Porter characterizes the economics component of delivery as "concerning copyright, ownership and control of information, fair use, authorship, and the politics of information policy" (p. 208). These features of digital information share a monetary basis, but Porter conceives economics more broadly to also encompass the non-monetary value of a digital text, such as the motivation to produce, distribute, access, and engage with it (p. 218). My Computers and Composition article, which synthesizes the experiences of many instructors, summarizes the non-monetary value they perceived in recorded-audio response:
[Many instructors] tended to portray the method as exemplifying values that the composition community has aspired to, but perhaps not fully achieved, with other forms of response, especially written response. Some authors characterized audio recording as more conducive for feedback that is formative as opposed to summative.... By speaking rather than writing, some reported they were more inclined to include more positive comments..., to signal the relative importance of their comments..., and to comment more on the writing and revising process in contrast to the written product.... Some characterized audio recording as less conducive than writing for commenting on small-scale issues such as grammar and spelling, but more conducive for commenting on large-scale issues such as development and organization.... In general, authors perceived recorded-audio response, in comparison with written response, to exemplify principles of good communication and good composition pedagogy: to be clearer, better developed, more specific, more detailed, more explanatory, and less directive. (Killoran, 2013)
Likewise, instructors reported that their students also tended to perceive considerable non-monetary value in recorded-audio response, almost always preferring it to the more conventional written response:
Among the principle themes that emerged most frequently [in students' perceptions] were:
Perhaps most importantly, both instructors and students perceived that, after receiving recorded-audio feedback, students revised their writing more effectively.... (Killoran, 2013)
- students' greater comprehension because their instructor's tone of voice helped communicate a comment's meaning and the instructor's attitude;
- students' greater learning because they were better able to understand, act on, and retain lessons from the feedback;
- students' greater motivation to revise;
- students' greater awareness of, and appreciation for, the amount of time that their instructor devoted to giving feedback;
- students' greater sense that they were recognized as individuals and that their instructor was more approachable....
Apart from such non-monetary value of recorded-audio response, we must also confront the monetary investment required to produce it. Recording and distributing digital-audio response require that the instructor access resources much more expensive than a pencil and paper:
- internet access,
- a computer with a soundcard,
- a quiet production space,
- a microphone, and
- an audio recording and editing software application.
As for the fourth, the internal microphone available on many contemporary desktop computers and most contemporary laptop computers would be adequate for the task of recording impromptu comments that are not destined to be distributed beyond individual students. However, instructors might nevertheless prefer an external microphone. If students' texts are on paper, an internal microphone might well pick up the rustling sound of turning pages, especially as those pages would likely be placed between the instructor and the computer and hence closer to the microphone than the instructor's mouth is. Inexpensive external microphones are widely available for under $10. And regardless of whether students' texts are on paper or digitally on one's computer, inexpensive clip-on microphones or more expensive headset microphones maintain a consistent proximity with the instructor's mouth and hence prevent one's voice from fading in and out of the recording. Instructors might have to switch their computer's audio settings so that their external microphone is activated and recognized as the primary source from which to input sound.
The final required resource is an audio recording and editing software application. Windows-based computers typically come equipped with Windows's Sound Recorder, but I consider it too rudimentary for even impromptu, private recordings. Mac computers typically come equipped with the Mac's quite serviceable GarageBand. Many other more robust applications are available for free on the internet.
If we conceive of digital distribution's economic component to encompass both monetary and non-monetary value, then the ideal audio recording and editing software application would be an open-source application. Open-source applications are, of course, monetarily free. Indeed, in another section of his article, Porter recommends that instructors encourage the use of open-source applications in lieu of expensive proprietary applications (p. 215). And as the collective work of specialists' knowledge, skills, and labor volunteered for the public good, they also epitomize the communitarian values that are among the Internet's best promises.
Hence, in this section and others, this webtext focuses on the open-source application Audacity, for reasons beyond just its open-source heritage:
- It is a well-established application, having been first released in 2000 (Audacity, "Credits") and having developed over several iterations since then;
- It has earned the recognition of several awards (Audacity, "News") and of the web's audio-editing community, often appearing at the tops of lists of free audio editing software (e.g., search for "free audio editors");
- It is available for various platforms, including older and newer versions of Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux operating systems;
- It is available in dozens of languages ("Changing the current language", 2012); and
- It is easy to use by beginners, and its interface and functionality tend to be reasonably compatible with those of other audio editing applications.
How to download Audacity and save recordings in MP3 format
- Downloading Audacity and an MP3 encoder
To download Audacity, visit the Audacity downloads page, and select the version corresponding to your computer's operating system; versions are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux. On the same downloads page is another recommended download: the "LAME MP3 encoder." This is a free software application that encodes and compresses audio files into the MP3 format: officially known as the Moving Picture Experts Group standard 2, layer 3, and more popularly known among the current generation of students as a main format for digital music distributed over the Internet. Its popularity owes to its highly compressed file sizes, typically around a tenth of the size of the original audio content. Most students would have at least one device that could conveniently play MP3 files, such as their computer, smartphone, and so forth. Because instructors will likely be distributing their audio response files to students over the Internet, such as by e-mail or through a course management system, compressed file sizes will be advantageous both when instructors upload such files and when their students download them. However, the algorithm to save audio files in the MP3 format is patented and so is not included in the open-source Audacity application per sehence, the separate download.
A free, alternative compressed file format is Ogg Vorbis, which, according to Audacity, is comparable in compression size to MP3 but better in quality (Audacity, "File Formats"); it is supported by Audacity, as are other less-compressed formats, and so does not require a separate download. Instructors wishing to experiment with other formats should consult with students beforehand, perhaps inviting suggestions from student audiophiles about their favorite formats (e.g., mp3, Ogg Vorbis, wav).
- Recording and editing an audio response
Instructions on how to record and edit audio files are presented in the Body section of this webtext.
- Saving a recording as an MP3 file
To save a recording in the MP3 format, click on File and then Export as MP3 in the PC Windows version or Export in the Mac version. The first time a file is exported in MP3 format, Audacity will ask the user to locate the MP3 encoder downloaded in step #1 above. Once Audacity has located this file, Audacity will not ask to repeat this task again when exporting future recordings. Finally, to make the audio file much easier to distinguish amongst other similar files, name it using the student's name and assignment name and click on Save.
Users wanting further help with Audacity can find FAQs, documentation, and tutorials on the Audacity Web site.