eCoaching Tip 89 A Brave New World: Getting Started with Audio

June 2 2011 (Refreshed lightly June 1 2013)

eCoaching Tip 89 A Brave New World: Getting Started with Audio


This tip had a long incubation period, starting from one of the webinars in February of 2011. That webinar featured a free-ranging conversation about what strategies seem to be working well and not so well in online courses.

The topic of audio came up and many of you indicated that you were ready, at last, to use audio in your courses. Some of you also mentioned that you had heard from your online colleagues who had started using audio and that it was working well for them.

So, this tip focuses on getting started with audio. First of all, nothing is as simple as we would like it to be when we are learning new tools. I got a new smart phone recently and it seems to be smarter than I am, but not as smart as I would like it to be.

When learning a new tool, I find that what works for me is to identify one very specific task or goal and then to focus slavishly on learning the steps in doing that one thing. One of my goals with my new smart phone was to get a cable that would hook my phone up to my car dashboard. I had meant to do this months earlier with my iTouch so I could listen to digital audio books while driving and it was always pushed to the “Soon” list.  I still had a CD player in my car, after all. This time I was determined. It required a number of trips between my car in the parking lot and the AT&T store, but I finally found the right cable.

This tip will have a similar slavish focus. It focuses on just one of the voice tools and suggested instructional uses. You may want to choose one and only one to get started. Once you use audio to do one thing, you will soon develop both the energy and vision to use it in many more ways. By the way, this tip is itself an experiment as I am including an audio file with it, so you can listen or read as you please.

How This Tip is Organized

This tip has two parts. The first part provides an overview of the Wimba Voice Tools that are at your fingertips within Bb 9.1. The second part focuses on the voice recorder, describing the top two places plus one bonus idea on how to use this tool and why you might want to do so.

Overview of Voice Tools available within Blackboard

The set of Voice Tools consists of five tools. As just mentioned, we will focus on the voice recorder in this tip. If you have participated in any of the SLPA faculty webinars, you are already familiar with the live classroom tool that is now called Bb Collaborate. Here is a very brief description of each of these tools.

  • Voice Recorder: a tool that incorporates audio recordings with your course content.  This tool is great for announcements and for wrapping up discussions, and for talking through assignments, or complex images or graphics.
  • Voice Board: a threaded, voice-based discussion board that can also be used for one to one speech or language exercises. The voice board is very useful when working on proposal projects, for cultural experiences, for collaboration, and for providing private feedback to students.
  • Voice Podcaster: a feature that allows for the creation and subscription of podcasts.
  • Voice Presenter: a presentation tool that enables the blending of voice, text and web pages and can be used by the instructor, learners or teams for presentations.
  • Voice Email: an e-mail with standard text, plus a vocal element. This is good for private communications when the phone is not a good choice.
  • Bb Collaborate: a live virtual classroom supporting multi-way audio, video, application sharing, polling, and the display of content.

Using Voice in Announcements and Discussion Wraps

The why we should be using audio in online courses is quite well known. It is a powerful way of communicating. Simply put, audio communicates more of who we are and what we know and how we know it. We know that audio communicates more of our personality, energy and enthusiasm. Just think of how much personality comes through from the journalists reporting from far-flung parts of the world and how much we enjoy hearing interviews of celebrities. In text, some of us tend to rely on exclamation points for excitement and it is easy to overuse them! We haven’t used audio in our courses much before, because it hasn’t been easy before.

So, here are two best ways of starting with audio.

  1. Use audio to create – or supplement – your weekly or semi-weekly announcements. When you create an announcement, a text editor space opens up. One of the options is to use the voice recorder, if you are certified, or simply to use the icon for insert audio file. Remember how important presence is?   Announcements posted once or twice a week are a very easy and effective way for touching base with your students. Online instructors like to use announcements to provide quick reminders on assignments or to link current assignments and readings to what’s happening on CNN or other news or professional sources or to link connections within discussion board postings.  Audio can be easier than writing, as you don’t have to worry about the visual appearance and accuracy of text. Audio can also be a bit more informal; it just feels friendlier and more supportive at times as well.
  2. Use audio for discussion wraps. Remember how important it is to wrap up a weekly discussion? If you have been teaching a class for many terms, you may have a summary template that you like to use. With audio, you can post that summary and then personalize and customize it to your current learners. Audio makes it easier to reference the insights and ideas and connections to core concepts.

What do you do with the voice recorder application to record an announcement? All you need to focus on is the red button to record and then to stop. Here is a snapshot of the Voice Recorder application. **I did almost forget to mention that you do need to have a microphone either in your computer or connected to your computer.  Most computers now have built in microphones and cameras.

By the way, don’t worry about being BBC production perfect. Imagine yourself having coffee with your students and sharing these reminders or ideas, or in front of a small group of students. Your class is a small community and audio helps build connections and feelings.

Using Voice with Complex Images, Graphics, and Processes

Here is one more suggestion for those of you who have already been using audio and might want to go one step further.

A great use of audio according to research summarized by Clark and Colvin (2007) is to use audio for learning of complex ideas or processes, often enhanced with graphics. The research on using audio suggests that using audio to explain complex processes enhances learning more than the use of text with the same images. This is referred to as the modality principle. What does this mean in practice? Let’s imagine a page or a slide with a graphic simulating a complex process of communication, a physical or mechanical or electrical process such as lightning, or working through a complex mathematics or engineering problem. Using audio to walk the students through the process can be more effective than having the student read and process the image concurrently. Does this mean that we should avoid having text to explain complex processes? No, but it does mean we don’t want to have text and audio in the same visual field and synchronous experience. Providing the audio also means that the students can replay the explanation many times. The research suggests that our brain avoids cognitive overload by listening and focusing on the images.

Other Audio Tools

We are fortunate to have many audio tools readily available today.  For example, smart phones and other mobile devices such as iPads and tablets have a Voice Memo application. Audacity is another tool that is well used within higher education and is available at

So if you want to try audio first without using Blackboard, using one of these free tools would be a way to do so. For example, just record a short voice memo, save it to your computer and then use the Insert audio fileoption within the text editor within Bb 9.1. I recorded this tip using the Voice Memo on my iPhone to see how it would work.  After recording the file, I sent it to my laptop as an attachment and it arrived in my mailbox. Then when I sent out this tip in text form, I also sent it as an audio file that you might load on to one of your mobile devices.


As we know, learning takes energy, enthusiasm and focus. An investment in learning how to use and create audio tools can reap great benefits for your students.   At the same time, you will feel great once you use audio to communicate to your students.

If you would like help in learning audio, more information is at the Duquesne Educational Technology/Bb Services. We may want to plan to have another webinar devoted to the use of audio and share experiences and suggestions. Let me know whether this is something that you would like us to do, and if you would like to share your stories.


Blackboard Collaborate. (2013) Give Students and Instructors a Voice. Retrieved June 1 2013 from More info is at  Here is a worksheet that summarizes the audio tools in chart form and suggested instructional uses.

Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R. 2007.e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Mandernach, B. J. (2009). Effect of Instructor-Personalized Multimedia in the Online Classroom. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Retrieved June 1 2013 from this paper lists the six principles on the use of multimedia from the Clark and Mayer book above.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher