Podcasting for E-Learning: Audio Editing + Audacity

Previously in this series of E-Learning Curve Blog posts about Podcasting for E-Learning, I discussed downloading and installing the open source audio editor called Audacity. I chose Audacity because it’s free (as in speech), it’s available for Linux/Unix, Mac OS and various Windows operating systems, and most importantly, it’s a very impressive media editing tool.

If you’ve taken the time to install and run the app you should see something similar to Figure 1: this is the Audacity audio editor user interface (UI) in Windows XP.

image Figure 1. The Audacity User Interface

If you’re not familiar with digital media production, this type of UI can seem quite daunting, and even alien. Today, I’m going to begin normalizing this new environment for you.

Now read on…

I’ll begin by taking a step back for a moment: let’s discuss interface metaphors.

An interface metaphor is a set of unifying concepts used by a computer graphical user interface to help users more easily interact with the computer. The interface metaphor treats the monitor of a computer as if it is the user’s desktop, upon which objects such as documents and folders of documents can be placed. A document can be opened into a window, which represents a paper copy of the document placed on the desktop. Since it was first developed at Xerox PARC in 1970, the desktop metaphor has been extended and stretched, so that items not found on a ‘real’ desktop (like a trash can) are now displayed onscreen.

In this context, we can say that pretty much all digital editors have an interface metaphor based on analog tape editing procedures: the waveform (see Figure 2) represents the magnetic tape, and the transport bar (Play, Pause, Stop buttons, and so on) represents an analog tape recorder’s transport controls, for example. Similarly, there are Cut, Splice and digital sound effect features and functionality that replicate these processes in the analog world.


Figure 2. Some Audacity features and functions
[Click to enlarge]

In my view, the most effective way to demonstrate these concepts is through an example. In this YouTube video, Rod Summers demonstrates how to edit a piece of analog magnetic tape.

The Scenario:

The source audio is a short piece of recorded voice-over of the presenter counting from one through ten. He has transposed “six” and “five” in his narration. This demonstration outlines the process for correcting the error.

Here are the steps in the process:

  1. The editor cues up the tape by using a technique called “scrubbing
  2. He marks the In- and Out points for the edit…
  3. And he marks the insertion point for the edit
  4. Next, he makes the edit by physically cutting the tape and splicing the join…
  5. Before inserting the cut piece of tape into it’s new position
  6. Finally, the edited tape is played back to test the verify the edit

Next time: I will look at editing in a digital environment …and don’t worry, this is a much easier undertaking when using a tool like Audacity!