Capturing online lectures to mp3 format

Taking college courses online is great. You’re not tied to an inflexible lecture schedule. There’s less commuting. As busy, working adults, my wife and I can tailor our schedules around careers and family. With lectures and course content being online it’s easy to pick up where we left off, studying how and when we want.

In some instances though, those same advantages can prove to be drawbacks. Lectures often last upwards of two hours. Often the course material available online is thorough to the point of excess, and even though – in the olden days – one could theoretically spend hours a week reading low-tech, printed course material or researching periodicals and reference material at the library, I don’t think it was a common problem. When you’re faced with all this immediately available information on a course website it can be overwhelming. A week’s worth of work can turn into many hours spent online fostering neurotic, completist urges. Reading a text book is straightforward. Cruising a course website can be a meandering, branching time sink.

With that in mind, I’ve been searching for a way to record my course lectures into a more portable format. They are presented in some form of (I assume proprietary) web browsing tool and there’s no download option to be found.

Originally, I wanted to use Audacity, a pretty serviceable open-sourced sound editing suite. According to some dox I’d read, recording sounds this way should have been easy. In the line-in mixer, I’d have an option to record directly from my sound drivers. Nope. Failing this, there should be some options in my Control Panel’s (Vista) Sound area that I could enable. Couldn’t find anything and was way too lazy to download device drivers to properly patch up my system. Last option? Run a cord from the line-out to the microphone input on my sound card and record this way. This had me picturing explosions, plus if I was too lazy to install drivers, there’s no way I intended on dig through boxes of cords and wires to find the appropriate cord.

My search led me to Freecorder, a free browser based recording toolbar. “What the hell?” you say. “Exactly.”

Turns out it works fabulously. A simple download and install (Internet Explorer or Firefox only. Opera users like me are left wallowing in our k-radedness) loads the toolbar in the browser. The recording options are fairly robust: you can choose a wide variety of mp3 bitrates, or export as .wav file. So far there’s been no hiccup, and the only drawback I can find is that the program splits the mp3 into bite-sized chunks after its recorded. Perhaps this is a function of me recording off of a website that changes “slides” every couple of minutes as a new topic is covered, perhaps it’s a setting to be changed, or perhaps it’s a feature saved for the “Professional”, paid for version of the software. Regardless, it’s not that big of a deal to me, especially considering the ease of use.

Another thing that’s great is it appears to not save any periods of silence. For instance, I’ll start an hour long lecture and go do something else. If I forget to turn it off, I haven’t noticed it filling up my hard drives with hours of silent data. As someone who has ran into this problem converting analog cassette tapes to .wav format, this is a nice trick to discover.

Couple that with the aforementioned ease of use, and Freecorder is a pretty tight little score that I bet a lot of people could get a lot of use out of. Now my wife and I can load this to our mp3 players and listen on the go, giving ourselves more time to focus on the important things in life, like our new Pornographic Mp3’s for the Blind production company.

Thanks Freecorder!


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