Gardening is one of our most popular topics within Cooperative Extension. In the spirit of form following function, we set out to capture some short vignettes from an expert gardener and convey the most important elements of these discussions in video, podcast, and caption-enhanced photo slide shows in a simple and easy to access format. We videotaped the interviews, worked on trimming down content and created an attractive and easy-to-use webpage that organizes the resources into appropriate categories. Before I discuss some of the lessons learned and design tips, feel free to look over the site.

Admittedly, it’s on the lower side of the complexity scale, but as mentioned, it’s mainly a collection of short stories that are formatted for online video. A few brief tips:

1. As always, think about your audience. This goes without saying and is built into any ID model. In our case, we imagined our online gardening enthusiasts swimming in an ocean of PDF files and knew they would welcome visual content that highlighted the experience of an expert in her own backyard.

2. Catchy headers, intros and titles are important. Eye tracking research on newsletter usability points out the dire need to capture reader attention in the first two words of titles and headers. A recent Jacob Nielson Alertbox provides other tips.

3. Modularize video content to ensure clips are short and compelling. Most of our video clips are under one minute and speak to a single topic. Although branded with our university logo, the style is conversational and to the point.

4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good when you’re shooting video. Case in point, Kahn Academy…. Bill Gate’s favorite online teacher cobbled together a few hundred dollars worth of video equipment and single-handedly crafted almost 2,000 online video mini courses that are viewed upwards of 70,000 times a day. His 20 million page view count suggests he might be reaching as many “non-credit” students as several large universities.

5. Tools? We used video editing software (Final Cut Pro), Slideshow Pro (for the photos and captions), and a basic video camera with a wireless microphone.

Analytics show these online resources are popular and our low bounce rate (8%) suggests users are being pulled deeper into the site after landing on the home page. Our next step in this project is to build a virtual tour of our expert’s garden and allow users to drill down on key characteristics of the garden (water usage, light, native or non-native) based on a seasonal view.

Filed Under (Audio, Marketing) by Jeff Hino on 03-11-2010

After being on a phone call last week with 11,554 other people, I’ll never think of telephones as POTS –Plain Old Telephones–again.
Our exposure to an innovative way to use telephones arose through an e-learning project called “Mastery of Aging Well” produced in collaboration with AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). In our discussions on how to move this information out to the world—specifically the AARP world—we were informed about a process AARP called TeleTown Hall. Simply put, the technique turns the phone system into a radio talk show, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of people (or more!) with targeted information.
For us, that targeted information was the variety of ways people can “master aging”, and how they can learn more about the topic online and through other available educational materials—and take action in their own lives and in the lives of their aging family members.

On the day of the program, we assembled our team. Our two hosts, Dr. Sharon Johnson from OSU (the author of Mastery of Aging Well) and Allen Douma, M.D. were joined by an AARP moderator, and three off-site screeners. Using a provider (TeleForum by Broadnet) we were able to simultaneously dial up 99,500 Oregon and Utah AARP members using information from an AARP database.

After a brief countdown, the 99,500 phone calls were launched. People who answered were welcomed with a brief pre-recorded invitation to stay on the phone to listen in and participate in the live discussion.

The screener’s job (of which I was one) was to connect to listeners who are calling in with questions for our hosts. Caller information displayed real-time in a web browser page, with their call status indicated. I simply clicked on a waiting caller’s name, welcomed them, and entered brief summary of their question. I could also tag them for follow-up if they just wanted additional information. The hosts/moderator read our screener comments, and chose which callers to connect “live” to the show–I mean phone call.

Of the 99,500 calls placed, 11,544 people joined the call, and another 50,000+ received the pre-recorded message. During the one-hour call, 51 people were screened, and the hosts were able to take 12 questions live.

And it doesn’t end with the phone calls. Three thousand people will receive a follow up letter from AARP including a copy of our Mastery of Aging Well brochure. This technology isn’t cheap: we invested $5,000 of grant money to make it happen for a footprint covering just two states. But for us it was worth it. It gave us a powerful way to have a conversation with our target audience, provide an interactive educational experience, elicit feedback, and market our e-learning materials. Obviously, it could be used for lots more. As TeleForum put it, “All you need to know is what you want to say and the people you want to say it to.”

In our first video blog, EP Blogger Jeff Hino offers some tips for creating ear-friendly podcasts.

Online teaching takes many shapes and isn’t always conventional in form. One of the more compelling online pedagogical approaches is digital storytelling that combines audiovisual elements and focuses on a human interest story. A well-known medium for digital storytelling is the audio slideshow. Audio slideshows have been around for some time and have been used successfully by reporters and online issues of newspapers and journals.

I recently accompanied our department’s photographer on a story that seemed to be a solid fit for an audio slideshow. Our objective was to distill a “day in the life” of a group of laborers, referred to as “Hoedads,” who spend much of their day traversing difficult terrain in remote areas of Oregon in order to plant saplings. The “office” of the typical Oregonian Hoedad is expansive and oftentimes stunning–lending itself to the visual medium. Their work can be characterized as much by the sounds of their singing, banter and tools as it can by their weather-worn faces. We felt the audio slideshow format would help us highlight these compelling images and couple them with audio accompaniment. While a layer of narrative can be  added to provide context, some of most powerful stories are those that utilize the ambient sounds and highlight the most salient moments of the event with an appropriate photo. In the example below, the “Bagging Up” section is an example of story without narration.

