Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Podcast on a Budget Part II

About a year ago, my friend Ben Dickson and I launched The BeerEDU Podcast.  We didn't know whether it was going to something that was going to take off,  if anybody was going to listen, or frankly, if we were going to enjoy doing the show.  Fast forward to now and our show has far exceeded our expectations!  While not on the same level as Serial or The Joe Rogan Podcast in terms of listenership, we feel that we reach a decent-sized audience and we have a lot of fun recording it and meeting people from all over the nation (and even the world, we have had guests from Canada) and listening to their stories and passions. 

When we first began recording, our setup was simple: we used a laptop (sometimes my Windows PC, sometimes my Chromebook), a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, and Soundtrap.  In fact, not long after our show went live, I published a blog post titled Podcast on a Budget to highlight the tools that we were using to produce our show.  Some things have changed since those early episodes, such as the length of the show, we have incorporated guests to join the conversation, and have implemented some more advanced tools into the mix to improve our show.  Let's take a look at some of the tools that we use that may cost a little more money but are still feasible for those looking to podcast on a budget.  

Before, it did not matter what device Ben and I would record from, as Soundtrap was accessible on any device.  However, what we discovered when we tried to record remotely for the first time was that while live recording when we were miles apart was possible in Soundtrap, it was very hard to get everything in sync and we struggled.  We decided that if we were to record remotely, we had to try a different program.  This is where a program that I had received as a presenter gift from a Google Summit a few years ago came into play:  Camtasia.  

I understand that the creator said it's a soft G,
but I'm not going to argue with the Jedi Master! 
As a thank you for presenting at a summit, I was given a license to TechSmith's SnagIt and Camtasia.  SnagIt is a program in which you can take screenshots, record short videos and create GIFs (with a hard G 😛😀😁).  Camtasia is a video creation program that is similar to iMovie, but accessible on PCs and, in my opinion, more robust and easier to use.  SnagIt is something that I used on a regular basis when creating content for my classes, presentations for conferences, and much more.  However, Camtasia was something that I only had dabbled with a few times, creating a few short videos for class.  I was more familiar with WeVideo, but when looking at that, I didn't see how I would be able to record remotely with Ben.  Camtasia looked like a great way to record my screen while Ben and I (and eventually guests) chatted via video.  If any edits needed to be made, Camtasia allowed tons of way to edit the recordings.  After everything was done, I would be able to extract the audio from the video and save it to upload into Anchor, the program we decided to use to publish the podcast.

Since that day that Soundtrap "failed" us (Soundtrap is a great program, it simply wasn't right for what we were trying to do; the music for our podcast was created in Soundtrap and it's great for a lot of other things), Google Hangouts and Camtasia have been our method of recording madness.  Ben and I and our guest will arrange our time to meet, join the Hangout link and I record the session through Camtasia, making any edits and adding in our music before exporting the audio.  When we were using Soundtrap, it was a free program, and my license of Camtasia was also free, but I was given the license.  If you want to buy Camtasia, it is $249 for a license, plus an extra $49 to guarantee the next release.  However, an educator can buy it for $169 plus $42.25 for the next release.  You aren't required to buy the release, but it is nice when TechSmith releases new updates.    While the price may seem a bit steep, I cannot say enough good things about the things you can do with Camtasia and the ease of use.  While I don't record a lot of videos, it does a fantastic job of video creation (I created my Google Certified Trainer video in Camtasia).

