Friday, 6 June 2014

"1,2,3, Testing!"- Audio and the modern LIS Professional

Image by David Jones: used via CC BY 2.0

In a world where video-based content is fast becoming the dominant online medium, it's easy to forget that audio is still as accessible, relevant and engaging as ever. In this article, Claire Beecroft, an information specialist from the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield, argues that modern Library and Information Professionals need to be wired for sound…

In my role as an information specialist and university teacher, I have become increasingly involved in the creation of multimedia content for a variety of purposes. This includes promoting the library and information service, generating tutorials for information skills and digital literacy, applying for conferences, promoting online courses and providing feedback to students. While I have gained a lot of experience producing videos, and still value this fantastic medium for communication, I think there's still a strong case to be made for the use of audio.

When we think of audio and the Web, the first word that might spring to mind is "podcast". What some might think of the podcast as a slightly updated online medium, in fact the world of podcasting continues to thrive and flourish.

5 key benefits of audio:

1. Audio is ideal for the camera-shy
Audio is an ideal medium for those of us who are a little camera shy, and are nervous about appearing visually online. If you would like to make videos but are too nervous, producing audio content is a great way to start and build confidence. It’s easy to practice your delivery and listening back to recordings is very revealing about how you use your voice, and how you sound! This can enhance not only your future audio recordings, but your ‘live’ delivery as well, so its well worth taking the time to record some short pieces, if only to have a chance to hear yourself as others hear you.

2. Audio files are small (ish)
Audio files are much smaller than video files, making storage easier and downloading less draining on precious download limits for users, especially on mobile devices where users may have to choose carefully what they ‘spend’ their download allowance on. It also makes it easier to share files with others as many audio files are still small enough to send as an email attachement; something that is often impossible with video. This makes distributing your audio content widely a much easier prospect.

3. Audio is mobile
Audio is a mobile medium; while its not realistic for our users to watch video while walking to work, audio is a great medium for learning on-the-go, and can be accessed during times when other mediums are not accessible. As we become increasingly aware of how we use our time, being able to access content on-the-go can be a real bonus to users. It is also very easy to create audio content on mobile devices using apps such as Audioboo, meaning that content creation is not tied to a particular computer, or even to our office/work environments.

4. Audio is engaging
Audio gives precious meaning and context to our words that is often lost in print-based communication; this is especially useful when delivering feedback or communicating negative messages in more engaging and humane way, but is an enhancement to pretty much anything you might want to say in print. We have a tendency to be more economical with words in print, but in audio we can flesh out things in a way that gives our message meaning and value beyond the words themselves.

5. Audio is free (or at least!)
Recording and sharing audio can be incredibly easy and accessible. There are several free or very low-cost apps for mobile devices that allow you to record, edit upload and share audio content. My 3 favourites are Audioboo, VoiceRecordHD and Audacity.

Audioboo ( is available for iOS and Android and allows users to record up to 10 minutes of audio. This can then be uploaded to the Audioboo site and embed code can be copied and pasted into any web page, allowing your audio content to be easily place wherever you want it. I’ve used Audioboo both on my tablet and smartphone and found the quality to be excellent, providing I can record somewhere quiet. Obviously a better microphone will further enhance quality, but don’t let a lack of ‘specialist’ equipment put you off; it is really not necessary.
Many audio apps pose difficulties in that they produce audio files in obscure formats, but

VoiceRecordHD ( £1.49 on iOS, free on Android) allows you to record your video and them email an MP3 file to yourself or anyone else. MP3 is the most widely accessible audio format across mobile platforms, so its a useful tool if you need to share your recordings with others but are not sure which devices they own.

Finally, try as you might to record your audio with no coughs, sneezes or mumbling, sometimes you’ll need to edit a recording. For that, I can heartily recommend Audacity, a long-standing and much-loved audio recording and editing suite for your Mac or PC. It is pretty simple to use and allows you to create very high-quality audio files, integrating content from multiple recordings including spoken work and music, for a professional result.  Download it for free at

5 ways to try audio:


At ScHARR we have been using the plagiarism-detection tool turnitin for submission of all assessed work and for feedback for over 2 years. More recently Turnitin added and embedded feature allowing easy recording of an ‘audio comment’ of up to 3 minutes to enhance the existing feedback features such as text comments, grades and rubrics.

