Enriching forums with audio

A few weeks ago, I set up a Drupal forum for an eighth grade language exchange and invited students from Martinique to create accounts on the system. Over that time, students have posted 58 “getting to know you” comments in French. Already, they have decided to take the next step — incorporating audio and video! It startles me how quickly the teachers have taken this step, which a few years ago would have been considered quite a leap. I realized partway through class that Drupal comments do not accept attachments by default, but thanks to Drupal’s simple modular system, I was able to Google for a solution to this problem, identify the comment_upload module, and install it — all within three minutes’ time in the middle of the lesson! I (heart) Drupal.

attach audio file

Today, I walked into class to teach the students how to record themselves in Garageband, create a snippet of their favorite musical artist, and upload the resulting MP3 to the Drupal forum. To my pleasant surprise, they had already learned the Garageband part in electronic music class! That made my task a lot easier. Unfortunately, their version of Garageband doesn’t export MP3 files, so we had to send the files to iTunes, convert them to MP3, and fiddle with the import settings to keep the files under 1MB. Why the strict file limit? We wanted to make it easier for the students in Martinique to download and listen to the files. It’s also good for our students to learn how to change file sizes when needed. If file uploads are unlimited in size, then they never learn this!

On a technical note, it’s too bad that the Audio and Forum Drupal modules don’t appear to integrate with each other. Audio produces a terrific Flash-based player that handles audio file playback, whereas just linking a MP3 file requires the browser to handle the MP3 file and launch the appropriate audio player. I would like to see these two projects coordinate in the future.

A handful of students were able to record, edit, and post their audio files by the end of the period. Others will likely finish next time. I hope that the students from Martinique will be able to return the favor. We wouldn’t want a situation to develop in which we sent all of the fancy advanced media, and our counterparts there were only able to reply in text. Then again, as the students will be visiting in person, perhaps they could help set up this capability while they are there!

The next time I lead a class of this sort, I will structure the lesson more specifically. First, introduce a conceptual overview of the technical task. Then, ask students to write a short script of the comment they will record. Next, open the laptops to Garageband and record their audio once or twice. Finally, convert to MP3 and post to Drupal.

Audio followed on text quite quickly. Video is rushing up to be the next task! The teacher of this class would already like to record short video snippets and post them. Of course, this is possible in Drupal, although the production time and system requirements become even greater with video than with audio. Luckily, we have MacBooks with integrated video cameras, so we get to eliminate the step of transferring video from a digital camcorder to a computer. That alone makes it much more possible to pull off this project.

13 comments

  1. Jim Heynderickx says:

    Hi, Richard

    Your project sounds like fun.

    So where is Moodle in your plans now?

    Also, thanks for the pic of the snow in Portland!

    Jim H

  2. rkassissieh says:

    We have a tri-part intranet: Moodle for self-contained groups, Drupal for individual publishing to the whole community, and custom scripts for unique data collection tasks. This provides us with a diverse toolkit in which we have a solution for most any need. System functions do overlap to some degree. For example, we had to choose between Moodle and Drupal for the Martinique-Catlin Gabel exchange. If it had been a purely internal forum discussion, we would have gone with Moodle for sure. In the end, I felt that Drupal was more user-friendly for non-CG visitors, and also handing out local Moodle accounts to guests would have allowed them to authenticate against custom scripts, which may have been too much access. Clear as mud?

    Moodle is currently showing 176 courses and 1680 user accounts. Drupal is currently showing 234 nodes and 1300 user accounts. User account numbers are inflated by the fact that I don’t currently delete duplicate accounts when a parent registers more than once.

    – Richard

  3. Bob Irving says:

    Hi Richard. What a cool application of Drupal! I have searched in vain for a way to do this in Moodle — even spent several days trying to install and run Gong, which can supposedly integrate with Moodle.

    Do you have the Drupal group set up as a private one? Just thinking of privacy concerns here.

  4. rkassissieh says:

    Bob,

    You could do this with Moodle, though it will be slightly less user-friendly. See http://www.kassblog.com/ind… for details. To be clear, users still record audio in Garageband.

    I have been trying to get browser-based recording. See http://www.kassblog.com/ind

    Our entire Drupal installation is login-protected ("walled garden approach").

    Richard

  5. Bob Irving says:

    Thanks, Richard. Are you running Moodle 1.9? We haven’t upgraded yet, and I saw something about Speex being broken in 1.8.

    Any suggestions?

  6. Paul Monheimer says:

    Richard,
    Glad you have dabbled in this. Perhaps next year for the oral history project, we just turn mics on and immediately upload the product to drupal for transcription at home? It would save us the audacity step we used this year….

  7. rkassissieh says:

    Bob, we are running Moodle 1.8, but we don’t run Speex. I am still hoping that we will get Speex to work one day. The Drupal forums bit was done with Garageband.

  8. rkassissieh says:

    Paul,

    To be clear, we used Garageband to create a MP3 and then uploaded it to Drupal. So you would still need to use Audacity, Garageband, or some other audio recording application. It is technically possible to use Flash to record audio, but I haven’t yet seen a Drupal plugin that can do this.

    Richard

  9. rkassissieh says:

    Oh, wow. Check this out:

    http://riffly.com
    http://drupal.org/project/r

    I have installed it on insideCatlin Drupal, but it’s not currently working. I’ve filed an issue on the Drupal project page, hoping for some assistance.

    Richard

  10. Bob Irving says:

    If this could work, this would be very close to what I’m looking for!

    Wow indeed!

  11. Bill Fitzgerald says:

    Hello, Richard,

    You’ll probably like the node comment module a bit more for comments — it opens up cck for comments, which in turn opens up the possibilities inherent in the embedded media field modules and the audio field module.

  12. Bob Irving says:

    Just wanted to update my search for a voice app. There is an updated version of Gong called Nanogong, which can be installed as a Moodle module. I tried it in a fresh install of Moodle 1.9. After some back and forth on the Nanogong forum on moodle.org, it’s finally up and running.

    Basically you can speak into a mic within a textbox and save your clip. It can also be played back at various speeds, so if someone new to the language needs to slow it down, they can.

    Exceedingly awesome!

  13. Richard says:

    Bob, that is sweet. I will definitely check this out, since we have been interested in such a feature for a long time. Also check out Riffly, a WordPress/Drupal plugin that does Flash-based audio and video commenting. It’s a relief to know that someone has made progress on a Moodle solution. I’d like to implement both, naturally.

    – Richard