Class 6: Practical Sound Effects

November 5, 2008

This was the final ‘taught’ session of the module, and a significant amount of time in this class was given over to discussions about the assessment activities. At this point the students were in the middle of their 2nd practical assignment, and I was introducing their final assessment task.

As a counterbalance I wanted to make the remainder of the class content a little more light-hearted, so we covered practical sound effects and foley effects. The majority of the class was based on the students creating a recording common sound effects (weather, fire, footsteps, etc) using only what they could find around the academy. Students worked in groups and used portable recorders to capture their efforts. The students enjoyed the exercise, and it gave the an insight into sound design, and an understanding of the situations where recorded sound effects are more suitable.

There had been concern in the department that the students were being too reticent in production meetings and similar situations, and there has been an effort to help develop students’ presentation and communication skills. Therefore I have tried to add small elements of presentation to the classes in this module to help develop the students skills and confidence. In this final class the students prepared a presentation of their recorded sounds and described how they were created. These presentations were quite good, and the students, though still quite shy at speaking in front of the whole class, were noticeably more expansive and forthcoming than they had been at the beginning of the module. It seems that these efforts are having a effect on the students’ confidence and I think it is worthwhile continuing to include this type of activity where appropriate in future modules.

The student feedback for this class was very positive overall. The students enjoyed the practical activities, and some noted that the activities had given them a good insight into the role of the sound designer. The students also noted that they appreciated taking the time in class to discuss the assessments, one student noting that this was not common with other lecturers.

It is interesting to consider this class in comparison with the the first of the module. I have seen a real development in the students, both in their understanding of the subject material, but more interestingly in the way they have become relaxed with practical classes and discussions. I think this has created an effective foundation for both the future modules I have with these students, but also the forthcoming production work.

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Class 5: Further Operations and Signal Processors

November 5, 2008

This class was a continuation of the subject from the previous class. We continued to explore the preparation and operation of sound for theatre, and began looking at some more advanced operational topics, specifically using signal processors (effects processors) with the sound system to create effects.

I felt that this class would really need a lot of listening material for the students to grasp the effect that different signal processors create. However, I felt that to have prepared recorded audio material for the students to listen to would not be sufficient, as the students would need to understand the relationship between the parameters and controls of a signal processor, and the effect on the sound. So I decided to create material ‘live’ in the class. We had microphones and recorded ourselves counting and speaking in different ways, then played those recordings through processors live and experimented with the parameters. This approach was fun and engaged the students, and seemed successful in helping the students understand the relationships between parameters and sounds. For this exercise, I had the students teach me some Cantonese words so that I could join in with the speaking, which they enjoyed, and further helped the students become more relaxed with me.

The student feedback was very positive about the activities in the class, and many noted that the practical experimentations really helped them understand the topics. Most of the negative feedback was requests for more information and to go more in-depth into signal processors. I felt that the level to which we covered this in class was sufficient for the module, but added additional resources to the module Moodle site for those who were interested to do some further exploration.

This was the class I referred to in my previous post here titled ‘Interesting Feedback’, which noted that the students were becoming a lot more chatty, and one student noted in their feedback about the strict nature of their other classes.

Class 4: Beginning Show Operations

November 5, 2008

This class was designed to give students an introduction to the process of preparing and operating sound for a theatre production. I based this class on a class I had previously given at RSAMD, which had been quite successful.

The core of the class was bringing students to consider the chronology of sound in a scene or performance, understanding the difference between different types of sounds (ambient, event-driven, etc) and how to use this information to prepare for a performance.

The students worked in groups devising scenes for each other, then had to follow the process of developing a timeline, determining how to construct and lay out show discs, then finding the sound effects and creating the discs. We would then go on to discuss paperwork and cue sheets. However, I had greatly underestimated the time required for the students to find and prepare their sound effects. I had been lead to believe that the Library had a large collection of sounds, that can be accessed online and that the students we all familiar with the system. However, many students were not, and had technical difficulties, which ate into the class time. In practical terms, this was not too much of a problem, as we would be continuing with this topic in the next class, so items we didn’t get to in this class could be picked up in the next. However, this did break up the flow of the class, and by not having time to complete all the planned activities, some of the students became confused as to the point of the exercises.

Once again the student feedback for this class contained a lot of positive comments about the practical nature of the class. It seems that the students generally find this style of teaching engaging and effective. Most of the negative comments addressed that we did not cover all the planned topics, or were comments requesting to spend more time on a particular subject.

As mentioned above, the next class was a continuation of this topic, and next time this module is offered, I will try to timetable this section as an all day class, rather than a 2-afternoon class. This would give us more flexibility in the time required for individual activities, and would give a better cohesion and flow to the subject material.

Class 3: Microphones and Processors

November 2, 2008

This third class covered using setting up sound equipment to reinforce or record spoken voices with microphones, and using signal processors (e.g. reverb units). The first assessment task for the module was based on this topic, so it was important to achieve the correct balance between aligning the class activities and the assessment task, and not duplicating experiences in both, thereby removing some of the challenge from the assessment.

