13 April 2013

The myth of "no training required".

I was just watching a "slidecast" by Martin Weller, through the H817 MOOC.  I stopped.  Why? Because any time my computer did something else, I jumped out of my skin.  There was a reason for this: the volume on the recording was so low that I could only hear it with a pair of headphones on and the volume turned up to 11, and any beep, bloop or bing that my computer made was deafening.

As a side effect of having such low volume, there was a lot of hiss.

My laughter was pretty ironic when at around 3:30 he claimed that this sort of thing needed "minimal tech skill" and suggested that you don't need training.  This is one of the pervasive myths of the internet age: "intuitive", "natural and easy, "no training required"; no matter how you word it, it's not true.

Recording volume is a perfect example of this.

I was asked by the university to lend my voice to a language course they were recording.  I brought along my field recorder, because I had a feeling the person doing the recording wouldn't have been adequately trained.  She wasn't -- not her fault, but she wasn't.  And she didn't know how to set the recording levels, so I ended up recording the session on my own equipment.  And all because the university didn't set a big enough budget for the recording... "no training required", right?  But our university has a department dedicated to that sort of thing, and you'll often see students in the corridors and the car parks with video cameras and boom mics.  But anyone who's been in a university knows that effective interdepartmental knowledge sharing is something of a pipe-dream....

A year or two ago, I was watching an Al Jazeera programme online, Living the Language: Canada: The Ktunaxa.  The Ktunaxa people were using technology to record their language and produce software to help teach it to others.  The pictures show them using an expensive-looking, high-quality microphone, but the output is pretty poor.  The following pictures demonstrate why.

First up, here's a picture taken by the film crew during an on-site recording of an elder speaking:

What you are looking at, if you've never seen the inside of an audio editor before, is a very, very, very quiet recording.  Now have a look at this:


This is the woman's post-recording editing process.  Here she has taken a very, very, very quiet recording and boosted the volume by about 5 times.

Unfortunately, when you record very, very, very quietly, you don't capture much information.  The software cannot just magically pull that information out of the ether, so instead it takes a best guess, which results in a muddy, unnatural output.

Because nobody taught her how to set her levels.

And that need for education is well known.  It has been observed time and time again that an untrained user will more often than not set the volume far too low.  They know that you can "max out" a recording (red lights flash!!!) but they don't appreciate the problems of poor quality that occur when the volume is set too low.

We know this -- anyone with the slightest background in audio engineering will tell you.  And yet the "learning technologists" tell you that you don't need to be trained.

Well I'm sorry, but you do.  And that includes you, Martin Weller.

1 comment:

Mariana Funes said...

I really enjoyed your post and you are sooooo right!
In our desire to extend the user base of what we love we minimise the huge amount of tacit knowledge we bring to each occasion we create any type of online event or content.