cafe scene
digital literacy palette
Click the above image or here for the website of Logon Cafe, a music venue open to an online audience. Sound, represented by the green blob of paint, is a significant element of the digital literay palette.


in Teaching and Learning 

A Computers in Education Chapter


We have been technically deaf since childhood to the sounds of a page. Paper cannot speak or sing. However, we are certainly not deaf to the potential of merging audio and text because homo sapien is a very inventive and imaginative species. Everything from choral ensembles to separate electronic technologies have been used in many innovative ways to allow the reading of pages to be accompanied by audio. What is new in the 21st century is that the digital page opens the door to possibilities that a paper page cannot do. Audio can now follow the path of imagery, putting audio right beside or within paragraphs. In fact, if audio volume is up, music should be audible right now. Human culture will increasingly explore and test the new possibilities this brings. This chapter explores many of the options for both voice and music.

Audio is so a part of the teaching, learning and thinking experience that the audio around is perhaps invisible to our conscious mind as teacher or student. Jamendo site cover pageWe may only become conscious of it when it does not occur as expected. This includes online audio communication requiring microphone use or have a student in our classes that is hard of hearing or a very loud sound is playing outside our windows that we cannot control. When participants in a learning experience cannot hear, the problem can become a major one very quickly. Perhaps that problem is occurring right now. Are you hearing the audio of this page? Notice the image in the left of this paragraph and match it with the larger version in the upper left corner of this page. If your computer speakers are on, scroll the upper left frame of this page to reach the audio controls to control that loud sound. If music is not being heard, turn the computer speakers on. This audio on the opening of this page plays endlessly so learn to turn it off before opting to play other audio options in this chapter. For something a little less head banging than the Fallen Upward album, try Pomponette or click the album cover for more options.

screenshot of text wrapped around mp3 player The era of 21st century Web composition has enabled audio to be placed on the same page as text, pictures and video, as well as serve as an independent composition in its own right. (see example in this paragraph) This composition partner or team member is represented as the green blob of paint on the digital literacy palette above. For educators, it is important to examine the various ways that audio recordings and audio compositions are being used in all content areas for: motivating through self-expression; extending career path study; creating and studying unique aspects of that which makes us human; encouraging language development; and expanding instructional variety. Further, the growing gap between the ways students use audio in-school and out of school creates an obligation to look even more deeply at its possibilities.

Since the invention of writing, art and imagery have been mixed with text for thousands of years. time magazine, 2 page spread, heavy graphicsOur vision of what is possible on a paper page in this mixing of image and text is rich and immense, as in the views of Time Magazine text, photos and charts on the right. Though digital audio was made possible in the 1980s on personal computers, widespread use and distribution of music and aural events on a page have had to wait until the invention of the Web page in 1994, and then the invention later of additional supportive technologies to make the integration of audio seamless and automatic to the reader. In fact, the potential for making audio visible and impactful with many aspects of the creation of Web pages is huge. However, in the scope of human history this happened as if yesterday. The vast majority of school students do not possess at their desktop the digital book that makes this possible. New ways to make audio as seamless as the integration of imagery continue to emerge. Audio grows in its frequency of use on the Web but such composition is still not widely known, modeled in classroom teaching, understood or yet taught in public schools. It is time.

How is audio being used in digital activity? How does an audio composition, whether a stand-alone element or mixed with other forms of media, become integrated into Web pages for teaching and learning activities? However long or short in duration, how do audio ideas get turned into a computer file for sharing in digital environments? Why should such work be integrated with the educational competencies defined and required by each state?

Audio Compositions for Education

The digital use of audio has been introduced in a number of ways prior to this chapter. One of those roles has been in Web conferencing, through such examples as the use of Wimba Live Classroom conferencing software. Other similar software includes: Elluminate (3 for free); DimDim (20 for free); WizIQ (50 for free; review); GotoMeeting (30 day trial) and others. Web conferencing software extends direct instruction between in-classroom and out-off classroom participants who may be traveling, sick or have other special needs that prevent their in-room attendance. It is also transforming classroom practice through intentional distance education where remote students attend class exclusively online or are combined in hybrid arrangements with in-class students. Web conferencing enables guest speakers at remote locations to attend and communicate easily for classroom activities or to watch a recording of the event later. It is being used for team meetings of all kinds. The WNC EdNet Consortium in Western North Carolina uses Webconferencing to pull together teacher and student groups of all sizes across multiple school buildings and school districts for collaborative discussions and professional development. It is also being used by state organizations for professional development events, sometimes called Webinars (e.g., play on seminars). To save on budget, some state-wide conferences have been held exclusively online. Such teaming can be extended to daily classroom instruction between two classrooms, greatly reducing the instructional preparation time of team members while enhancing their professional development through witnessing and discussing the instructional style and methods of others.

