VLC for the Language Classroom

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Last week, I did a technology workshop for a group of language teachers and one of the things we covered was the free open source software, VLC. For those who are not familiar with this program, it is a multimedia player for most computers that recognizes almost every type of audio and video file you throw at it. It has saved me a number of times in the language classroom and has become my go-to application for media files. Here are some of the things it can do:

Installing:


Question: I have my computer and speakers set at the loudest setting, but it is still too quiet. How can I make it louder?

Answer: Open the file in VLC and then adjust the volume in the bottom-right corner of the window. You can only increase the volume by an additional 25% this way, but you can increase it even more by using the hotkeys.

  • Windows and Linux: Ctrl key and the up or down arrow keys
  • Mac: Command key and the up or down arrow keys

VLC Increase Audio

Question: The speaking in the video/audio file I am using is a little too fast for my lower level students. How do I slow down the audio without changing pitch?

Answer: VLC has this feature built into the player. The speed adjustment only affects the playback and will not change the original file.

  • Windows or Linux: Open the file in VLC and turn on the Status Bar (click on View -> Status Bar). Click on the ‘1.00x’ at the bottom of the screen and then move the slider back and forth to increase or decrease the speed.

VLC Status Bar

VLC Slow Down Audio

  • Mac: Open the file in VLC and click on Playback in the menu bar and then use the slider under Playback Speed.

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Question: The video is too long and I only want a section of it. How can I create a small clip from a section of my video?

Answer: This is only available for the Windows and Linux versions of VLC. There is a work around for Mac, but it isn’t very easy.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC and then make sure the Advanced Controls are on (click on View -> Advanced Controls). Start the video and when you get to the section you want to record, simply click on the record button once to start and again to stop recording. The new video file will appear in the Videos Library folder.

VLC Advanced Menu

VLC Recorder

Question: I want to keep repeating a section of my audio/video file so my students can hear/watch it over and over again. How can I do that?

Answer: This is only available for the Windows and Linux versions of VLC.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC and then make sure the Advanced Controls are on (click on View -> Advanced Controls). Start the video and when you get to the section you want to repeat, simply click on the A-B Loop button once to set the start point and when you get to the end, simply press it again. This will keep repeating this section until you press the A-B Loop button one more time. You can set this up ahead of time and simply pause the video or audio file until you are ready to play it.

VLC Loop Button

Question: I want to skip to different sections of my media file. How can I set this up?

Answer: VLC makes use of bookmarks which can be saved for later use.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC then make sure the Edit Bookmark window is open (click on Playback -> Custom Bookmarks -> Manage). Start your video or audio file and then click on the Create button in the Edit Bookmark window whenever you want to mark a spot to remember. You can continue to do this with your file until you are done bookmarking everything you would like. You can then double-click on any of the bookmarks in the Edit Bookmark window to skip to that section. You can then save the bookmark for later by clicking on Media -> Save Playlist to File

VLC Using bookmarks

  • Mac: Open VLC then make sure the Edit Bookmark window is open (click on Windows -> Bookmarks). Start your video or audio file and then click on the Add button in the Edit Bookmark window whenever you want to mark a spot to remember. You can continue to do this with your file until you are done bookmarking everything you would like. You can then double-click on any of the bookmarks in the Edit Bookmark window to skip to that section. You can then save the bookmark for later by clicking on File -> Save Playlist

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Let me know if there are any other tips you would like to add to this list.

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Creating a social asynchronous webinar

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Image courtesy of Mark Sebastian

By now, most people have likely at least heard of the term webinar if not taken part in one. I have had the privilege to have given one and also to have taken part in some. For those who maybe have only have heard of the term before but aren’t sure what they are about, here is a quick overview. A webinar is a short seminar hosted live on the internet where people can watch it streaming anywhere in the world if there is at least half-decent internet access. Also, participants can usually ask questions and participate in polls through the text chat functions. Some webinars even allow for live audio and video based questions, but only when there is a moderator in place that can help things run smoothly. Here is my chart comparing face-to-face seminars to webinars:

Face-to-face

 

Webinar

 

Advantage

 

Location

One location Anywhere with internet access Webinar – Saves time and money not having to travel

Time

One time zone Multiple time zones Face-to-face – Easier to schedule for one time zone.

