Speech for Distance Learning

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Distance learning involves delivery of educational services to students who are not physically present at the educational institution. It is the fastest-growing segment of education, particularly in higher education and adult education. Today’s distance education is also a far cry from the mailed “correspondence courses” offered by Isaac Pitman more than 150 years ago. It uses television, radio, CD-ROM, mobile devices, the Internet, and speech technologies.  

This is the first of two columns describing ways in which providers of distance-learning services are incorporating speech into their offerings. It describes the use of speaker verification (SV) to verify that the person taking a course is the student who is supposed to be taking it, and that the person taking an examination is the registered student.  

Authentication of a student’s identity is especially difficult in e-learning because the institution may never have direct contact with the student. Increasingly, the need to address this challenge is being mandated by certification bodies, companies whose employees must complete academic requirements, and government regulators. I Drive Safely and Language Testing International are two such companies using SV to help them address the authentication challenges and requirements. 

I Drive Safely

I Drive Safely provides online driver-training services. Many of its customers are state departments of motor vehicles in the United States; its students are required to take driver’s training as part of a sentence handed down by a court of law.  

In 2008, I Drive Safely became the first e-learning services provider in the U.S. to deploy SV to ensure that anyone attempting to access an e-learning course curriculum is authorized to do so. The system, which is called Verbal Student ID, uses hosted SV services from VoiceVerified. 

When a student logs into the I Drive Safely Internet application for the first time, he must select the state where the violation occurred, undergo a credentialing process, and register for the mandated course(s). This registration includes the student’s telephone number. When he initiates the online course session, it triggers an outbound telephone call to the registered telephone number that initiates the SV enrollment session. The student is asked to repeat six separate five-digit phrases. The process typically takes less than a minute. Then at various points during the course, the Internet application triggers an additional outbound call to the registered telephone number. The participant is required to verify his identity by repeating a five-digit numeric phrase. Upon successful verification, the student is permitted to advance to the next course module or take an exam.

As of September, more than 10,000 participants had enrolled. 

Language Testing International (LTI)

Language Testing International is a language-proficiency testing company that serves government, private-sector, and academic institutions. It arranges language-proficiency assessments, certified by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, in more than 60 languages. LTI’s clients need to know that individuals required to take language-proficiency tests have the required skills. Sometimes this is a requirement for their jobs. 

 LTI tests are performed over the telephone and by computer. A professional LTI language expert assesses the candidate’s language skills to ensure that she is at the required level. Before testing a candidate, LTI must ensure that the person taking the test is the candidate and not a substitute.

Verifying the identity of the student taking the test has always been a challenge for LTI. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by requiring a proctor at the candidate’s location during the test. However, having proctors at testing sites is expensive and time-consuming for LTI and the customer. 

LTI sought a way to reduce both the time and cost of the assessment. The solution was to automate authentication through the use of SV via hosted services from Recognition Technologies. The candidate is enrolled using an automated registration ID process. SV is then used to authenticate the individual prior to beginning the test. An additional verification can be performed in the background after the test has begun. 

These deployments clearly demonstrate how SV can be used successfully in distance-learning and comparable remote-contact environments.

Judith Markowitz, Ph.D., is president of J. Markowitz Consultants and a leading independent analyst in the speech and voice biometrics field. She can be reached at judith@jmarkowitz.com.

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