From Skitch-2.png

Feedback is an area where tone of voice can add significant meaning and interpretation, and could be the difference between a student being dispirited by their feedback, or being motivated to do better. A recent workshop I attended at Sheffield Hallam University confirmed my own experience that giving feedback via audio is faster, more thorough and more enjoyable than providing written feedback, and is much valued by students who may be more motivated to listen to audio feedback than to read written feedback, though a recent blog post I stumbled across served as a reminder that not all students welcome such significant change:

skitch twitter

2.Promote a service or resource
Having been involved in the development of MOOC (massive open online course) last year, I made use of a wide variety of social and online media to promote the course and encourage people to sign up. While some social platforms such as Twitter restrict how much content can be posted, I used audio to help get round this issue. Using Audioboo to create a short podcast describing the course and its aims was a great way of enabling me to get more mileage out of social media postings and ‘add value’ to them. This worked very well, with the ‘boo’ having had over 6,200 listens so far.

From Skitch.png

3.Produce an audio blog post
Blogging is an incredibly popular medium these days, but finding time to regularly post to a blog can be difficult when you have more urgent work issues to deal with. I have found that I can post to a blog quickly and reactively, with my ideas still fresh in my mind, if I record an audio blog post instead of waiting until I can find the time to write one. Tools such as Audioboo are ideal for this. I first used audio blogging to record a post for the ScHARR Library Blog, reflecting one (appropriately enough) a workshop I had attended on audio feedback. I recorded the blog post the day after the event while my head was still buzzing from all the audio projects I’d heard about. Once I recorded the blog post I was able to cut and paste embed code from Audioboo into the blog, enabling blog readers to listen to the post using the embedded audio player.

audio blog pic.PNG

4. Use audio as an ‘introduction’ to conventional material
You may already have online written-word content that could be made more engaging and appealing with an audio introduction. This gives you an opportunity to bring a more human element to conventional material, and to give it some context. I have used audio to introduce learning materials in an online course I deliver to Masters students, giving them the chance to have more of a sense of my presence as the tutor, and for me to introduce the materials more effectively; hopefully motivating them to work through it all.

5.Send audio email.
This one might sound strange, but I often find that I am more brief in emails than I sometimes want to be, simply because I can’t face typing a long message. Recently I have used a mobile recording app on my iPad (Voice Record HD, iTunes,£1.49)  which enables me to speak my message, then send it via email as an MP3 from within the app. It means I can say all that I want to say, with all the benefits of ‘tone of voice’, and much more quickly and efficiently that by typing. Obviously the recipient of the email needs to be able to play an MP3 file, and they need headphones, but within my own organisation this is increasingly the norm, and I do think carefully about who I send an audio email to. Its a niche use of audio, but one that I plan to use more in future.


Audio provides an easy in-road to producing multi-media content and can add a valuable human aspect to a range of online content. Its usually possible to produce audio content at zero-cost, providing you have a smartphone, tablet or a microphone headset for your computer- a significant consideration at a time when budgets are stretched to the limit. For those nervous about producing video, audio provides an excellent first-step, and an opportunity to experiment with multi-media content production and gain vital confidence. So many forms of written content can be enhanced by the depth and context that the human voice can provide- go on, give it a try!

App Swap Breakfast #2 - Curation Tools

The second App Swap Breakfast (ASB) took place with CiCS and looked at curation tools. As with the first ASB there was a good turn out with lively discussion that looked a few more issues relating to the use of apps and smart devices in the University. One issue that had arisen before the second ASB was that of presenting apps on a big screen. Many staff had experience of presenting slides and Web tours using their tablets and smartphones remotely using such as Haikudeck and Nearpod amongst others. Actually projecting apps onto a screen is not so straightforward but luckily a kind soul in our Corporate Information and Computing Services sourced us a cable in time for our iPads. It raised another of many questions, what cables, projectors and other infracture does an organisation need to do this fluently? Does it need cables given we are increasingly able to present wirelessly? For our session to get the apps on screen we did need a cable, but another question had arisen in my mind. How can we screencast and capture apps, especially when trying to demo them. Recently Apple announced that this will be possible on their new Yosemite OS, although early tests showed it was still not perfect for capturing apps. Even sites like Techcrunch and their tech reviews still often have a person holding the phone or tablet whilst showing the app to camera, but hopefully that will all change. That said, this approach is not all bad.