Audio is used in other chapters for the narration of Powerpoint slides and video compositions. By writing scripts for such activity, the use of audio also can be a reading and writing activity. Such activity improves reading fluency as readers recording their scripts will repeat their work many times in order to have a complete and properly spoken recording. Audio is also a key element of the screen movies and videoclips scattered through the chapters, as the audio carries the oral content that explains the actions needed in order to use a software application.

Audio recording should also be a part of a student's portfolio of academic work. Such projects as classroom presentations and narrated video compositions and their files should be used as an important part of the assessment record for reading and speaking progress and development. These recordings may also be useful as evidence for multidisiciplinary teams making tier one decisions about whether a learner qualifies for special needs referrals including special speech needs.

The Internet and digital systems have also provided many novel and interesting applications for audio. Podcasting is a name that emerged from the widespread popularity of a particular brand of digital audio player, the iPod. Podcasting is the result of a mix of technologies, a player (e.g., iPod or smartphone), a microphone, a computer, an Internet server serving archive or library of audio and audio enhanced files and server-based automated subscription software. This software is also referred to as Web syndication or an RSS feed. Server automated subscription software creates an option whereby a person can subscribe and receive new episodes that will be automatically downloaded to his or her computer when it is on as soon as such files are uploaded to a wide range of Podcast archives. Later, see the podcasts link in the sidebar for items to listen to for this chapter.

Podcasting began with the online publishing and sharing of audio only files, a system of sharing by which an mp3 player was connected to a computer and uploaded or downloaded files. There are wide variety of such devices, sometimes called mp3 players from the type of audio files used on them. There are numerous online "libraries" containing millions of audio files that include music, audiobooks, and other forms of audio based information such as national public radio broadcasts and radio type essays. The idea of Podcasting was later extended beyond audio by players that could also display photographs and video. Though widely used by everyone, schools do not yet require iPods nor make much use of them instructionally, though other fields including government and business use them in numerous ways to get out their ideas and messages.

Audio is also useful for whole class sharing of Internet resources, such as speeches, music, and Some educators teach in classrooms with a computer that does not include some kind of a projection system for the whole class to see the computer screen. Where projections systems can cost thousands of dollars and a single replacement bulb can cost a few hundred dollars, projecting sound is dirt cheap by comparison. If speakers are not attached to the classroom computer, please tell your course instructor so we can loan you a set for your Internship. Content related audio files can easily reach everyone in the class by cranking up the speakers. The same audio and other files that play on iPods can also play through Web browsers on the speakers of the classroom computer for all to hear. Creating such compositions as well as finding instructional relevant audio files opens the door for much instructional creativity by future generations of teachers. Digital audio can make the classroom computer immensely more useful.

Another important category of audio composition enhanced by digital systems is music, a distinctive element of every culture. The same software and hardware that can be used for creating, capturing and storing music can also be used to create Podcasts.

Given the rich variety of audio composition uses already explored, this chapter focuses on the tools for the creation of multi-track audio compositions, that can be music and special effects only or be annotated by the human voice. There are a variety of applications that run on from both hard drives and the Net. Hard drive application examples stretch from the free GarageBand running on Apple computers to similar or related functions of the free cross-platform applications of Audacity and Sony's Acid Express or the commercial applications such as Sony's Acid Music Studio, Roland software, Adobe's Audition, and DigiDesign's ProTools. Web-based applications are also emerging, the most significant of which is Myna from Aviary, which was first made publicly available on September 16, 2009.


Music Creation and Copyright

Song is often an expression of what you are feeling, or the feeling you at least want to express to others. Feelings are an important aspect of what it means to be human. Like mathematics, music can be a universal language readily understood by those outside your culture and your language. Given our increasing need to communicate with others around the world, using music to assist with that goal is not an insignificant option. It's role and incentive for creativity is also widely accepted. Music then is a force that integrated with other ideas, can help us find joy and enthusiasm on one hand, and keep us going through the hard parts of life on the other hand. Too often school is seen by many students as one of those hard parts, a place of minimal feeling if not downright uncaring or rejection. Music is not some magic wand to get attention, but it is one more factor that educators can employ to seek engagement with young people in what is often an especially emotional period of their life.

