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.

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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.

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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!

1 comment:

Graham McElearney said...

Hi there,
great article. Could I point out too that we are always very happy to host and promote audio materials via the University's iTunes U presence - we have a number of audio resources on there at the moment.

Good work

all the best