The assessment task required the students to create a short list of guidelines describing the process of recording someone speaking. They then had to make a recording of someone reading their guidelines.

Therefore I designed the class activities to cover the practicalities of the topic (such as connecting the equipment. finding the correct settings on the mixer) mostly by demonstration, and focused the student led activities on critical listening and problem solving. We used microphones in class and experimented with different positions, different settings, etc and listened to the results. The students had to listen to the differences in sound, and identify the causes. The process was designed so that when the students were working on their own recordings for the assessment task, they could develop the ability to critically listen to their recordings, hear any imperfections and have the confidence and knowledge to make appropriate changes to their setup to achieve better results.

The feedback from students was generally positive. Again, many students noted that they enjoyed the practical nature of the class. The experimentation and listening exercises with the microphones seemed to be successful, with many students noting that this was really useful. I had prepared some recordings of bad microphone use to play to the students for them to identify the cause of the poor sound. A couple of students noted that they would have liked to have listened to these a few times, and in retrospect I realize that I rushed through this a little bit, playing each recording only once and then discussing it. The students noted that it would have been better to listen to each one again after the discussion, which I agree would have improved the exercise.

In this class I introduced signal processors, and some students noted that they would have liked to go more indepth in this area. This introduction was only intended to introduce students to the concept, and the application to microphones, and the processors themselves would be covered in more depth in a later class. However, it seems that I did not make this especially clear.

Overall, I was happy with this class. I think it was a good preparation for the assessment task without having the students duplicate their experience in the class and with the assessment. Also, the students were becoming more comfortable and familiar with me and my style of teaching, which allowed us to have more productive full class discussions. Students seemed to feel more relaxed and conformable about talking out, offering opinions and asking questions.

Class 2: Audio Theory

November 2, 2008

This second class was a shorter class on audio theory. Before my arrival, the sessions for this module had already been timetabled, and this shorter slot (2 hours) earmarked for and audio theory lecture. Not being a great advocate of standing and yacking at students for hours, it was a challenge to devise a 2 hour class on audio theory that could hit the learning outcomes and still be interesting, engaging and interactive.

Approaching this class I tried to think of the key concepts of the subject matter and think about how to illustrate it an a practical manner that involved the students being active and participatory. Back at RSAMD, when teaching electrical theory, I would have students figure out how much energy they had received from their breakfast/lunch, and time them running up and down stairs to measure their power consumption. I was looking to do something similar with audio theory.

In the end I had activities like students holding their throats and singing, to feel the different vibrations to demonstrate frequencies; I had a group of students stand in a line and have someone push from one end and have them all bump into each other to demonstrate the dissipation of the energy of sound waves. These activities helped keep the students interest, and also helped break the ice amongst us a little bit more.

As usual, the students provided me with anonymous feedback at the end of the class. The students enjoyed the various activities, and found the class clear and accessible. It seemed that they had been expecting a very dry, boring theory lecture (on a Monday at 9am), so found the class a pleasant change. Again, many students noted that they enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the class; it seems this is not very common for them.

A number of students noted that they would have liked hand outs or notes for this class, which is reasonable as there was a lot of new theory for them to take in. After the class I prepared written notes and diagrams and uploaded them to the module Moodle page.

A few students also noted that I was writing too small on the white board, so I took this to heart and have been using jumbo writing ever since!

Class 1: Introductions and Recaps

November 2, 2008

This first class was a recap of material these students would have covered last year, and an opportunity for the students to familiarize themselves with the sound equipment we would be using through this module.

 

Just after the class I added a post here called “Teaching in Hong Kong 2 (I need better titles)”, which is below.  In that post I noted the very different experience of teaching students in Hong Kong.

 

I think this initial cultural meeting had the students and myself on the back foot a little.  As I noted in the other post, the students were very quiet.  While they were happy to discuss in small groups, they were very reluctant to speak up infront of the whole class.  As I mentioned in the other post, I got through the material very quickly as a result, and the class finished quite early that day.

 

However, the feedback from the students was generally very positive (as noted in the other post, I ask the students to anonymously provide written feedback noting at least one thing they liked about the class and one thing they disliked).  Most students enjoyed the practical nature of the class.  They enjoyed having exercises to work on, rather than just listening to the teacher, which seems to have been their experience in many other classes.  One student wrote in their ‘good thing’ feedback: “Thinking process by student.  Not only just give out information.” [sic], a sentiment noted in  lot of the feedback.  Others noted that they enjoyed having a relaxed atmosphere in class.

 

Many students noted that at times there were too many students trying to work with too little equipment, and they were quite correct.  I had underestimated the amount of equipment required.  Having more equipment, allowing students to work in smaller groups would have been better.  

 

Some of the students with a strong interest in sound felt the class content was a little too basic for them.  However, some of the non-sound students appreciated going back to basics.  I guess this is always inevitable, however, it would have been good to have prepared some avenues of further exploration for the interested students, that could be given to them in class.  Such information was later added to the module Moodle page, and can be used for the next delivery of this module.