There are a couple of problem areas for musical use in education. One is noise. The very nature of a large number of people in a building tends to influence teachers and schools to put a damper on noise and music can be very noisy. This is a social decision that a group of educators must make about the importance of personal expression, engagement and music. However, managing the volume of sound is a skill that can be taught and controlled. Headphone sets are inexpensive for small groups. Finding the time and place for that noise is a management decision that is solveable.

Another issue emerges when educators wants to move beyond playing or singing someone else's music and seek to compose with it in integrated works like a play that is shared with a wider audience or in a Powerpoint presentation that will be made available from a class Web site. There are numerous legal ways to play a wide range of music legally in classrooms, including radios, CDs and Web sites but the clear way to avoid copyright issues is to create it. This can seem overwhelming as music composition can be taken to great depths. However, certain software applications are available that can provide various degrees of depth to the music creation process. One best of class application will be explored in the next section that can provide a created work that sounds fabulous and can be done in minutes, yet an application that provides options to explore music creation at almost any depth.

Software applicatios such as Apple Computer's GarageBand, the Myna Audio Editor and Sony's Acid Express enable composers to create tracks (layers of sound) using prerecorded sound clips of musical phrases called loops. Loops are short musical ideas. They could be thought of as the shortest recognizable musical ideas, the words of musical phrases. Software audio editors can provide quick ways to copy and sequence loops to build up the phrases and layers of a song. New tracks can also contain real instruments (which includes the human voice) that are recorded by microphone. New tracks can also contain layers (tracks) of sounds storied in various categories that cover a huge variety of music loops. Additional sets of sound loops can be purchased in addition to whatever comes free with the application. Software editors can also make it easy to create these loops, loops which can be added to the library of loops available for composition. Loops are an important and central concept to musical composition, though other terms for them are more common in musical circles such as riffs and motives.

Audio Idea to Computer File

Creating an audio file that can be used in multiple ways can be fairly simple, even though it can at first seem somewhat daunting the first time.

Music Composition 101 - GarageBand

two garageband tracksIn audio editing software, a track is general a single instrument or voice, which is a timeline of sound. Two tracks are showing in the picture on the left. The tracks contain the loops. The loops are shown as waveforms indicating the volume of a sound so that it is easy to see where an individual sound or break in sound starts and ends. Moving loops from the loop library to the track is a drag and drop operation. The tracks of this image were part of the editing window of the sound file below.

Click the play triangle in the controller bar on the left to hear 14 seconds of this five track composition. To introduce the idea of multitrack composition, a particularly sophisticated and elegant tool will be used and studied that is best in its class, a Mac only application called GarageBand. The image and sound file come from GarageBand. GarageBand also has the singular distinction of being shipped free, not requiring an additional purchase. Free or not, none of GarageBand's competitors match its combined sense of motivating fun, powerful but simple features that fit well with classrooms needs and opportunities, and large quantity of free sound loops and elements with which to create a wide range of instructional uses for professional educators and for students.

The simplest and fastest way to compose music for free that generally eliminates copyright issues is to use one of its composition options, Magic GarageBand. Within just a couple of minutes, decisions are made about the musical instruments of a five piece band and a genre of music, then a song is created by the computer using those choices. Once rendered by the computer, the song can be played independently or exported as a file to be used within other compositions. But what is created is begging to be edited with further creativity. Listen and see an example in which some very simple editing is done to the basic Magic GarageBand creation. (Some may need the Internet Explorer's version of this page).

For a more direct hands-on experience, follow the link in the green Evoke section of the left sidebar to "Create a musical composition using GarageBand".


Multimedia Compositions: Poetry with Music and Sound

Poetry is a wonderful structure against which to compose with reading, special effects and music for student projects. The Fair Use provision of U.S. copyright law does provide an option for student created work to use small portions of copyrighted work, but this provision does not allow this work to then be shared over the public Internet. It would have to be behind a password and shared by a limited audience.

There are ways to find work created by others for multimedia type projects that avoid copyright issues. Student and teacher created poetry of course avoids any issues of copyright. Also, using poetry that is older than 75 years and thereby past copyright protection, can be found. Three web searchable sites provided the full texts of poetry (and other) work no longer under copyright:

Each of the collections at these sites can be searched for poetry or children's poetry to use in such projects.

