media files, which can then be delivered either by the native player (if the plugin is available) or direct download.
At this time, it is recommended that audio is presented in mp3 format, as this allows maximum compatibility with software and hardware players. It is, however, impossible to say what standards and file delivery systems will be available in ten years or more, so if you also have the ability to archive the recording in uncompressed .wav or aiff format then it is recommended that you do so, to address these future needs and formats.
Any audio recording software, such as Audacity, which is free and open source, or Garage Band, which is included with recent Apple computers (OSX 10.3 or later), or one of the many available commercial products (eg Logic, ProTools, Sonar), can be used to record and edit voice, music and effects, and rendered to a stereo file in .wav or mp3 format, or as soundtrack to a video or screen presentation, and then uploaded to Blackboard. Advice on generating audio-enriched material is available on our Audio Resources pages.
Once your audio file is prepared it can be uploaded in the same way as a text file - i.e. select Course Documents>Edit View>+Item, and then select the relevant audio file for upload. The recording will then show amongst your Course Documents for the selected course, and will be available for students to download and play back within a suitable player (iTunes etc)
With the addition of certain third-party extensions, Blackboard gains the ability to deliver audio files by alternative means to direct download by the user. Audio can be streamed directly from an embedded player, or presented as a podcast, giving the user the ability to subscribe and thereby be automatically informed of future updates to the series.
Here are a few audio enriched documents which we have created as examples:
As you can see, there is a player embedded into the Blackboard interface for each audio recording, allowing students simply to press play and listen to your recorded material. With these kind of tools, the process of engaging students with their course work is made easier, and - for those teachers who have already prepared lectures and other verbal materials - far less labour-intensive.
Beyond its capabilities to deliver audio files within Course Documents, Blackboard does not offer any additional means of audio communication or interaction, unless expanded with third-party plug-ins such as Wimba.
Blackboard's 'Communication' features, when expanded with the Wimba Collaboration Suite, allow two-way communication between teachers and students in a variety of ways. For distance learning, this can help to emulate the more natural and immediate communication possible in a classroom.
On a fast connection, and with suitable peripheral devices, real-time audio chat is available within a group.
Even on slower connections, voice messaging is still available (although not in real time), where a teacher or student is emailed a link to a voice recording hosted on the Blackboard server. Again, some students (and indeed teachers) may feel more comfortable expressing themselves with the spoken, rather than written word, and will contribute more often and more openly if given the opportunity simply to talk, rather than commit themselves to what can be seen as the more formal medium of written text. The opposite is evidently true for some students, but they are already well catered for with text-based tools.
With Wimba added to your Blackboard system, the 'Communication' menu will include the following additional tools:
Selecting any of these will call up a recorder/player interface which allows you to record from your computer's microphone, and send and receive audio messages and content.
If you set up a Wimba 'Virtual Classroom', you can additionally allow class members to communicate in real time with you and each other (with various user definable permissions) with microphones, speakers, all-in-one headsets, and even webcams. This toolbar will appear within the classroom display, allowing members to initiate audio and video features:
Wimba tools will run a 'wizard' to determine the audio/video capabilities of the client computer, and will assist with configuration if necessary.
- Windows PC or Apple Macintosh 1GHz+ CPU, 1Gb+ RAM, Windows XP or Vista/ Mac OSX 10.3 or later, Mozilla Firefox web browser
- for content creation, playback and audio communication: soundcard and speakers/headphones, USB microphone or USB headset (headphones + microphone combined)
- for more sophisticated audio content creation: Audacity (Windows), Garageband (Mac) or equivalent audio recording/mixing software