Monday, January 12, 2015

A Closer Look at Digital Recorders

Since last semester, I've seen a lot of students needing help with note taking. I knew this was coming, so this happened before school started.

photo of empty Livescribe echo boxes scattered on the floor.

I got a lot of new Livescribe pens and notebooks to meet the demand for them. 

However, I'm finding that a lot of students are interested in using a regular digital recorder. I've heard people complain about having to listen to a lecture again, but some students are learning that recording the whole lecture doesn't mean you have to listen to it in its entirety every time. 

One digital recorder I've made available to my students is really making a difference. It’s the Olympus DP-311 digital audio recorder, and it’s a great little powerhouse jam-packed full of wonderful features. 

Picture of the Olympus DP-311 digital voice recorder.
First, it has BIG buttons for the three major recorder functions on the front face of the device. There’s the “Play” button to playback recordings, the “Stop” button to stop playback, and the “Record” button to make a new recording. This has become a go-to recorder for my students who have a visual impairment. What they like is that the buttons are easy to find because of their size and because they are slightly raised. That’s big considering a lot of the digital recorders have very small buttons that can be difficult to see let alone feel. This recorder also has a speed control. Now this is big, especially for helping a student better understand what’s being said in lecture. If I use a recorder to help with my note taking, I can slow down and replay any section I didn't understand so I can make sure I understand exactly what’s being said. 

But wait, there’s more! 

The recorder also has a noise reduction feature. So that "hum" from the air conditioning unit or the lawn mower buzzing outside the window won’t show up as loud in the recording. This is important if the person using the recorder is easily distracted or has trouble focusing. 

It has an 81-hour battery life, 166 hours of recording time built-in, and a 2GB memory expandable by the SD card slot at the top. However, I wouldn't recommend getting an SD card bigger than say 4 GB. Why not? Well, a bigger card brings the temptation to not pull recordings off of the recorder. Why pull off the recordings? So you can keep them on some sort of computing device or cloud storage for use later (save them to Evernote or OneNote). Think about how often you offload the pictures from your phone. See? You want a way to get recordings off of a device, and this one uses an SD card, so make sure you have an SD card reader or you could be out of luck. 

The only thing this recorder lacks is a USB port for quick connection to a computer. For that, you have to move up to the VN-722PC, which, while still a nice device, lacks the three large control buttons. You also get the ability to save your audio as an MP3 file or as a WMA (Windows Media Audio) file. For the extra money, having the ability to save all of your audio on a computer is definitely worth it, especially if you want to refer to past recordings.

How do I use it?

So when it comes to using digital recorders, folks who don't use them efficiently typically think that you have to listen to the entire recording. 

"Marvin, I don't have time to listen to the entire lecture again!" I know you don't. I'm proposing another way of using the recorder. 

Suppose you are recording a lecture, and at times where you feel yourself getting lost or losing what's being said you wrote down the time on the recorder? Then, when you're going over your notes, you would see those different times written down. You could fast forward or rewind to that time and listen to the lecture at that point. Listen to as much or as little as you want or need to in order to get the information you need. It's all a matter of what helps you most. The most important thing is that you are functional with whatever technology you choose.

Something to consider as well is that these same tools can be used in the workplace, similarly to how they are used in school. In the workplace, people often take notes during meetings and presentations. If that same person had issues with taking notes in school, odds are those same difficulties will be present in the workplace. So instead of "moth-balling" that digital recorder after graduation, offload the recordings and get ready to use it at work. Do make sure you get the permission of the parties in the meeting to record it, especially if the recording will be shared. This can also be an issue in school, but it's not an insurmountable one. At the end of the day, what matters is that the person needing a digital recording as assistive technology can use it.

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