The Blue Yeti in midnight blue
I have also since upgraded my microphone for recording.  When we began the podcast, I would use a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, a very good and very affordable microphone that did the job very well.  But as great as recordings sounded through the Snowball, I kept hearing from numerous individuals that Blue's Yeti microphone was even better.  So I invested!  And I was not disappointed! The Yeti has four different recording settings:

  1. Stereo: records sounds from the front and the sides
  2. Cardioid: records sounds from the front of the microphone only (this is the setting that I use when recording on my own)
  3. Omnidirectional: records sounds from all directions (great for recording with multiple people around a table)
  4. Bidirectional: records sounds from the front and the back of the microphone (great for one-on-one speaking with another person sitting across from you)
In addition to the various settings (the Snowball only offers stereo recording), there are many other features of the Yeti.  It has a headphone jack so you can hear yourself when you speak and you can run the computer's sound through your headphones as well (great when recording via video chat!).  The gain knob allows you to sit further away from the mic and still have it pick up your voice clearly and record your voice at a higher volume.  There is also a volume knob for the headphones.  But perhaps my favorite feature it the mute button.  This comes in handy if you need to cough, if there is a lot of background noise, or if any other unexpected sounds are present in your recording environment.  You simply press the button and the microphone stops picking up sound.  The microphone is a little bulky, but not so much that you can't take it with you.  Plus, you can remove the mic from the stand if you have a microphone boom. 

If you are a beginning podcaster or you are trying to podcast in your classroom with students, this may be too much of an investment.  There are definitely great products available for recording and editing that are much cheaper.  In fact, especially when recording with students, built-in microphones on Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices will do the trick.  Someday, I would love to have a room dedicated to podcasting in my home with a professional mixing board, microphone, etc., but for now, both The BeerEDU Podcast and The Podcast by Sons of Technology sound good (in my opinion) with the equipment that we have been using.  Someday when Stitcher or NPR calls us to produce our shows, perhaps we will upgrade!  

Podcasting is a great way for you and your students to share your voice and it is becoming easier each day.  Share your recordings to the world!  Exchange ideas with other podcasters on recording!  And expose your students to the wonderful world of podcasting, both as producers and as consumers!  

Until next time...

Jake Miller, the #edugif guy, host of the EduDuctTape Podcast,
host of, and overall cool dude knows what's up...
(Sorry, I had to take one more swipe!)  

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rainbows & Unicorns It Is Not!

Two things: this is exactly my opinion of social media at times
lately and I love! You can find ANYTHING there!
Social media has been a life-changing phenomenon for me as a professional.  Without (mainly) Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, Instagram, I am not sure where I would be at this point in my career.  I have learned so much from so many people, many of whom have become great friends, and have found an outlet of positivity for educators when traditional media, internet trolls, and people in our communities have bashed education and educators for far too long.  However, over the past few weeks, I have begun to notice something: social media has morphed into something else and I do not like the direction that it has taken.  

Internet trolls thrive on anonymity.  By sitting behind a screen, trolls believe they can say whatever they want without consequence, oftentimes things that they would never say to somebody's face.  And many trolls doing only to get a rise out of people, trying to bait people into a conversation so they can continue to humiliate and antagonize people.  I don't engage trolls, and most of the time I block them if I see them, even when I am not their intended target (come to think of it, I can't think of a time in recent memory where I was the target of a troll, thankfully).  I also do not engage online in political, religious, or debate on current events, even with those that I know because it is not worth the hassle when (not if) it turns ugly.  I would rather focus my energies on the positives and scroll onward in my feed.  

While my Twitter account is normally a positive place, as my list of those I follow is all educators save for about 10 sports teams and a comedy podcast that I listen to, lately, my feed has not been immune to troll-like behavior and belittlement by others.  What I have noticed in recent months is that civil discussion about topics in education is becoming more of a virtual shouting match, or even a group of people "ganging up" on somebody when they express an opinion.  For example's sake, let's say that somebody tweets an idea about taking steps to reduce homework in their classes this year.  Rather than encouraging the person, sharing ideas on how to do so, etc., individuals will often attack the person, pointing out that reducing homework is not enough, that anything but zero homework is unacceptable.  Now, instead of motivated by their goal of reducing homework, now this person feels deflated because of the vicious attacks by the social media saviors of education and humanity. 

