Audio Notetaker for Advanced Level English
Alison Smith, Ulverston Victoria High School, Cumbria
Alison explores the use of Audio Notetaker to help A Level students who have missed lessons or wish to revise topics. In her wider role as a professional mentor she also discovered that the software has considerable potential in helping trainee teachers reflect on their practice and develop a more effective approach to teaching and learning.
Ulverston Victoria High School is an 11-18 mixed comprehensive school in Cumbria with 1173 on roll, of whom 293 are in the Sixth Form. Of those, 80 study English Language, English Literature, or both.
The primary aim of the project is to consider different ways in which Audio Notetaker can be used to develop and extend student engagement and progress at A Level. As Key Stage 5 Development Coordinator for English, any ideas which come from this project can then be disseminated to the rest of the English Department to support learning at other key stages.
The two classes involved in this case study are Year 13 classes with upcoming module examinations. One class has completed the taught part of their course, whilst the other has several more weeks of teaching to complete. The intention of this project is to develop resources to support students’ learning in the run-up to the examinations. With many students missing lessons due to university open days and interviews, Audio Notetaker seemed to offer a practical solution for those students who had missed key learning points. In addition, it offered opportunities to extend the learning beyond the classroom.
Method and description – (a) Lesson recording
The initial part of the project simply involved making an Audio Notetaker recording of each of the remaining lessons for the taught group. Since all of the lessons are taught via PowerPoint slides with additional teacher input, Audio Notetaker’s presentation capture facility could be used. The software was installed on my school laptop and the audio was captured with a simple USB audio recorder.
One of the best things about Audio Notetaker’s presentation capture facility is that it will capture the audio and match it to the relevant PowerPoint slide with two simple clicks within the programme. The Audio Notetaker software runs in the background and captures the audio during the presentation before importing both into the .ran file.
At the end of the lesson, one more click creates the file which combines the PowerPoint with the audio as well as leaving an additional space for questions or comments as required.
Whilst this is an accurate representation of the lesson that took place, value can be added to the recording by using the central notes column to guide students in their use of the recording. This is particularly useful for revision purposes as it can be used to support deeper thought and engagement.
In the cases of the lesson recordings, no editing was done. This was a deliberate choice – any extraneous material was well embedded within the sections of relevant talk and part of the purpose of the recordings was that they would be made available as soon after the lesson as possible.
The next decision to be made was how to share the recordings with students. We have a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) but absent students would not automatically check that for new material. Since we have a fibre broadband connection and all students have a school email address which is accessible to all staff, I decided that emailing the resource to them would be an effective method since the relatively large file size would not pose a problem. Another possible solution would be to share the files in either a shared Dropbox folder, or via a public link to the file in Dropbox – both of which are methods of file sharing that these students are becoming used to.
The response from the first student to receive a missed lesson in this manner was extremely positive: “I downloaded the free trial version of Audio Notetaker and the file works perfectly – it’s brilliant, such a clever idea! Think I might have to get the full version” Subsequently, she revealed that she had exported the file to iTunes and had been listening to the lesson as she walked her dog – which led nicely into the next phase of the project.
The major issue with this that students do not have the Audio Notetaker software and therefore cannot easily open the .ran files. For some students, the error message saying that Windows does not know what to do with a .ran file was considered an insurmountable obstacle. The solution is to go directly to the Sonocent website and download the Rich Audio Viewer before attempting to open the file.
Although this is actually an easy solution, it is something that some students are simply not motivated enough to overcome independently. If this could be overcome by Sonocent, then the software would be much more user-friendly for teenagers.
(b) Revision materials
Stage 2 of the project was for groups of students to develop their own revision materials based on a particular aspect of their course. For one group, Audio Notetaker was a familiar concept, even if they had not used the software themselves; for the other group, this was the first encounter with the software.
For this phase of the project to be effective, Audio Notetaker needed to be installed on multiple machines in multiple locations in school. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as it might have been. Sonocent provided a multi-user licence key which the technical department attempted to deliver remotely to a classroom. The software can be activated online or by email; unfortunately, the first method was unsuccessful, probably due to the rigour with which the school filters internet activity (this is being investigated and will be fed back to Sonocent). This meant that individual machines had to be registered by email, which was a lengthy and rather unsatisfactory process. Given that any further use of this software relies on it being used on 90+ machines in three rooms, this is not a satisfactory solution.