Speaker

Local or must travel Can be anywhere Webinar – Greater access to a selection of speakers

Audience

Local or must travel Can be anywhere Webinar – Broader audience

Costs

Room and speaker costs Internet access and speaker costs Webinar – Location fees can drive up the price

Participation

Ask questions on the spot and discuss afterward Can send text and sometimes audio questions and discussion during
and after
Face-to-face – Both can make use of technology to engage the audience during and after the seminar, but talking to someone in person can be a slight advantage

Adaptability

Pretty much set as far as structure goes Somewhat more flexible on changing the structure Webinar – Even though both can make changes ‘on the fly’ to meet the needs of those participating, neither are that flexible

Reviewing

Can be recorded and posted for comments and discussion Can be recorded and posted for comments and discussion Webinar – No major difference other than the questions are usually typed up and displayed on the screen during the recording making it easier to see them in the video afterward

Planning

Needs to be planned well in advance Can be set up on a very quickly Webinar – Clear winner here.

Sound

Depends on where you sit in the room Depends on your computer setup Webinar – While technology can be finicky at times, the option of making it as loud or as quiet as you want makes this the clear winner.

For the most part, webinars win out in regards to the advantages, but upon reviewing the chart, you can see there are still some things that could be improved. For me, the biggest disadvantage to both webinars and seminars is the schedule. For both of these, if you want to be a participant in the session, you need to be there when the session is happening. That is fine if you have the time, but I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to take part in a webinar or seminar, but I had a class or meeting or something else on that made it impossible to participate. Yes, I can also watch the seminar later on, but it isn’t the same as being there. There is a reason we like to be at a seminar when it happens. While not exactly the same, it is similar to a live drama production. People attend live productions in the theatre not for the precision of the execution since that is more possible through the ability to retake a scene as in filming, but the value is in being a part of the production and the energy the comes from those in attendance and the actors on stage. This is the same for the live seminar or webinar.

Once you take all of those advantages, disadvantages, and ideas and put them into a pot, what comes out? That is what I’ve been thinking about for some time now and here is what I have come up with. It is still a work in progress and is open to suggestions and changes, so feel free to chime in.

I want to do an asynchronous webinar that adapts to the what the audience needs and possibly even includes the audience as part of the webinar. To make this happen, it will require the use of various pieces of the technology puzzle.

The first piece is something to host the video and allow for in-video comments and discussion. This would make use of short recorded pieces spread out over a period of time to allow others to watch when they can (the asynchronous part). For this, I have chosen VideoANT from the University of Minnesota. It takes hosted video and wraps it with a tool where anyone can pause the video at any section and add a comment which shows up as a list beside the video. Click on those comments and the video starts playing where the comment was added. People can even reply to those comments to add to the discussion. This is a free tool that requires minimal registration to view and comment, although even the registration has a workaround to avoid giving away personal information. More on that later.

The next piece of the puzzle is the video host. For this, I am going to use YouTube to host my video since VideoANT works best with that. It would be possible to have others share their videos through other means, but for now, simplicity rules here.

The last piece of the puzzle is a discussion board and host for all things related to the webinar. It should be a place anyone could add to without needing to register. For this, I ended up going with a WordPress blog since I can set the comments to anyone and this allows for people to share thoughts and ideas with nested comments. Also, it keep all of the material in one place. There may be better tools out there to do this, but for accessibility reasons, I think this will work.

Here is a video I recorded talking about this same thing, but showing how VideoANT could be used. Go to the link, enter in your email address, or a fake one if you like, and press play to watch the video. If you want to add a comment while watching, click on the ‘Add an Annotation’ and the video will pause and you can add a text comment.

