Surprisingly, Audio Book Project Energizes Students

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When I signed up for the Faculty Development Blended Course Design Seminar last summer, I didn't feel the need to add the word "blended" to my course description. I had used Blackboard for years, most recently for sending assignments and collecting written work, because I don’t need to carry a ream of paper around in my briefcase. If there hadn’t been a stipend attached, I would have passed on the seminar.

The long introductory video our teacher shot with his computer camera in a poorly lit room wouldn’t even play on my Mac at home. After looking at the agenda, I wasn't sure I liked the idea of altering a course to force a blended project into a comfortable old syllabus.

Well, I stuck it out and retooled an old project into two new ones for an Electronic Media Production course. No one is more surprised than me at the result. So far, they have been a hit with my students and filled a gaping hole in the course left when I pulled out a tired soap opera assignment.

I was looking for an audio project that was not a news project. It had to be fun and intensely educational. I wanted to attract more students interested in radio, but I also wanted a way to focus on sound before adding images. Another requirement was that it needed to gently introduce students to the Avid editing software in our lab, in preparation for a news project.

My answer was an audio book podcast of a children's book. Working in pairs students recorded their voices narrating the stories and interpreting the characters. They learned to use mics and camcorders. The blended components included finding radio drama script formats and importing sound effects and music from the Internet. They edited and mixed their sound sources into the Avid timelines and exported them to Wave files. I played back the files from Blackboard in the classroom. They were fabulous – much better than I imagined they would be.

They are in the middle of the next project: a video podcast – shooting the books' illustrations and editing the pictures over the audio. They have learned a video script format and are making the books a multimedia experience. They smelled success with the audio projects and now are learning about images: framing, motivated camera moves, and special effects editing.

All of this was done with a little book, a camcorder, a computer and a lot of imagination. I hope they find children in their lives to watch their projects. I have found a worthwhile project for my course – excuse me, my blended course.

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