Do We Need HTML5 Audio Recording?

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Audio recording for many websites is more than just a novelty. Foreign language learners have turned to the internet in huge numbers because it makes connecting with other learners, teachers and native speakers so much easier than the old days.

In many of these sites peer activities such as forums, and assessed activities such as quizzes and assignments, require the student to record their voice and submit that recording. Teachers also need this ability to create resources for their courses.

Flash used to be the weapon of choice for audio recording online. And these days it is possible to record audio in the browser, and convert it MP3, all without using an external recording server. But with the onslaught of mobile devices that don’t support it, Flash simply doesn’t cover enough bases to be an acceptable solution on its own.

HTML5 recording to the rescue, you say. Recent developments in browser technology mean that audio and video recording in the browser without plugins (aka HTML5 recording), is nearly here. Chrome browser exponents have been able to experiment with this for some time and in January this year Firefox released a version of their browser with advanced audio and video capture capabilities. These are all implementations of the W3C getUserMedia API. But the functionality is still not in mainstream browsers, not completely developed and appears some way off yet. And it is likely even further off for mobile browsers.

In the meantime smartphones and tablets are storming into classrooms, almost universally complete with built in video cameras and microphones. It is a tech savvy language teachers dream. But how do we collect audio from these devices? They don’t support Flash, and HTML5 recording isn’t here yet.

Until HTML5 recording truly arrives what can we do? For mobile devices, even though HTML5 has not yet delivered, it is possible to collect audio and video recordings by placing a standard html file upload button on the page. If configured correctly the user after tapping on the button will have the option to record via microphone or camera. Android allows users to record audio or video. iOS (currently at version 6.1.4) only supports recording video. So for iOS the recorded video has to be converted to an audio file on the web server.

Using a “horses for courses” approach, it is possible to get close to a universal audio recording solution. Use Flash based recording for desktop and laptop users, file upload for tablets and smartphones.

So do we need HTML5 recording? For language education the answer is a resounding yes. But we need it now. Luckily though, by using a combination of the technologies available to us, we can cover things until HTML5 recording arrives.

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