At the ASB Daniel Villalba Algas from the Department of Politics explained how he used Evernote to capture everything from meeting notes to useful Web links. Evernote is a simple note taking application that is available in a range of different devices, it is even available on the University's managed desktop.

Daniel explained to the group and writes below that he uses Evernote to take quick and simple notes that he later uses to produce more complex documents. Daniel listed some of the key benefits of the app:
  • It allows you to record one hour of sound for note so if you are going to a meeting or conference you can record the sound while you are taking your notes. Daniel said that he was aware of his department’s students using it to record lectures while they are taking notes.
  • You can also attach images to a note if it is easier than typing.
  • With all these systems it is useful if you can sort and manage your notes and in Evernote you can create notebooks, tags or event link a note to a specific location so it makes very easy to find the notes that you are looking for even by geographical information.
  • Comments are stored in the cloud so you can always have access to them regardless the device that you are using.

I looked at two tools I have championed for the last few years that help teach students and staff organise and manage their research papers.


Mendeley is a social reference management tool that has its own alternative metric for measuring scholarly papers. The application is available across most platforms as official and unofficial versions, with a desktop and Web version being the mainstay of the software. The mobile version sits in between both versions in terms of functionality and usage.  For any student or researcher working on the go and in possession of a tablet the app allows them to save new references and attached PDFs with the option to read these PDFs. Unlike the desktop version there is no option to annotate or highlight the PDFs, but nevertheless it is a useful reader. Users can tag references and access their references and papers within their groups.
The app is free and has an official IOS version, whilst there are unofficial Android versions, Mendeley say they are working on an official version. There is also a version for the Amazon Kindle which allows you to read papers in your Mendeley database.

The next tool I looked at was Readability which is more of a PDF reader than anything. The real value from Readability is by using it on your Web browser as it allows users to turn webpage articles into clean looking PDF type articles that you can read offline on your tablet device. Readability is able to turn a website from the one below into the pdf below that. It is a great way to stockpile interesting articles you may discover browsing the Web or Twitter and turn them into a reading list.

Before Readability


Claire Beecroft talked about two apps she uses to create and discover materials as part of her teaching. Claire captures below what it is she likes about these two apps; firstly the micro-podcasting tool AudioBoo and the journal browsing app Browzine.


Audioboo appswap - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Audioboo is an app for Android and iOS and can also be used via  browser. Its free. You can record up to 10 mins of audio and embed the results in a neat little player in MOLE. Great for distance/blended learning, i.e: introducing a module, LO’s or a discussion topic, or for setting assignments or doing topical things related to current affairs.


Browzine is an app that allows you to ‘browze’ the e-journals at your institution. It links to the Uni’s e-journal subscriptions and allows you to browse broad subject categories for journal titles, then more specific sub-categories. Nice for current awareness and a more serendipitous approach to search. Reminds me of the old days of directories like Yahoo.

The third App Swap Breakfast will focus on sound and vision an will hopefully take place in July

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Recent work within Information Resources

Within Information Resources ,our role in research projects is often based around literature searching and evidence synthesis. Recently two Information Resources staff were members of the research team who were awarded the NIHR HS&DR Evidence Synthesis Centre in Spring 2014 - Anna Cantrell and myself (Louise Preston), along with other ScHARR co-investigators. 

The role of the evidence synthesis centre is to "produce evidence syntheses of immediate use to commissioners and providers of health and social care in order to improve the quality, effectiveness and accessibility of care including delivery of services. Reviews conducted under the Evidence Synthesis Centre Programmes seek to address knowledge gaps in a very wide range of topics in areas of identified importance to the service. The finished products are designed to summarise key evidence for busy managers and clinical leaders, while evaluating the quality of information and strength of findings. The aim is to produce authoritative single-source documents which provide simple top-line messages in complex areas".

In our first Evidence Synthesis project, we were asked to answer the following question "What evidence is there for a relationship between organisational features and patient outcomes in congenital heart disease services?"

In order to answer this question, a mutidisciplinary team of ScHARR researchers undertook a rapid review and I had the opportunity to manage this review, alongside lead author Janette Turner and corresponding author Professor Elizabeth Goyder.

Our rapid review which was completed in three months examined the research question using 39 papers and has been published today (Wednesday 4th June) on the NIHR website. Working on this rapid review was a really fascinating opportunity and both Anna and myself are looking forward to future work on the Evidence Synthesis Centre.