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.
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.