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Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Education Toolbox

Curriculum needs advanced audio training

By Pat Sanders

You must know how to do it all. It is a mantra that is sounded throughout journalism and mass communication programs across the country. Student journalists hear those words time and time again.

Educators are constantly reminding their students to be skilled at working with audio, text, video and photography in order to be prepared and to be adept at working in a converged media environment. Students are constantly told that anyone worthy of carrying the news or production mantle must know how to do it all — and it’s true.

However, when one examines the “do it all” model, the areas being most highly stressed are writing and video production skills along with the ability to correctly apply technology. Of course, they all are of extreme importance. Conversely, though, one area is often relegated to the fringes of required skills: audio production.

Unfortunately, audio production is treated like its primary forerunner, radio, when it comes to today’s curriculum. It is the forgotten one. Some universities have pushed radio and audio courses out to the periphery, often leaving audio production as an afterthought or including it if there is extra leeway in the class schedule.

Anyone having worked in the field of radio (such as myself for almost 30 years) audio or high-level video production knows the richness audio adds to any creative production. The argument should be that it remains at the forefront of the mind when working on a project.

It is a well-known fact that audiences will not spend any respectable amount of time looking at or listening to a beautifully produced visual piece that is supplemented with dreadful audio. That alone may warrant the need for a second look at including audio as a mainstay in the curriculum.

Each department teaching radio, television or a converged program should emphasize and support an entry-level audio course and a well-put-together and robust stand-alone advanced audio production course. It will ensure that students are taught to respect the aural side of a production and how to do it properly.

Second, determine what each course should look like. An entry-level course should remain basic, teaching how to gather and produce sound. An upper-level course should include some level of theory and application behind audio production, advanced digital multi-track recording and mixing, signal processing and editing. It could, or should, offer in-depth creative sound production design for all types of media that would include producing audio/sound for the Internet, satellite and over-the-air broadcasting. This would be a benefit to any communications graduate looking to work in an industry or to do freelance work.

The objective of an advanced course should be to provide learners with comprehensive experience in complex digital audio editing techniques and to afford them opportunities to improve their audio production skills.

Last, it would further develop the much-needed critical ear. A suggestion would be a 300- to 400-level, three-credit- hour course. A lab would be additional icing on the proverbial cake. Projects may include:

• Live field interviews

• Voice-over for various projects

• Sports coverage

• Long-form documentaries

• Dramas

When arguing for support for such a course, use free, low-cost and professional-grade tools to teach applied skills. Free software and apps are available in a variety of choices that students (and professionals) can continue to apply while at home. A few examples:

• The iRig recorder app (for iPhone and Android)

• Audacity

• Audio Boom (formerly Audio Boo)

• Garage Band

Mashable lists "13 Free Audio Editors" on its website.

As for professional gear, Adobe Audition or Pro Tools are industry standards. As educators are aware, there is a plethora of other software options that can teach students how to work with audio and are too numerous to list here.

An industry-standard textbook to go along with an advanced audio production course is Stanley R. Alten’s “Audio in Media.” The text keeps the course from being just centered on the particular medium of radio. It is about rigorous, solid audio production.

Finally, to help drive home the point of the importance of audio to learners, assign them to watch their favorite movie, multimedia story or video production with the volume turned down. Afterward, measure how long it took them to lose interest.

Pat Sanders is an assistant professor at the University of North Alabama, where she teaches Radio-Television- Interactive Media and Journalism: Multimedia. Previously she worked as a reporter, anchor news director and bureau chief in the commercial and public radio sectors. She conducts research on radio, digital technology and social media. Contact her at pfsanders@una.edu

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