Music to go with that poetry might come from using GarageBand and other such recording applications as previously discussed. Periodically, there are also sites which emerge that collect music files for which downloading is encouraged by the bands themselves. For example, "Jamendo artists allow anyone to download and share their music. It's free, legal and unlimited".

Prior chapters have included links to the guidelines for the use of multimedia in student and teacher created compositions.

Classroom Recording Studios

Audio composition and recording applications like GarageBand can also be great tools that can serve as a foundation for creating an audio recording studio. audio mixer boardJust as GarageBand has a separate track for each instrument or voice, so a recording studio has different microphones going to a mixer board that balances volume and other aspects of a sound. The graphic on the right is an example of a 3 input mixer board. The output of the mix from the microphone inputs can be wired into the computer and mixed with the other tracks within GarageBand. A recording studio requires a special space that might be at the school or in a student's home. This is a space which is designed to minimize or eliminate sounds from outside the recording space. WCU recording studio It does not have to be large, just sufficient room for the performers or announcer to sit or stand to do their recording.

Visiting a radio station or professional recording studio, whether at nearby commercial facility, college or university campus, makes an interesting field trip that can also introduce students to the career path of audio engineer and more. recording studio group, croppedThese professional level studios have high-end mixing consoles. WCU's recording studio (shown in picture on the left) includes an SSL C200 by Solid State Logic with 96 inputs. Another view of the mixer board is to the right of Dr. Bruce Frazier, the studio's director. Frazier-ssl-c200The recording studio include the SSL C200, smaller MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) production rooms for composing and editing music, separate rooms for specialized instrumental and voice recording and a studio performance hall that can accommodate a small orchestra (click for larger uncropped view).

In 1923-1924, Haaren High School in New York City was "the first public school to offer instruction by radio" (Wofford, 1938, p. 308^) having used a radio studio to broadcast accounting lessons to multiple classrooms and involved students in the production of a variety of shows (Wofford, 1938^). Since the introduction of school wide speaker systems into classrooms, schools have created small recording studios for students to record messages to be played on the morning announcements to the entire school as well as broadcast instruction. In the 1960's schools began to record video as well to create a weekly or more frequently shown school news show that is shown over the school's cable TV system (Moody, 2007^). Educators have learned that effective studio integration builds on radio or television skills with a variety of production types, including special classroom projects such as science experiments, story reading, and interviews with community members. Whatever the media, a steady stream of research has shown that in addition to the general knowledge and speaking and listening skills gained by all participants, work with media in addition to traditional text provides an opening for progress with learning and self-esteem for many learners that struggle for a wide variety of reasons.

School Radio Stations

For as long as there has been radio, it has been possible for individuals to set up their own radio transmitters and broadcast their own material, that is their own talk show or their own music. For decades, using public airways was the only way to do so, but the Internet has provided an important alternative for audio broadcasts that is much easier for a number of technical and legal reasons. Their are options that classrooms and schools can reliably and legally take using either approach, the public airways or the Internet. In either approach the same multitrack software enables the radio station operator to compose commercials, talk shows and music in addition to finding and selecting from audio works created by others.

The non-profit Web site called Children and Radio promotes the use of radio by children and adolescents through research, resources, examples and the promotion of partnerships with local radio stations.

The Public Airways

It is important to note that radio must be broadcast on a particular frequency. Radio channels can't be shared within certain distances from a transmitter without interference. As the popularity of radio broadcasts grew after it was invented, it became necessary to license such radio frequencies so that owners and investors could count on their investment being heard without interference from other transmitters. The first U.S. legislation created to deal with this was the Act to Regulate Radio Communication that became law in 1912. All countries have created some equivelant to the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) of the U.S.A. that currently oversees the use of the broadcast airways.

Students and classrooms find out about transmitters in a variety of ways. Sometimes the transmitter is part of a science project about radio transmitting that only broadcasts for a very short distance in ways that do not interfere with the neighbors' TV or radio reception, an approach that does not create legal problems. Some students have discovered that they can hook up their iPod to such transmitters and broadcast music and their own talk shows to unused channels on radio stations throughout the house and beyond. There are legal commercial systems sold precisely for this broadcast purpose for homes and cars. However, students may also discover a variety of options on their own via some Web page that enables the transmitter to reach distances that can require supervision, e.g., legal with caveats or technically possible but illegal. It is important that they are are aware of the legal requirements for transmitters using public airways and the legal penalties. Such penalties vary by state but generally include thousands of dollars in fines and months or years in jail. Often student encounter with the illegal side comes from titillating references to pirate radio or free radio without any explanation of the legal dangers that this includes.

