I am starting to use podcasts more and more in my online courses. I still enjoy writing and creating presentations but I am finding that the additional media can really help in fully curating a topic. For example, a written course page on being successful in online learning is pretty boring even with graphics. So I recently added a five minute podcast of a conversation between the Dean, Assistant Dean, and myself on what it takes to be successful in our online courses. My guess is that students will actively listen to a conversation that involves the instructor and school officials. With modern learning management systems, many students will listen on their mobile phones.
With Audacity, an open source free audio editing tool, I was able to record the conversation, edit some of the material, and upload it to the course in less than 20 minutes. Our new Canvas learning platform will actually let you record the whole thing online in real-time if you don’t want to edit the production. But I still like doing a little editing and using Audacity makes it easy.
Creating the podcast involved:
- Recording the conversation.
- Removing some background noise.
- Removing some unwanted content.
- Exporting the file and uploading it to the course.
You can download a free copy of Audacity for Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux as well as other operating systems by going to http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. The software is packed with incredible features. It is the type of application where you can start off easy and grow with it as your audio work becomes more sophisticated. Here I will take you through the steps I used to quickly create a simple podcast.
Recording the conversation
After you open Audacity you can either import an existing audio file or do direct recording. The application should recognize microphones you have installed including built-in mics on webcams. You may need to select the one you wish to use if you have more than one installed. Otherwise you just click the record button and start speaking.
Using a directional microphone and positioning it close to the speaking source will improve the quality. Try to minimize background noise by using a quiet location. In our case we used no scripts. I moderated and interviewed the Deans but otherwise we kept it loose and natural. The one advice I gave the participants was that if they stumbled during the dialog, just pause, take a breath and begin again. My intent was to keep recording and do this in one take. Later I edited out the content we didn’t need.
Removing some background noise
Unless you are recording in a studio, you will have some level of ambient noise. This is not always bad and if it doesn’t distract from the message then I usually leave it in since I generally want to get the message out to students just-in-time. But there are situations when it is a distraction and must be removed.
The recording will display as a wave pattern in the work area of Audacity. The wave pattern includes both the audio you need and the noise you don’t want. Audacity has powerful features that captures the noise pattern and then removes it from the audio.
First you need to find a section in the pattern that is just noise. Use the Zoom icon to spread the pattern and look for a low flat section where no one is speaking. Once you find a section you believe is noise, highlight it with your cursor and use the play button to confirm that it is just noise.
Next, while the wave section is still highlighted, go to
Click OK to dismiss the Noise Removal dialog box. The profile is now saved in memory ready to be used for the actual removal process.
To remove the noise from the entire wave pattern first click on the pattern to eliminate the previous highlight so that nothing is highlighted. Then go to Effect > Repeat Noise Removal in the menu bar.
Use the play button when the process is complete to see if the quality meets your needs. You can undo the process with Edit > Undo Noise Removal if you are not satisfied and want to start the process over.
Removing some content and exporting
Use the play button to listen to the entire audio track. An indicator will move across the track as you listen to the audio. You can highlight audio that you no longer need and use the Edit > Delete menu to remove it.
If you need to pause during the project you can save the work to an Audacity project file (.aup extension). You can resume your editing work at a later time. The project file is not the same thing as the actual final audio file or podcast. For that you need to export the audio.
Go to File > Export… to create the final podcast for upload.
This will open the Export File dialog box. I usually save my podcasts to MP3 since this is the most common format that works across multiple platforms and devices.
Now you just need to upload to your blog or course. Most browsers and course/blog content management systems use standard players to allow the listener to play the podcast without downloading.
There are a lot of great how-to YouTube videos on using Audacity. You can check them out using this YouTube search link: audacity tutorial. One of the best blogs on podcasting with Audacity can be found at The Audacity to Podcast.