Hoedad Audio Slideshow

The Basics

Audio slideshows combine high quality photographs with “on-the-ground” synchronized audio. The typical audio slideshows display photographs for 7  to 15 seconds (shorter or longer when needed) and often include audio narrative and ambient sounds that help the viewer identify locale and the slideshow character’s mood, activity, and circumstances. The rate of pacing and the integration of audiovisual elements draw the viewer’s attention to significant and discrete moments in the narrative. The overall quality of audio slideshows generally hinges on several elements: appropriate photographs, high-quality audio, a compelling and appropriate narrative, and accessibility, and usability of the end product.

This medium can be used to tell various types of stories, but as mentioned, is best suited for human interest stories. Examples of how audio slideshows have been used to tell such stories can be found in many different online versions of newspapers and journals. Some compelling examples come from the New York Times.

New York Times: One in eight million

New York Times: Choosing to Stay, Fighting to Rebuild (Rebuilding in Haiti)

Other current and potential Extension uses of this tool could include:

•    Oral history projects
•    Short autobiographies
•    Brief narratives about a significant location or occurrence
•    Stories of individuals overcoming hardship
•    Interesting and relatively unknown jobs or industries that highlight individuals (i.e. Hoedad story)

Software Used

For slideshow: Soundslides Plus, SoundForge or other audio editing tools
For website: Dreamweaver, Fireworks, CSS, HTML and some Flash

Hardware Used

SLR digital camera, high-end flash card microphone, shotgun microphone with windscreen for long-range audio, computer with sufficient speed to process editing tasks.

Recording audio for E-learning contexts is a straightforward process when you use the right equipment and adhere to some basic steps to optimize your recording environment. When was the last time you heard a poorly recorded E-learning course, podcast or online presentation?

You know of what I speak. Close your eyes and let the hissing, cracking, and muffled notes course through your auditory cortex. It’s unbearable and you long to hear a stereo-balanced, amplitude appropriate MP3 file. Let’s roll up our sleeves and talk shop in this post. I’ll discuss basic techniques for audio recording and highlight some equipment that will help ensure your message is communicated loud (but not too loud) and clear.


1. Microphone

Use the best microphone your budget allows. Microphones come in many different shapes, sizes, and prices. If you are on a more conservative project budget, I suggest that you invest in a USB Plantronics headset with integrated microphone as I’ve generally had good luck with this brand. Using a USB microphone ensures that your recording is transferred to your computer digitally (analog microphones use your sound card and must convert an analog signal to digital—resulting in sound degradation).

Here’s a good “starter” USB microphone from Plantronics that can be purchased for under $40.

If you are willing to spend more than $100 and are looking for a higher-end USB microphone, the Samson C03U USB Condenser Microphone is popular for audio screencast recording.

2. Beware of the Buzz

Buzzing, humming and other audio degradation can be caused by a number of issues, but electrical interference is the most common. Of the different forms of electrical interference, ground loop problems are perhaps the most noticeable and difficult to control. Ground loop is generally due to uneven levels of current being picked up on your power cables.

You will want to be careful to pay attention to nearby TVs, overhead fluorescent lights, and anything else that emits an electrical current when using a microphone. This is just as important when using an external microphone attached to a video camera. Here’s a good example of why you need to be careful around electrical devices like TVs.

3. Ambient Noise Dampening

In many offices or rooms ambient noise is very noticeable. Fans from heaters or computers are not uncommon in many work environments and what sounds like a very faint hum will oftentimes take on a strong and distracting static or hiss when recording using a microphone plugged into your computer.

Do your best to dampen the ambient noise. Your main goal is to block or absorb this noise. There are some creative ways to do this.

If you have a noticeable amount of ambient noise in your environment, surround your microphone with foam and ensure your computer’s fan and other computer peripherals are behind this dampening barrier. Here are some examples of how this might be accomplished.

4. Recording Basics

Make sure that you keep the microphone on your headset right in front of your mouth and don’t change its location once you decide on the best placement. You will notice a very significant change in audio quality if you move your microphone during a recording session.

S et your audio input and output level at about 3/4 of the maximum amplitude so that when you playback the audio using your speakers (test quality via both your speakers and USB device), your system more closely resembles that of the normal end-user. Double and triple check your initial recordings to ensure the audio sounds suitable for your context. Again, don’t forget to listen to your audio using your USB headset and then remove the headset and listen using only speakers. Be a discerning user and ask yourself if the audio is free of hissing, cracking, and other distractions.

5. Software

There are a lot of choices, and in all honesty, this is one of the least important aspects of ending up with high-quality audio. Audacity is a solid freeware option and will be more than sufficient for most. If you have some money to spend, Sony’s Sound Forge is a sophisticated audio editing tool. Soundtrack Pro for the MAC is also very popular. I tend to use these more pricey software options when editing audio files that need buzz or hum reduction or more filters applied. I also enjoy Sound Forge’s ability to open video files and edit the soundtrack of that file using their audio editing tools.

6. Attitude

Before you begin recording your audio, spend some time thinking about what type of tone or personality you want to project when narrating your content. You obviously want to sound energetic and excited about your content area. You also want to make sure that you sound clear and intelligible.

Do your best to record audio files for a module in one sitting. Your voice changes as the day goes on and mornings are usually a difficult time to record for many as their voice is still raspy. Additionally, make sure you have some water nearby and take care of your throat as you log the hours required to complete your audio files.

Do you have some other helpful tips?