Another thing I am noticing is the number of accounts that have abandoned sharing ideas and interacting with other educators in favor of trying to post "viral" quotes and stances on various issues, especially what I have always referred to as "chair throwing issues".  These are the ones that are controversial and if you watch long enough, eventually, the debate will become so heated that somebody will throw a chair (in our political climate, gun control is definitely one of those, and right to life versus pro-choice is another that has its moments in the spotlight).  Those behind these accounts will post their position or quote and sit back waiting for the likes and shares.  After a while, somebody will comment with their position, sometimes agreeing, sometimes respectfully disagreeing.  At this point, the original poster jumps in and attacks those that are not 100% behind their tweet.  Homework is another great example of this.  

In one such exchange I saw recently on a post regarding a zero homework policy, an AP teacher commented that they assign some reading homework for their class because there is so much material to cover.  Right away, the author of the post and their following ripped this poor teacher for "destroying these students" self-esteem, family time, etc.  I honestly felt terrible for this teacher that simply shared their thoughts and reasons why they assign reading for homework.  I don't know how much reading this teacher assigned, what subject it was, I just saw this person destroyed by strangers when these strangers easily could have sparked a discussion on how to cover material without having to assign students reading to complete at home.  Instead, many people have an all or nothing mentality, where one must agree with 100% of a thought without question, or they are 100% against them.  And unfortunately, many of those guilty of these attacks, whether blatant or passive-aggressively, are the "educelebrities" of social media, those that have a ton of followers and significant influence through their contributions to education, their expertise, and their opinions. 

And while there has been more negativity lately, it doesn't stop there.  There is also an overabundance of the "perfect" classrooms, lessons, etc.  Very rarely do I see people posting about their struggles with something, it's always the polished and beautiful result.  Pinterest inspired classrooms, sketchnotes that no average person would ever be able to create, and handpicked student projects that make one look better flood the streams.  And while I could be sharing more of my failures and struggles, it's rather discouraging when I see things like this because it's something that the average educator now feels that they need to "live up to", myself included.  I have never done much with sketchnoting because of this, even after hearing multiple people say, "it's whatever you make of it, don't worry about how it looks".  But even then, encouraging people to draw their thinking instead of writing it while displaying borderline Da Vincis to the world isn't a great way to inspire others to try sketchnoting. 

And I have to give Ryan O'Donnell a shout out for this next thought: when replying to a message in which several people have been tagged, if it is something that enriches the conversation and moves it forward, by all means, reply to everybody.  However, too often messages are sent to everybody that pertain to only one in the thread (think email reply all).  This can often lead to a series of notifications that are meaningless to many, as they do not apply to anything regarding the original message. 

I get especially irritated by some of the "Follow Friday" or other random tags of people in messages that eventually result in a lot of "irrelevant to my mission of social media" notifications.  I have turned more and more to muting conversations or even individuals as a result of these types of messages overrunning my feed and notifications.  I wholeheartedly agree that we should follow other educators and that we are better when working and communicating together, but must we announce that to every person that we follow, follows us, or we happen to meet at a conference?  A lot of times, I feel like many of these types of posts are simply ploys to gain likes and followers rather than an authentic method of connecting educators to one another. 

And I don't want to come across as some ungrateful jerk, but there are many reasons why I am not on social media. I'm not on social media to be force-fed opinions masqueraded as fact.  I'm not on social media to be attacked or witness others being attacked, especially if trying to participate in civilized discussion.  I'm not on social media to earn followers, likes, retweets, and saccharine-laced messages of how my mere presence or the presence of others somehow makes the world go round.   I appreciate civil discourse, words of encouragement, and opinions so long as they are supported by fact and presented respectfully. 

There is enough negativity on social media, especially outside of the educators that have embraced social media.  I understand that toxicity is like cancer and can spread quickly and easily, that is why it is important for educators to stay positive in the face of negativity.  But at the same time, positivity needs to be authentic and needs to celebrate the struggles as much as the successes.  I know that many are going to have issues with my thoughts here and I welcome you to disagree, respectfully. 

Until next time...