My favorite tools: Record and edit audio with Audacity

audacity_logoAudacity is a great choice when you need to edit audio. It’s free, but it’s also pretty full-featured: it can record audio, import and export different file formats, and edit sounds. You can even use it to change the pitch of a recording without altering the tempo, remove static or hiss, or create sound effects.

Personally, I don’t need most of these features, since I’m not about to mix a masterpiece. So for me Audacity’s greatest feature is its user-friendly interface. I can download a Franklin Roosevelt speech from American Rhetoric’s Online Speech Bank, cut it up with Audacity, and drop it into a teaching presentation. Easy!

You can use Audacity with Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. It’s free, no registration required.

Wax cylinder recordings

Photograph by Scott Dierdorf.
Photograph by Scott Dierdorf.

(Via MetaFilter.) Syracuse University has started digitizing its Belfer collection of cylinder recordings. So far it has 293 online, but they’re hoping to get 6,000 recordings digitized by the end of the year. You can search the recordings by keyword or browse them by subject (e.g., “Elks (Fraternal Order)” and “Foot’s resolution, 1829”), and you can download the recordings as MP3s or WAV files.

My favorite, hands down, is the 1910 anti-daylight savings song “We Don’t Want More Daylight.” My one tiny criticism is that I wish there was a straightforward list of all the recordings.

Also see U.C. Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. (To their great credit, the two institutions are comparing notes to ensure they don’t duplicate their online offerings.)

Dropbox: Sync and share files across multiple desktops


If you work on multiple computers, you probably need a way to get ahold of your files and documents. You could email them to yourself, put them on a USB drive, or use a file server, but it might be easier to use a free service called Dropbox. This service allows you to stick a folder on each of your computers. Whenever you drop a file or document in your Dropbox folder, it’s synced onto every computer where Dropbox is installed.

The cool part is that Dropbox updates whenever you make a change to your documents, so you know you’re working on the latest version. It also allows you to access your files and documents through a Web interface, and it even allows you to recover documents you’ve deleted or changed.

You can also use Dropbox to share files with other users, so it might be a good solution for a collaborative project or to share photos. It works on both Windows and Mac. I learned about Dropbox through Pattern Recognition, whose owner uses the service to set his desktop wallpaper across multiple machines.

Clips, class, and copyrights

Photo by number657.
Photo by number657.

A film class needs film. Duh. Close-analysis of film clips is an important part of teaching sections, and nobody wants to mess with scanning DVD chapters to find the right clip. So most TAs I know make clip reels — DVDs of clips — to show in class.

I was interested to see that the Society for Cinema and Media Studies has issued a statement of best practices for fair use (the doctrine that covers this area of copyright law). As far as clip reels are concerned, SCMS has this to say:

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My favorite tools: Download YouTube videos with KeepVid

YouTube logoI’m always kind of scandalized when presenters connect to the Internet to show YouTube videos. I mean, if they want to risk it, fine, but why take the chance? The Internet connection could cut out, the wifi could fail, the connection could be slow, an embarrassing ad could pop up … I think people have the idea that you can’t download videos from YouTube, but it actually couldn’t be simpler. Just enter the address of the video at KeepVid, press “convert,” and there you go: a file in the format of your choice, ready for you to drop into your presentation.

KeepVid also works for other Flash-based video and music sites. It’s free, no registration required.

My favorite tools: Organize ideas with OmniOutliner

Photo by denn.
Photo by denn.

Ugh, the blank page. Nothing sends me spiraling into procrastination faster. OmniOutliner can’t eliminate my fear, but it does help. It’s a little hard to describe this software, because you can use it in a lot of different ways. Its authors describe it as a tool for “idea organization,” and that’s about right. OmniOutliner makes it really easy to make bulleted lists with as many subsections as you want. You can also drag and drop images, files, and webpages right into the document.

I use it in a few different ways.

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Flowgram: put interactive multimedia presentations on the Web

Flowgram looks like it could be an interesting tool for putting teaching materials or presentations on the Web. It allows you to build presentations using PowerPoint slides, websites, your own images and documents, and your voice or music. Once you’ve built a presentation, you can share it by linking to it, embedding it in your website, or putting it on Facebook or other social networking sites.

It’s free (registration required) and you don’t have to download anything. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work in Firefox, but it did work in Safari. The creator and player interfaces loaded really slowly but were pretty straightforward once they showed up. I wouldn’t use Flowgram to make anything crucial, at least not until it’s more stable and better established, but it could be fun to play with — and perfect for digital storytelling.