Web Audio Lab: generic instructions for first use

Web Audio Lab (WAL) by Slava Paperno is an online application that can be used with several (but not all) modern browsers on Windows and Mac OS X computers. With somewhat reduced functionality, it can also be used on tablets.

What does WAL do?
This application delivers interactive language exercises that ask the student to listen to sound recording, watch videos, record their own speech in a foreign language, read texts, notes, and glossaries, type responses to questions, answer multiple-choice questions, and do a few other tasks. Students can compare their own recordings to the model recording. Teachers can listen to students' recordings and offer comments back to them. Not all WAL courses offer all of these features. A WAL course is typically used in a language class to supplement textbooks and other materials.

Can I use WAL on my own computer?
Most likely, you will be able to use this website with your own computer, from your own location. However, for the first couple of days, you may want to use the computers in the language lab, where you can ask for advice and have your questions answered by the staff.

Is WAL free?
For about two weeks at the begining of each semester, anyone can use WAL courses for free. WAL remains free the rest of the semester when you connect from the language lab. Otherwise, some courses are free while most incur a fee that can be paid online with a credit card for immediate access.

How do I register?
Go to https://wal.lrc.cornell.edu and click Start. On the next screen, click register. One of the questions on the registration screen is about the nickname you use in class. Some teachers give students nicknames, and some use their first names. If you have not been given a nickname, type your first name. You can edit it later if you need to.

What about a password?
A randomly generated password will be sent to your email address. You can change it later. If you forget it, or do not receive it, click Retrieve forgotten password on the login screen.

I have registered, what next?
When you log in for the first time, you will not yet be signed up to use any WAL courses. (Your Cornell registration in a language class does not automatically enroll you to use WAL.) At the bottom of the Where do you want to go? window you will see a list of classes that use WAL, e.g. Cornell University > ASRC 1100. Select a class you are taking and click Sign up. After this you will have to log in again, and this time you will see one or more links for the WAL course(s) that are used in the class.

I clicked Start and see a row of fat dots, now what?
An exercise may be made up of one or more pages. Each page is represented by a dot. You can click a dot to go to its page, but most of the time you don't have to do that: navigation is pre-programmed. Just select an item (lesson, chapter, unit, or film) from the first menu at top left, then select an exercise (or a scene, or a topic) from the second menu and click Go. Nothing will happen until you click Go. After your selection is displayed, click Start and follow the directions provided by the course author.

I thought there would be a record button.
There isn't. Sound recording starts and stops as it is programmed into the exercise. The directions in the middle of the window will tell you what to do (e.g., "Read the text and listen, then click Go On." or "Listen and be prepared to repeat what you heard." or "Listen to the question and respond to it when you see a red line." of "Speak now."). A red line running across the window means that WAL is recording your voice.

The directions in the center of the window tell me to speak, but nothing is happening and no red line is running across the window.
When you open your first exercise, the browser asks for permission to allow our web site to access your microphone. You should click Allow. If you ignore the question or click Block, the browser will not ask again, and you will have to look for the block you have created and remove it. Different browsers have those settings in different places, and as the browsers update themselves, the location of that setting keeps changing. At this time, Chrome has it under Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Content settings > Microphone. In Opera, the setting is under Settings > Websites > Microphone.

Also, check is whether your connection is secure, i.e. if it is using the https protocol. Most browsers indicate that by displaying some sort of icon in the address bar, typically a green padlock. Sound will not be recorded on an non-secure connection. If puzzled, examine the rest of the browser's address bar and the tab titles: browsers vary somewhat in how they do this, but it seems customary to show a symbol (like a red disc) in the tab's header that indicates allowed access to the microphone. Conversely, there may be an indication that access has been denied: the address bar of the current version of Chrome shows an icon for a video camera with a red X button. Click that button to open a panel where you can allow recording. You may have to restart the exercise after that (click Repeat).

How do I know that my voice is being recorded?
Even before a recording is started, you will see a green vertical bar at the right edge of the window that indicates the sound level. Speak in your normal voice and watch the green bar. Ideally, it should hit the top every now and then. If it stays at full height most of the time, the sound level is too high. If it is barely visible at the bottom, the level is too low. Move the microphone closer to your mouth or farther away as needed. You can also try adjusting the recording level in your system control/preferences panel.

I don't have a movable microphone
The microphone that is built into your computer may be OK, but it will probably not record good quality sound. When learning a foreign language, accurate pronunciation often involves nuances that require good quality recording. Besides, the mic that is built into your screen may be picking up the hum of the hard drive and fan, the clicking of the keys, and other noises. Still, if no other microphone is available, use what you have and find a control panel on your computer that allows you to adjust the sound level.

Where are my recordings saved?
Each recording is automatically uploaded to the WAL server and stored there until the end of the semester. Your teacher may review your recordings from the server.

Can I check if my recordings are uploaded?
As you record your voice, the current dot in the bottom row turns pink, then green. Green means that the recording has been stored on the server. You don't have to wait for that to happen: the process may be a little behind where you are, but if the dots are turning green, everything is fine. If they remain pink, you may have lost your Internet connection, or your connection is unacceptably slow. Should that happen, stop and try reloading the page.

Can I listen to my recordings?
Yes. Click any green dot in the bottom row, and you will be listening to your recording from the WAL server.

What's the little blue graphic at bottom left?
That waveform is a visual representation of the sound you have just submitted. If it is almost flat, your recording is too quiet.

What do the other links and buttons do?
Most of the controls in the WAL window have tooltips that briefly explain their function. Hold your mouse over a control to read the tooltip. It is also safe to experiment. Do not overlook the Your history button. If you have submitted any recordings, and especially if your teacher has reviewed them, clicking that button is almost a must.

The tooltips for the Go On and other buttons tell me I can use the keyboard instead of clicking, but that doesn't work.
In some exercises the keyboard alternative to clicking the buttons is disabled. Sorry.

Find out what students in Russian 1121/1122 say about using Web Audio Lab.

For more information, write to Dick Feldman, Director of the Language Resource Center, Cornell University, at rf10@cornell.edu.

The WAL home page is at https://wal.lrc.cornell.edu.