Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Art of Noise

As OU students much of our time is spent with our nose in a book, or as is more likely these days, looking at a screen. What about the times when this is not practical - how can you study when you are on a crowded train, stuck in traffic or walking the dog?

The answer is audio.

Everybody has a smart phone or mp3 player of some description, but the problem lies in how to get your study material onto your device. Some materials are already in audio format - my course has various podcasts available online and also on the course DVDs, so these aren’t a problem. Other things need a more creative approach.

The simplest way is to simply record yourself reading out your notes - this is a very useful technique for getting those last few pages of revision notes to stick in the days before an exam. Just use a recording app on your phone and save it as a mp3 file and you’re done.

Module texts are a little more tricky. The first breakthrough for me was using my trusty kindle. I copied the kindle format file across and then went looking for text to speech. This is hidden under the ‘experimental’ menu options, at least on the kindle I have, and once that is enabled, pressing shift and symbol will start and stop the voice. If you want to record this as an mp3 then hooking it to your pc via a 3.5 mm jack lead will allow you to capture the sound and export it out using a program called Audacity.

The best option is using the text to speech functions on your mac or pc. The most reliable way of getting a good recording is to open up the course PDF document, selecting the text that you want and pasting it into a text file. I usually edit it to take out any things like tables of data or long lists of references, and break it down into manageable chunks.

Once you’ve got a ‘clean’ text file, on the PC you need to go to the ‘Ease of Access’ Center and enable the narrator - you probably want to uncheck the box marked ‘Echo User’s Keystrokes’ at this point. Now you should be able to select the text that you want to read and it will start playing.

On the mac it’s even easier - you select all and then click on services, Add to itunes as spoken track. You can pick the voice you want, but I like ‘Alex’. The track will then appear in your itunes library and you can set the properties for it. Click on get info, Options and check the options for skip when shuffling and remember playback position so you don’t lose your place half way through a chapter.

Another thorny topic is whether it is a good idea to listen to music when you are studying.

I find that anything with lyrics is too much of a distraction, so simple, minimalist tunes are best. I’m a big fan of the game ‘Animal Crossing’, so I was delighted to find a chrome plugin to play the music from the game, changing every hour - just google ‘Animal Crossing Chrome plugin’ to find it. You can switch it off and on as you like, and choose between music from different versions of the game as you prefer.

If you just need to block out background distractions, then an ambient noise generator is the way to go. A good one on Mac is called ‘Noizio’ (with a Z). Once it is installed select the sounds that you want and how loud you want them. I like a mix of river stream and sunny day to accompany my studies.

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