Friday, July 20, 2007

Audio extravaganza

Necessity is the mother of invention! Intrigued by Alisa's introduction of BlueGrind, I've been thinking about doing a comparison. I used the whole intro to Thing #17 because I had to re-record it anyway.

Here's my audio intro about wikis:

Here's the BlueGrind version:

If you're curious, here is the text of the first two paragraphs:

Now that you’ve learned a bit about wikis, now’s the time to jump in and play around with them. Don’t worry. You’ve got boots! And friends! If you’ve never used a wiki before, it’s a little scary. We’re so used to thinking about our writing as personal – a part of us -- that many people are afraid to change anything someone else has written.

Sometimes we’re also too busy to undertake what could be a huge task if done by just one person. Even if we have helpers, we may find ourselves spending as much time coordinating work as we do completing it. Or I may have the germ of an idea (what Wikipedia calls a “stub”) that I’m willing to share, but I don’t have the energy or time to flesh it out. My mom used to tell me to finish in style, but that’s not necessarily true in wiki-world. I can start something and count on others to finish it up. Or I when I stumble across something half-baked, I can finish it up. It builds positively on division of labor.
First, the BlueGrindGuy can't handle contractions. (He also can't handle the word ""). One of my reasonings behind using audio was to get more personality into what I was providing as text. I don't think the BlueGrindGuy does it.

Having said all that, I can see using BlueGrind as a proofreading tool for students. In fact they might find it kind of fun. Something more to add to my initial exploration of audio as a writing tool which I began with the sine curve late last fall. [Note: quite a few of the links don't work in my two sine curve pages. I set up a blog for the sine curve a while ago, but I haven't posted anything there yet. Aha -- a project for this fall!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My love/hate relationship with audio

Over the past year or two, because I've been learning lots of new things, I've been paying close attention to how my learning happens. Not other people's learning . . . my learning.

I know I'm a print person. I've always been a print person. A perfect day: some clouds, perhaps some rain, a comfy chair, nothing pressing, and a good [trashy] book. Heaven.

When computers came along, I realized I was a text person; it wasn't so much print as it was words and sentences and paragraphs. (I love paragraphs.) I made the transition from paper to pixels pretty easily, although I still have boxes and boxes of print-outs to winnow through and toss. When I'm learning something new, my first impulse is to read the docs or find a book or search the web.

In my writing classes, I produce a lot of text, mostly on web pages: announcements, instructions, assignments, and discussion group entries. I write lots. But I wasn't sure students were reading what I was writing. My web pages were pretty text-dense, so I began to play around with format. I haven't gone over to the dark side yet with bullet-mania, but I'm breaking longer documents into shorter sections, using headings, some indentations, italics and bold. I'm paying closer attention to those pages where I think information and ideas are especially accessible -- looking at them as well as reading them.

I discovered audio not as a listener but as a speaker. I began to pay closer attention to my voice as a writer, and that just led me to recording small snippets of information, mostly as a way of providing additional encouragement to my listeners and conveying enthusiasm for my subject. (Actually, I found I was using too many parentheses, too much elipisis, and way too many exclamation points in my writing, all attempts to make my writing more lively and engaging.) With audio, I explored a wider range of expression and a different register. I still write before I record, but when I know that text will eventually end up as audio, I write differently.

This past week, I learned about "textcasting," tools that that allow a writer to convert text to audio without actually doing any recording. I've seen these links on several blogs I read, but because I'm really a print person, I've never paid them much attention. Today, I created an account at to experiment. I suppose it's easy, but something is really "lost in translation." However, it's gotten me thinking about how audio is more than just converting words on the page to something I can hear, and I'm going to add this to my writing toolbox this semester.

I'm sorry. I know textcasting helps those who are visually impaired, but folks-on-the-run are also a big market; I can't imagine listening to anything like this by choice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How time flies

Yesterday, I read a novel. It was "beach-reading," mindless fiction, just the thing for a hot summer day, even if there was no surf, no shore. As I read along, three very funny things happened.

The hero, who had moved in to an apartment below the heroine, came upstairs to use her telephone because he was waiting for his to be installed. What, I thought? That's lame. How come this high-powered lawyer doesn't have a cell phone?

Later in the story (set in Boston), the hero insists on taking the heroine to the airport. A chivalrous offer indeed. Her flight leaves at 4 pm; he says he'll pick her up at 3 pm. Yikes! To get to Logan? They arrive in plenty of time, and he waits with her at the gate.

In a major complication, the hero needs to dig into the heroine's past, so like any good legal investigator, he flies to Chicago to read back copies of the local newspapers in the library there. Hmmm. Doesn't he know that all those articles are available on the web?

But this story was written way back in 1984, long before cell phones, the Big Dig, airport security, and electronic databases. I don't expect Elizabeth Bennet or Isabel Archer to whip out their cell phones or fire up their computers, but a seemingly modern novel with such glaring anomalies really caught my attention and made me go back to look at the publication history. The novel first appeared in paperback in 1992 and was then reprinted in 2000. "Seemingly modern" indeed. I guess it wasn't good enough to revise, but too good to let go out of print.

Not that our students read for pleasure, but most of them weren't born when this book was first published. They would have been 3 or 4 when it first appeared in paperback, and 10 or 11 when it was reprinted. I don't think they've ever had a landline nor been able to wait for someone at the gate, but even I read old newspapers on fiche or film in high school, way before this book was first published.