Online Audio - Production
Many experts agree that online audio presentations should be separated into short clips. For example, Evelyn Beck, an instructor in the English Department of Piedmont Technical College wrote in a May/June 2002 article titled Streaming Audio Lectures "Most experts recommend that you limit each lecture to about 10 minutes, since on-line learning often happens in small chunks of time. That ability to stop and start, says Grover Furr, who teaches English at Montclair State University, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, is a real appeal of the medium. Quoting an article he has written on the topic, Furr says, 'Students can pause, back up, and replay the lectures, or parts of them, as many times as they wish so that can make notes, answer the telephone, make a cup of coffee, and so on. With more time to assimilate the lecture material, they can also think more critically about it.'"
Audio recording can be readily be done on a digital recorder or directly into a PC or Mac with an external microphone and audio capture software. There are several sources of voice recording software. Express Dictate from NCH Swift Sound allows dictation to be recorded and then transmitted over the Web or by email. NCH's RecordPad Sound Recorder and WavePad Sound Editor are audio recording and editing programs for Windows. QuickVoice from nFinity Inc. gives Macintosh computers voice recording capabilities including: a digital voice recorder. For speech recording, a microphone such as the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone is an option. Also see Selecting Microphones for Desktop Narrations by Les Howles.
GalleryCast, a worldwide guide for museum, exhibit, and art gallery podcasts contains a website page that explains how to make a podcast and depicts software and equipment necessary to create a podcast.
A typical audio file of MP3 high quality sound uses 1MB per stereo minute according to Matt Ottewill of planetoftunes.com. Other sources indicate use about 1MB to 1.5MB of disc space for each minute of sound. A conversational speaking rate approximates 2.5 words per second. 
Audio files previously recorded by Acoustiguide, Antenna Audio, Q Media Productions and other audio interpretation providers can be further used provide an online educational experience. Q Media provides workshops to help museums produce quality audio and video projects. Their web page describing their Putting It Together workshop provides a useful overview of the components in providing a successful program. Another Q Media page contains online examples of interpretative audio segments produced for Flint Institute of Art.
Antenna Audio's web page named Web Solutions contains a section covering Audio for the Internet which describes how that firm helps museums place clips from audio tours online and resultant benefits to museums.
In March 2005 TFAO asked audio interpretation providers Acoustiguide, Antenna Audio and Q Media Productions questions relating to online audio. Click here for responses.
As an extension of online audio, podcasting allows audio shows to be conveniently sent to listeners' computers -- and portable MP3 players such as iPods -- for later listening. A podcast can be prepared for a museum exhibit and replayed in the exhibition gallery. In essence, a museum can have a nearly free Internet-based "radio station."
Cell phone tours
Cell phone tours are another way for museum visitors to use modern technology to enrich their experience. As of July, 2007 TFAO knows of three companies -- Guide by Cell, Museum411 and Spatial Adventures -- which offer to museums cell phone services. Museums can offer the cell phone tour for free to visitors with related costs covered coming from the museum's operating budget or from a corporate sponsor or benefactor. Visitor handouts or wall identifier signs can be used to alert visitors to the availability of the cell phone tour. (left: Apple iPhone, courtesy Apple Computer)
Service providers allow a museum to download all recorded audio content to the museum's computer, and then turn a cell phone tour into a podcast.
Since as of 2007 cell phones are more ubiquitous that MP3 players they should be given consideration as an alternate to, or in combination with, podcasts.
Caution: Some museums have "dead space" in their galleries where there is poor cell phone reception. This problem can sometimes be fixed by specialized equipment (repeaters) that strengthens cell phone tower signal strength. A separate repeater is needed for each wireless carrier such as Verizon and AT&T. The cost of installing this equipment may prove to not provide sufficient benefit to warrant the expense of installation.
Podcast vs. cell phone tours
Podcasts make sense for reaching tech-savvy younger visitors since computer downloads are not of interest for many older people. In addition, players are more widely used by younger people.
Cell phone tours use a consumer product that is much more widely used than iPods or other MP3 players. On the other hand, there is the issue of cell phone users having personal concern for using "anytime" minutes on week days. Paying for minutes used on the part of visitors is usually of no concern on weekends and for wealthier visitors.
Example: Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
From September 7 through November 12, 2007 Visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA,) may enjoy a private audio tour of the exhibition Karen Kilimnik via their cell phones. MOCA is the first museum in Miami-Dade County to introduce new technology provided by the San Francisco-based company Guide by Cell. Featuring easy-to-follow prompts and informative commentary, the tour is available by calling 1.786.735.1945. The only cost to users is the cost of the minutes that they incur when making a cell phone call. Users can call in from any location.
The cell phone audio tour of Karen Kilimnik features 12 stops narrated by 11 commentators who include film director John Waters, the exhibition's curator Ingrid Schaffner of Philadelphia's Institute for Contemporary Art, and artist Jim Hodges. An introduction by MOCA's Executive Director Bonnie Clearwater welcomes visitors to the tour. The commentators focus on specific works and discuss Kilimnik's influences from art history and pop culture. Each of the stops on the tour ranges in length from one to two minutes.
The exhibition is Kilimnik's first American survey. One of the most intriguing artists of our time, Kilimnik, who was born in Philadelphia in 1957, draws upon imagery from popular consumer culture, historical events and literature to create a new romanticism that is at once seductive and unnerving. The critically acclaimed survey incorporates her rich body of work from the 1980s to the present with over 90 paintings, drawings, photographs, assemblage, and installations. The exhibition is organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and curated by Ingrid Schaffner, ICA Senior Curator.
Other examples of museum cell phone tours include:
1. In 2004 Dr. Mathew Mitchell, Department of Learning and Instruction, School of Education at the University of San Francisco provided to TFAO valuable insights into preparing effective audio recordings:
3. Some web hosting firms do not charge an extra fee for streaming audio as long as the server is not stressed by the extra traffic. Ask your hosting service if they will cooperate in a test to see if the traffic from a streaming audio link will be acceptable to them.
Go back to Online Educational Programming for Institutions
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