 

The class itself, and the student feedback were very useful for me to get my bearings on both working with these students, and also to get a better understanding of where they were at that point on their learning journey, in terms of academic content and development as learners.

Class Reflections

November 2, 2008

The last couple of weeks have been really hectic. I?ve been finishing writing the last few classes for the Fundamentals module (the module for my project), getting the 2nd and 3rd assessment activities prepared, marking the first assessment, and starting to write the classes for a 2 new modules, one that I started teaching this week, and the other next week!

So the PG Cert project dropped right to the bottom of the pile for a while, and it?s time to catch up. It will be a real rush to get the project pulled together, as the module doesn?t actually finish until the 14th of November. So, to get a head start, I?m going to post here my reflections and the students? feedback for the classes that have completed so far.

Interesting Feedback

October 16, 2008

The BFA1 students and I are getting to know each other quite well now. The students are more relaxed and chatty in class, and less prone to reverential silence, which is a relief! They are also becoming more chatty and friendly outside of class too. It seems they more comfortable with me and my style of teaching now, and the traditional (chinese) divide between teacher and student is narrowing.

In class this week we were having a bit of fun with signal and effect processors. The students taught me to count to 10 in cantonese. We made a recording of us all counting at different volumes and played the recording back via compressors and noise gates to get a practical demonstration of how they work.

A couple of times as we were listening to the recording play through the processors, a few people in the class were chatting, and I had to ask them to keep it down – a first with this class! As I’ve mentioned here before (I think), the students leave me anonymous written feedback at the end of each class. One of the notes this week said that the writer was sorry about talking in the class, but that it was fun compared to their other classes which were very strict.

This is actually one of the most insightful pieces of feedback I’ve received. I have not had the opportunity yet to observe any other classes in the academy, but if the other faculty give “strict” classes, it would go some way to explain why the students seemed to take a while to relax and be more forthcoming in my class. Other lecturers and I have discussed the habits of the students to be quiet and reticent, almost to extremes; now I wonder how much this is re-inforced rather than challenged by lecturers.

In a few weeks time I start a series of ‘team-taught’ workshops with some other lecturers. The planning to date has all gone well, and I am keen now to experience the other lecturer’s styles.

Just an Idea…

September 26, 2008

I know that in the past I have always maintained that ‘generic’ web 2.0 and other technologies are never as useful as technologies designed for education, but for the last few days I’ve been kicking about with an idea to use Last.fm in the sound modules I’m teaching.

Last.fm is a sort of an online streaming radio service, but it picks out songs that it thinks you will like, based on information you give it regarding your favourite artists, songs, etc. When you create an account, you give it a list of artists and bands that you like, and it creates a library for you with albums and songs by those artists. Alternatively you can give it access to your iTunes and it looks at what you listen to most in iTunes or on your iPod and creates your library accordingly. You can then create and choose a ‘radio station’ to listen to. The ‘My Radio’ station plays songs from your Last.Fm library; ‘My Recommendations’ plays songs it thinks you will like based on what’s in your library (which is usually what I listen too, and it is usually very good!); or you can just say “Play me music that is kinda like Paul Simon” or “Play me Rock music” or whatever. You can listen in your web browser, or download a desktop client. As music is playing you can mark it as a favourite, add it to your library, or ban the song or artist from your stations.

I got into last.fm as I have been spending a lot of time at my computer the last couple of weeks, frantically writing and preparing classes for this semester, and I was getting fed up listening to what was in my iTunes.

Anyway, as part of teaching sound and laying the groundwork for those students that will go on to work in sound design, it is important to instill a wide appreciation and knowledge of music. One of my colleagues here had previously maintained a ‘track of the week’ that students had to listen too, to expand their musical knowledge (though there may have been copyright issues :-/ ).

The idea I’ve been kicking around is to use Last.fm as a way to share music with the students, and for us all to expand our musical horizons and appreciation. I could create a class account on last.fm and as an exercise everyone in the class has to add a track to the library that they like and that they think no-one else would know. We could all then listen to the ‘My Radio’ station at our leisure and post comments on the tracks. Alternatively, myself and the students could all create individual accounts, and use the ‘friends’ and ‘sharing’ features to pass around tracks and recommendations. But this gets into the territory of work/study invading the personal space or people having to maintain two accounts, as we all discovered with our Twitter and Flickr exercises. I think the first method helps avoid this, and people can create their own accounts for personal use if they like the service.

I’d be interested in what people think about this (though I think I could predict Steve’s opinion!). I would like to set this up for this semester, but with the amount of work in prepping this semesters classes and the PG Cert project, it may have to wait until next semester. Either way, I’ll post here about how it works out.

Somethings are universal

September 24, 2008

Yep, I guess somethings are the same wherever you teach. I’m not going to be able to get my hands on the equipment I need for my class on Monday, so I’m having to re-arrange things and do what would be the next again class on Monday instead. The only slight problems is that the next again class wasn’t actually going to happen for 2 weeks, because of the way the timetables work out, so I haven’t actually written it yet. Back to the drawing board…