The consequence of this was that my intention to have each group of students producing a PowerPoint for revision, and using the same method as described above to record audio via headset microphones was impossible – we had just two computers to work with. We did, however, have 4 additional audio recorders. Students were therefore tasked with producing a ten slide PowerPoint presentation on a specific topic, each to contain no more than 5 words, as well as scripted revision notes to record as audio files.
They simply imported the PowerPoint slides to Audio Notetaker and then imported the accompanying audio. Both groups found this exceptionally straightforward – and the tutorial was easy for students to follow if they got stuck:
Due to the way in which they had recorded the audio, they needed to edit the clips. This meant that they spent some time slowing down the recordings, splitting segments and moving segments around. None of this posed them a problem and they were all able to produce useful revision materials within a 50 minute lesson period.
Again, these were emailed to students. They chose for them not to be shared on the VLE as both groups felt that they did not want their materials to be available to other students.
Although not particularly detailed, the materials produced are a useful part of a suite of revision materials and activities, and this is something that I intend to develop with Key Stage 4 classes. A useful extension to this activity would have been to use the colour coding facility to identify key points – in this case, the dates, perhaps. However, we had very little time, and the lack of suitable computer facilities made this problematic.
It will be interesting to see how students feel that this aspect of the case study has developed their learning. Students in previous years have been very pleased with podcasts made using Audacity, and this is an altogether more user-friendly way of producing audio materials.
(c) Teacher training/best practice
As well as having responsibility for Key Stage 5 English, I am also Professional Mentor for Initial Teacher Training. Whilst engaged in the case study, I observed a lesson where the trainee concerned had an extremely didactic approach, talking for much of the lesson, and not letting students engage in meaningful independent work. Whilst he was aware that he talks “quite a lot”, he was not aware of quite how much.
As he often works with PowerPoint, it would have been ideal for him to be able to use Audio Notetaker’s presentation capture facility; however, we were unable to install the software in time. Instead, he simply used an audio recorder to capture the lesson, before we listened to it as part of his continuing professional development (CPD).
As part of that activity, we focussed on three main areas: exposition, instruction and classroom management. We used the colour coding and split the segments to make the structure of the lesson clear, and the notes page was used as a means of communicating key points for consideration.
This file was again emailed to the trainee, and he has been able to listen to the lesson again and identify for himself further areas for development. With permission, he has also recorded a colleague and carried out a similar analysis to understand how he might better structure his lessons. He has been very positive about the outcome – he has a clear visual understanding of how his lesson fits together and has been able to identify those points where he was the cause of misunderstanding and some consequent poorer behaviour. This has been beneficial to him as he continues to plan and deliver lessons, and is something that I will roll out to all trainees as a compulsory part of their placement.
Although the deployment of the software has been problematic, Sonocent have been helpful in attempting to solve the problems – although they admit that they have never had the problems that we have in any other setting! The software is very easy to use, and the integral tutorial is simple to follow. With very little training, students were able to make useable recordings which were a useful part of their course work. Presentation capture was even more useful since it offers the notes pane which takes the files from a simple account of what happened to a learning tool.
It is clear that there are many ways in which the ideas from this case study can be taken further – students have already expressed an interest in using it in their English Language A2 coursework, since it would make analysis of audio files much more straightforward. They would still need to make transcriptions but the ability to slow down and speed up the audio, as well as to add notes and colour coding, will enhance their work in this area.
The ability to record lessons, and create a permanent audio and PowerPoint record combined as a .ran file means that key learning, such as the lessons leading to controlled assessments at GCSE, can be made accessible to students after the event. Simply uploading them to the VLE means that students will be able to refer back to material that they are less confident about, or to lessons that they missed.
Using the audio analysis tools could be used to support students in all Key Stages in developing their speaking and listening skills, as analysing aspects such as non-fluency features would help them to identify their own targets and work on those specific areas. Somewhat surprisingly, a colleague with a generally low tolerance for technology has expressed an interest in using the software with his Year 7 class to develop their group speaking and listening skills.
Overall, the project has been successful. Despite the problems with installation, all of the intended outcomes were achieved and students have responded favourably. For the project to develop further, the software must be more accessible both to install remotely in multiple locations, and for students to access outside school.
To view the appendices and see screenshots please go to the NATE website.