Audacity Tutorial: Creating a Story Clip

In Tori’s interview with Dr. Mark Souther, we learned about two main concerns related to using oral histories in the classroom: 1. limited class time placing constraints on the amount of information that can be covered and 2. keeping students attentive. These concerns render oral histories in their entirety largely useless within a classroom setting. However, Dr. Souther offered a solution to both of those points. By clipping interviews and creating story clips, or “sound portraits” as some historians call them, we can make oral histories more manageable and introduce them in the classroom with relative ease.
The tools necessary to create story clips are just a few clicks away. Audacity is a piece of free open source audio editing software available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems making it accessible to just about anyone with an internet connection. The other piece of the puzzle is the LAME mp3 encoder. Dr. Souther stated recording interviews in WAV format is recommended for archival needs, however, the mp3 file format is recommended for story clips given their smaller file sizes and almost universal compatibility with audio players. This video demonstrates the process of downloading and installing the LAME mp3 encoder.

The process of clipping exercises historical thinking. Every story clip should be carefully curated to maintain a context of the larger interview and accurately portray the individual speaking. Avoid sensationalizing stories by removing parts of the interview to artificially create a sound bite. In this, clipping becomes an art form. While choosing a starting point can be relatively straightforward, deciding where to end a clip is more subjective. The conversation may wander or an individual might go on at length about a particular event with only a minute or two being relevant to your needs. When settling on an ending point, be mindful of the content you wish to convey and less so on a neat, concise ending. You can edit the ending using Audacity in order to add some polish and production to it.
Another key point to consider is keeping the interviewer out of your story clip. The classroom experience of story clips should be of someone telling a story to the class. Removing the interviewer keeps the class focused on the person speaking. Story clips can also be used in set induction to introduce a lesson or give meaning to a new principle or concept. As such, clips should be under five minutes in length, any longer than that and you risk losing students attention.
With all of that in mind and the software downloaded we are ready to start clipping. For this example I have chosen the interview with John Grabowski from the Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection to demonstrate the clipping process. The entire collection is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
I have put together a YouTube video that walks you through the clipping process to give you a flavor of what to expect when creating story clips.

One final note on creating story clips. The quality of the endings you create depends largely on the interview itself. Sometimes the interviewee will run right into another topic after telling the story you want to showcase in your clip or gets cut off by the interviewer. In cases like these, we can only work with what we have. In my example video, I was able to produce a clean ending, this will not always be the case, however, an abrupt ending is better than not making the story clip at all.
With this tutorial in hand, you are now ready to start making your own story clips. When researching interviews, it is important to keep audio quality in mind. No amount of editing can help poor audio quality so if the levels are too high or the subject is hard to understand, it is best to discard that interview and continue your search. The important thing is crafting a clip that tells a good story that is useable in the classroom.
If you have any comments or questions about using Audacity, feel free to send me a tweet @NRandt1020 or leave them in the comments below. Stay tuned, as next week Tori begins looking at bringing story clips into the classroom with her model lesson plan.

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