Chris Drage is impressed by the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the Talk-Tracker
The Talk-Tracker, from TTS, is an assessment tool designed to record and share pupils' conversations and discussions.
The small, portable device is designed primarily as a teacher’s tool that can also easily be used by learning support staff and teaching assistants. It allows children to carry out work independently, and without disruption, while being assessed discreetly on their speaking and listening skills.The Talk-Tracker, which runs on rechargeable batteries, can record up to four hours of direct speech. It is small (135mm long x 75mm wide x 23mm high), light and easy to use, and has four omni-directional microphones, each located at a corner.
In essence, it is an adaption of what the recording industry calls a "boundary" microphone which is often used for recording meetings around a table. In use the four microphones cut out a good deal of ambient background noise and provide reasonably clear recordings.
The Talk-Tracker records in .wav and .mp3 format so that files can be compressed to save space. Much podcasting is done using the mp3 file format, so this would be the best format for them while .wav files provide the most clarity.
It has an LCD screen, allowing users to toggle between tracks, adjust settings and view file names. It also has a headphone socket to encourage independent, private listening for teachers or children with whom it is appropriate.
Audio material recorded elsewhere can be transferred to the Talk-Tracker
As you can download audio material on to the device and use it like a memory stick, it can also be used to play music and audio files copied from your computer. Now there’s a bonus. You can play recordings back on the device or simply download via USB. It also has a built-in lithium battery which is re-charged through a USB connection, meaning that there are no on-going costs for batteries if you own this resource. And its portability also offers value to schools because it is easily shared between classrooms.
For your £59 you get a Talk-Tracker, a 1-metre USB lead and a small user guide which is surprisingly comprehensive and easy to digest. The device has two sets of controls: the 'record' and 'play' buttons and the 4-way switch with menu button.
The USB lead serves two functions: it enables data transfers and also charges the battery. The Talk-Tracker is supplied with a partially charged battery so it can be used immediately. A complete charge of a fully discharged battery takes about four hours. The device feels reasonably robust and it survived the DDT (Drage Drop Test) from a standard 700mm-high desk (roughly two and a half feet).
The 'status' LED provides you with an indication of what is happening with the Talk-Tracker (recording, recharging etc), but as with all devices of this size there are compromises. However, the user guide does explain what all the different flashing colours mean and outlines the various functions and icons – so you had better not lose it!
The LCD provides a multi-level menu system that allows you to select certain configurations, manage the sound files and select recording and playback functions. Because of the size of the device the screen is pretty small, even though it has to display a wide range of information.
Open-source sound editing software, 'Audacity', comes free
Audacity, the free, open-source software for recording and editing sounds, is provided with Talk-Tracker and can be downloaded to a computer by simply connecting Talk-Tracker to the PC or Mac and browsing to the Audacity folder (it contains release 1.2.6). Although this is included, TTS does not support Audacity or provide a warranty for its use as the company says it is not part of the Talk-Tracker product. For those who have never seen or used Audacity, it offers a good means of introducing audio-editing.
Once you are familiar with it, the Talk-Tracker is simple to use, and as it permits children to work independently and be recorded in their natural environment, it will find a multitude of applications in and around the classroom. For example, evidence gathering of speaking and listening, recordings to be saved and compared from term to term in order to track progress and assessing pupils' progress (APP) during guided sessions when discussing a text in literacy work, for example.
It will also find a role in group reading, role play and reading aloud, all of which can be monitored. And it provides easy assessment of multiple groups and is good for modern foreign language practice and all manner of other speaking and listening activities. You can use it to rehearse and get feedback from audio based work. With Talk-Tracker a teacher can keep track of how children are progressing with their discussions and listen carefully to the language children are using.
Talk-Tracker is a cost-effective tool for recording assessment in a busy classroom environment. With no other way to assess children's speech development other than physically being with the child, it's a very useful classroom resource, freeing-up the teacher and also capturing children talking more naturally. It's small, light, and easy to charge, so for any teachers wishing to record themselves or their pupils in an easy, straightforward manner without any hassle, then the Talk-Tracker is for them!
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 4
Highly portable digital sound recorder that records directly into .mp3 or .wav file format. It has 128Mb of flash memory, a maximum recording time of up to 4 hours for .mp3 wth a bit rate of 128 kbps (44kHz sampling), or 2 hours for .wav format. (Once copied, Audacity and the user manual folders can be deleted to create additional memory space and therefore more recording time.) Also comes with partially charged Lithium-ion Polymer battery, loudspeaker, four-in-one microphone and 3.5mm stereo headphone socket.
Price: £59.95 or £322.95 for a pack of six (prices ex VAT).
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