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Speech Recognition for Learning

The National Center for Technology Innovation

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Speech Recognition for Learning

Speech recognition, also referred to as speech-to-text or voice recognition, is technology that recognizes speech, allowing voice to serve as the "main interface between the human and the computer"i. This Info Brief discusses how current speech recognition technology facilitates student learning, as well as how the technology can develop to advance learning in the future.

Although speech recognition has a potential benefit for students with physical disabilities and severe learning disabilities, the technology has been inconsistently implemented in the classroom over the years. As the technology continues to improve, however, many of the issues are being addressed. If you haven't used speech recognition with your students lately, it may be time to take another look. Both Microsoft and Apple have built speech recognition capabilities into their operating systems, so you can easily try out these features with your students to find out whether speech recognition might be right for them.

Speech recognition vs. speech-to-text: what's the difference?

When researching speech recognition tools for your child or your classroom, you may variously see technologies referred to as "speech-to-text," "voice recognition," or "speech recognition," sometimes all within the same product description. Though the terms can be confusing, they all refer to technologies that can translate spoken language into digitized text or turn spoken commands into actions (i.e., "open Microsoft Word"). Voice recognition can refer to products that need to be trained to recognize a specific voice (such as Dragon Naturally Speaking), or those products used in applications like automated call centers that are capable of recognizing a limited vocabulary from any user. Quite frequently, as in this article, the terms speech recognition and voice recognition are used interchangeably.

Speech recognition technology in everyday life

Speech recognition and speech-to-text programs have a number of applications for users with and without disabilities. Speech-to-text has been used to help struggling writers boost their writing productionii and to provide alternate access to a computer for individuals with physical impairmentsiii. Other applications include speech recognition for foreign language learning,iv voice activated products for the blind,v and many familiar mainstream technologies.

New developments in the technology have driven innovation in many familiar customer service industry applications. We have all used voice recognition technologies in our daily lives, many times without even thinking about it: automated phone menus and directories, voice activated dialing on our cell phones, and integrated voice commands on Smartphones are just a few examplesvi. Medical and law professionals use voice recognition every day to dictate notes and transcribe important information. Newer uses of the technology include military applications, navigation systems, automotive speech recognition (Ford SYNC), 'smart' homes designed with voice command devices, and video games such as EndWar, which allows the player to give orders to their troops using only their voice.

Benefits of speech recognition for struggling writers

Populations that may benefit from speech recognition technologies for learning include users with:

  • Learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dysgraphia
  • Repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Poor or limited motor skills
  • Vision impairments
  • Physical disabilities
  • Limited English Languagevii

Benefits for students with disabilities may include improved access to the computer, increases in writing production, improvements in writing mechanics, increased independence, decreased anxiety around writing, and improvements in core reading and writing abilities.

Improved access

For students with motor skill limitations, physical disabilities, blindness/low vision, or other difficulties accessing a standard keyboard and mouse, hands-free computing through the use of speech recognition technologies may be beneficial. By removing the physical barriers to writing and navigation of the computer, you can increase student access to technology and classroom activities.

Writing production

For students with learning disabilities, speech recognition technology can encourage writing that is more thoughtful and deliberateviii. Studies with middle and high school students with learning disabilities have shown that input via speech is less challenging and that students frequently generate papers that are longer and better quality using speech recognition technologiesix.

Mechanics of writing

Speech recognition technologies, in conjunction with word processors' abilities, can help reduce some of the difficulties that students may face with writing mechanics. Because students can often write more quickly with speech recognition tools, it eliminates potential obstacles, such as difficulty with handwriting or the need to transcribe thoughts while brainstorming. Often, writers with learning disabilities will skip over words when they are unsure of the correct spelling, leading to pieces of writing that are short, missing key elements, or not reflective of the student's true abilitiesx. Speech recognition and word processors can potentially alleviate some of these concerns by allowing the student to get their thoughts out on paper without worrying about these or other technical writing components xi.

An "Info Brief" from the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI), 2010. Used with permission.

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