My last post‘s experiment with embedding Archive.org‘s audio player failed. Somebody in the forums was kind enough to point me to the help page showing how to get the player to include a playlist, so now I can share — and also share some mild ecstasy at the quality of learning and student blogging in my new (almost-) homework-free classroom.
Using Archive.org for Podcast Files
This is so worth sharing. Those of you geeky long enough to have been burned when once-free hosting services went premium-only (e.g., Ning), belly-up, or whatever, don’t need me to tell you that a free host committed to remaining free — and well-funded enough to honor that commitment — is hugely important. Otherwise, hours, weeks, months, and years of building content can go up in smoke.
So Archive.org seems to be a very fine solution — especially for audio (vids can go on Youtube, Vimeo, Blip, whatever, but audio-only seems strangely less welcome on most sites). Its “about” page lays our that it’s a non-profit with very strong institutional support and a mission to be around forever, so I don’t fear getting burned again.
As I mentioned last post, I prefer to lecture alone by simply recording voice memos on my iPhone when the spirit moves: distracted students don’t distract me, and don’t distract students who want to listen. Students can also listen when the spirit moves them. It’s win-win. So I made a channel on Archive.org, the iPhone Analects, and uploaded all my voice memos to them. They have a nifty batch upload function that makes the job fast and easy. **Warning: Don’t use iTunes’ AAC format, because Archive.org won’t convert them for play in the Audio Player. Using .mp3 worked for me, and iTunes will convert AAC to mp3 with a click. Search help or the menu options and it’s easy to figure out.**
Voice memos can also be a way to differentiate and extend for those who want to go further or deeper. I don’t assign most of what I record; I simply invite those who like the stuff we’re learning to listen to a sincere adult think aloud about the stuff because he likes it too — and doesn’t speak like a textbook, encyclo- or wiki-pedia, but instead like a person with questions, hypotheses, insights, curiosities, emotions, jokes, and wonder about it all. As one student put it in my class, “you’re further down the path than we are, and seem more to be learning with us than teaching us what you’ve finished learning.” That’s a paraphrase, but a faithful one. That kid nailed it. (And I thank the Big Lump* for giving me the best three Chinese history classes this semester that I’ve ever had. We do teach each other by discussing this stuff together. I do see new things they show me that turn on light bulbs left and right. It’s worth the early grave because the extra work makes the present so much finer. See this class blog post for links to some wonderful student blog reflections on our three hours reading original Taoist texts. And note that this writing is done at home, while in class we read together without computers, and discuss it without computers. They use the computers at home to blog about the f2f in class. And the quality of writing this semester is way more insightful than in the past. It’s their only homework. We do all reading in class together. I’m italicizing because dammit, I love this, and so do they. We’re working less and learning more, and more enjoyably at that.)
Embedding the History of China Podcast Player, with Full Playlist First:
–the tricky part: you have to add playlist code to the basic embed code. Archive.org’s audio tips page explains how.
Embedding the Podcast Player with Single Tracks:
Not perfect — it doesn’t include the file name, for example — but they seem to be working on improving it (and again, see the audio tips page to see how to change the code for single tracks).
I’m now encouraging students who feel like they’re stronger talkers than writers to make their own Archive.org accounts and embed their own talks on their class blogs. So far, only one has taken me up on it — a great, smart kid who I love listening to in class, and who does seem to shine more brightly in speech than in script.
And for the social kids who would rather discuss than write or talk solo, I’m looking into Oovoo as a free Skype alternative that records video conferences cross-platform. Our school is 1:1, but doesn’t (yet, I pray daily) mandate a single machine, so this Mac and PC-compatible free download is a Big Lump-send.*
*What’s this “Big Lump”? It’s Ivanhoe’s and Van Norden’s translation of what Zhuangzi calls the Tao, from which all the myriad things — life, the universe, and everything (including us) — emerges, and to which it all reverts. I love the creative freedom of this translation, and how it has fun with Zhuangzi’s ideas by matching them with similarly fun English wordplay.