Legal problems do not just come from interfering radio transmitters. The concept of intellectual property means that creators can make or invent something new, whether music or a machine, and then can control rights to share and sell their work. Broadcasting someone else's music or audio composition without permission is also illegal, whether done over radio airways or the Internet. Fortunately, digital systems make it easy to share one's own audio compositions and replay digital work which authors have put in the public domain, meaning it is free to use.

Internet Radio

There are thousands of radio stations using the public airways that transmit the same radio show over their radio towers as they do over the Internet. There are many more that are totally Internet based, that is they do not use a radio transmitter. For every subject and topic that we teach there are numerous presenters who've already recorded to the Web their audio and sometimes video on a topic that an be played in class. Further, guest speakers that can be invited to join a class discussion that is recorded for later radio rebroadcast. Creating such an opportunity is easier than one might think.

A Web search for Internet radio station directories will yield a enormous range of options for listening. Purists might argue that since nothing is radiating from a transmitter through the air, they should be called Internet audio stations, streaming talk show or music channels, but not Internet radio stations.

Whatever the name, once legal issues of intellectual property have been properly addressed, Internet "broadcasting" can be done by having your own Web server software for sending continuous audio or by using someone else's Web server that is providing the appropriate server software. This is different than Podcasting. Podcasting may contain the same content, but it is distributed as individual files that must be downloaded one a time and then activated to play. To simulate radio stations, the software must send data continuously without gaps. This Internet process is referred to as streaming audio.

Some radio station applications that run the automation software and Internet streaming software from your own personal computer or server include RadioLogik, StationPlaylist and and DRS 2006. More can be found with Web searches for radio station automation system or streaming audio software. Western Carolina University's radio station, Power 90.5, runs off such software.

Hosted streaming servers are owned and managed by someone else and sell space for applications for use by others. Such hosted systems include: ; and

Educational Integration

Beyond the challenge of creating audio compositions and transforming school curriculum to be more media inclusive, there is a bigger picture. Our school populations now more have alliterate than illiterate students, more who just don't want to read than those who cannot or are struggling readers. Enriching the communication channel with enhanced and alternative ways to receive the message and well as teaching students ways to share their own ideas is an important part of engaging the learner and learning to share in their world.

As literacy is the capacity create and understand what goes on a page, Web page composition has become a central feature of 21st century literacy. A Web site can be thought of as a kind of Web based mixing platform in which different media play the role of different tracks of a song, all media needing to be united in the harmony of a single composition's ideas and thought. Audio will be an increasingly key player in the media rich future of 21st century composition.

An album selected from this site began playing in the upper left corner of this page which the chapter opened. Hopefully by the time you've read this far, you've scrolled the upper left corner and learned to use the player controls to stop, start, rewind, set volume and more. That's just one of the many examples of audio integration that have been suggested. Speech, music and sound effects that range from machines, to a thunderstorms, to song of birds can all be a part of an author's scene. The choices are as rich as one's imagination.


Moody, K. (2007). The First TV Studio in an Elementary School. Center for Media Literacy.Retrieved April 8, 2009 from

Wofford, K.V. (1938). Modern Education In The Small Rural School. New York: Macmillan. Retrieved April 8, 2009 from

Exemplary Lesson Plans

Audio Broadcasts and Podcasts: Oral Storytelling and Dramatization, using The War of the Worlds, grades 9-12.

Learning Through Listening, large collection of lesson plans for grades K-12. Many of the items listened to are items that students could also record and publish as Web files.

Audio Activities for Lesson Plans

National Public Radio activities and online resources, grades 3-12.

A Christmas Carol, producing scripts for elementary students, grades 7-12.

Around the world in multimedia, a collection of more than 2,000 high-resolution photographs and audio recordings from Asia and Latin America.

Harmonius Math in Mathematics Illuminated looks at how Fourier analysis is used in creating electronic music.

Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane, for middle and high school teachers, learn about the healing power of music -- how music can transcend tragedy and help individuals overcome the force of racism.

Lesson plan template - Copy these headings when preparing to create your own lesson that integrates audio composition.

Parent chapter - Version 1.0, 2006. Version 2.07 Updated September 29, 2010 Page author: Houghton