Voice Tools for Blackboard: Nanogong?

What do you do when you’re accustomed to a plethora of online teaching tools and then find yourself much more limited in budget and options? You look for possibilities that are similar and free. My last month’s move from one public state university to another made that a reality for me.

Working at Northern Kentucky University last year provided a great opportunity for me to work with such online teaching tools as Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing and voice authoring and McGraw-Hill’s Tegrity lecture capture. Eastern Kentucky University, which I moved to in December, does not yet possess nearly that same level of educational technology resources embedded into its Blackboard system, so looking for alternatives is essential.

Of particular interest is an alternative to the Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Wimba) voice tools, which enable instructors and students alike to create short audio clips in Blackboard discussion board forums, blogs, items, announcements, and anywhere else the text editor appears. Blackboard Collaborate voice tools, which can be used on devices that use Java (i.e., on PCs and Macs but not tablet devices), are quite amazing in their ability to make student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and instructor-to-student interactions come alive. Unfortunately, Collaborate is a suite that costs premium dollars, and many colleges and universities (EKU included) simply cannot afford it.

This past week I did some research to see if there were any free or open-source alternatives to Collaborate voice tools. After a bit of searching, I found information on a free, open-source tool: Nanogong. This resource was developed as part of The Gong Project, a “free system for voice communication on the Web.” The options of the voice tool are similar to those of Collaborate voice authoring, including recording short audio clips and then saving to the course content or to one’s own computer. Even the interface of the audio recorder, though a bit “rougher” in appearance, is comfortably similar to the Collaborate voice authoring recorder.

The Nanogong Voice Tool Interface
The Nanogong Voice Tool Interface
The Collaborate Voice Tool Interface
The Collaborate Voice Tool Interface

The Nanogong website provides a download option for placing a recorder on a webpage, so that the tool might be used simply as an easily accessible means of recording a quick audio message. More important, however, is code for a plug-in to the Moodle LMS. I tested both download options—for a simple webpage and in a sample course in my Moodle webspace—and found the results highly successful.

Unfortunately for institutions that might like to use Nanogong within the Blackboard LMS, no installation package is available that is specific to Blackboard (the plug-in code provided is, as stated above, for the Moodle LMS). However, the website’s FAQs state that “it should not be a problem to integrate NanoGong with other LMS such as Blackboard and Sakai,” and users are invited to examine the PHP code of Nanogong to determine if they might implement the tool in their Blackboard sites. I have found information on one university’s use of Nanogong in Blackboard, so it obviously is “doable.” My questions now focus on how difficult this is and how much PHP expertise is necessary to do it. I have e-mailed the developers at the university that is using Nanogong within Blackboard in hopes that they may provide valuable input in this regard. If the response is positive, I plan to suggest to my superiors that our Blackboard team look into making this possible at EKU.

As much as I miss the access to so many Blackboard tools that made life “easier” last year, I have to admit that not having this access has its perks. Primarily, such limitations encourage my natural tendency to research open-source or free options and make recommendations to those who can implement such options.

If you as a reader have any experience implementing or using the Nanogong voice tool with Blackboard, please feel free to provide any input. I certainly can use your help!

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