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Watch and comment

Thanks for your time. I welcome all comments, suggestions, and criticisms.

Recording directly to YouTube with your webcam

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This week, I have two students who have to miss class due to important meetings outside of the city. As a result, I am posting short summary videos on Edmodo for them along with the relevant material they may need to work on their own. I don’t want to spend a great deal of time recording, editing, and uploading my summaries since they are fairly short and informal, so I am using the My Webcam function of YouTube to record directly to YouTube without all of those other steps. Most people I have talked to don’t seem to know that it exists, so that prompted this short post. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to the My Webcam page of YouTube and log in if need be.
  2. The first time you go to this page, you will see an Adobe Flash message asking for access to your webcam and microphone. Click on ‘Allow’ and ‘Remember’ before click on ‘Close’. You won’t need to do this again.
  3. You will see a black box showing what your webcam sees. Click on the ‘Start recording’ button and it will start recording immediately.
  4. Along the side of the video, you will see a green bar moving up and down. This is your level indicator for the sound. Make sure it isn’t going too high or too low.
  5. Click ‘Stop recording’ when you are done. You can play back the recording by clicking on the play button. If you are happy, click on the ‘Upload’ button. If you want to do it again, click on ‘Start over’.
  6. Once you have click on the ‘Upload’ button, you will be taken to the info and settings page. Change the title name, add a description and tags, change the privacy setting to what is appropriate (I usually use ‘Unlisted’ since this takes it out of the search, but gives access to anyone I give the link to), choose a category, and click on ‘Save changes’.
  7. Depending on the length of the video, it should be ready fairly quickly. To access it, click on your ‘Video Manager’ link on the left side of the page. You should see the video listed at the top. Click on the video to view it and to get the ‘Share’ url.
There are plenty of uses for this in the classroom. I have had students record themselves for pronunciation practice or giving a mini-presentation. I can record mini lectures for self-access and so on.
I hope it was helpful.

RecordMP3: A nice, simple, online voice recorder

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If you have ever been to one of my technology sessions, you know how much I appreciate the use of an audio recorder in my classroom. I use it for feedback on written work, I record listening tasks for students, and students can use it to record themselves or their group, especially as part of their e-portfolio. I have used Vocaroo and CLEAR RIA Audio Dropbox in the past, but I recently stumbled upon RecordMP3. It works very much like Vocaroo, but it seems to be much cleaner and it is easier to download the file. Here is how it works:

Steps:

  1. Go to RecordMp3.org and click on the ‘okay, got it’ button.
  2. An Adobe Flash dialog box pops up the first time. Click on ‘Allow’, ‘Remember’, and ‘Close’. If you don’t check off the ‘Remember button, you will have to do this the next time you visit the site.
  3. Click on the ‘okay, I did it’ button and a new recorder will appear in its place.
  4. Once you are ready to record, click on the ‘RECORD’ button to start. It will immediately start recording and the time clock will start.
  5. When you are ready to stop recording, click on ‘STOP’. You can listen to your recording by clicking on the ‘Play’ button. You can click on the ‘Pause’ button to stop it.
  6. If you are not happy with the recording, click on the ‘Start Over’ button and do it again.
  7. If you are happy, click on ‘Save Recording’ and it will start to process and upload the file to their server.
  8. Once it is done uploading, a dialog box will appear. Click in the address box to automatically copy the URL to your clipboard. You can now share the address with anyone you would like to have listen to the recording.
  9. To download the file, click on ‘Save as…’ and choose the place on your computer you would like to save it to.

The file that is created is a 128 kbps mono MP3 file which is small enough for email and posting on a website, but is only good for spoken text. It works great for the classroom, but I wouldn’t use it to create something that you plan on using for music or playing to an audience.

How do you use voice recordings in your classroom? Do you archive your files for ongoing formative assessment? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below, sending me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or emailing me through the contact page on this website. Thank you!