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Teaching with Speech

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Speech in Distance Learning

More than 90 percent of the world’s student population was impacted by school closures due to coronavirus. But if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that distance learning can be effective with the right resources, including speech tech, in place.

“The coronavirus has sped up the adoption of speech technology, mostly just because people are more willing to try something new,” Hasbun says. “Everyone has had to learn to integrate new technology into their lives, whether it’s Zoom or Google Meet for videoconferencing or Slack for office chitchat. So everyone is already in the right headspace to be accepting of technologies that have always been there but might have been more daunting before.”

However, with some level of distance learning likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, “it’s imperative that access to content, web accessibility, and individual learning continue to be top-of-mind issues for educators across the country,” Muldoon advises.

Ali believes the continued COVID-19 lockdown provides a “great opportunity for us to capitalize on the usage of voice. We can transcribe speech, learn different paralinguistic features, and even detect anxiety levels from speech using the right software. Imagine how a teacher can use such a platform to monitor the well-being of all students to facilitate and personalize their learning.”

Best Practices

Yair Shapira, CEO and founder of AmplioSpeech, a provider of digital speech therapy to K-12 students, reminds educators and parents that the school schedule—as of this writing—remains uncertain for the fall and beyond.

“For the most vulnerable students, who struggle academically and often personally and socially at all times, the current times of turbulence might be disastrous,” Shapira says. “These children have already suffered compromised service since March, lack service during the summer, and might dramatically regress further if they do not receive intensive instruction tailored to their specific needs.”

Fortunately, technology can be a solution.

“We all need to be open to using tools like speech tech to minimize the disruptions and provide continuous, regular, and consistent services that will become a safe haven for fragile students regardless of the location of the student and staff,” Shapira continues. “Such services can only be provided if the entire therapy cycle is managed by a single platform, including resources, automatic documentation, reimbursement, self-practice, etc. Harnessing the power of AI in systems such as AmplioSpeech can not only accelerate students’ progress, it can also enable oversight, reduce workloads, and empower clinicians.”

But before investing in speech tech, schools and families should do their homework.

“Ideally, the speech technology solution they select will include features that position students to get the most out of using the technology,” Muldoon says.

School administrators also need to take a hard look at the costs and learning curve involved, too.

“If introducing the use of technology is a bit uncomfortable for some staff, don’t forget to show them how it can free up more time for those high-quality teacher-student interactions that really matter,” Jiban suggests.

It’s important as well to develop a school- or district-wide policy on appropriate technology use—one that addresses privacy concerns, decreases the risk of data breaches, and promotes open communication with and feedback from parents, experts agree.

While no one can forecast the future, it’s no stretch to say that speech tech is here to stay in the halls of academia as well as the home learning environment.

“To ensure that students have access to equal education, we’ll see more schools and universities adopting text-to-speech technologies. When offered in e-learning content, especially assessments, text-to-speech allows for users who may have learning disabilities to remain in the classroom and participate with the assessment as all others do, ensuring that they feel included in the classroom,” Muldoon says.

Also, he adds, “as universities prepare to offer more online courses, they’ll need to ensure that they’re offering the latest technologies that give students, regardless of learning level, the best learning experience possible.”

Fred Singer, founder and CEO of Echo360, believes ASR will become an essential technology in the classroom for note taking and search. Students can, for example, link an analog lecture to digital textbooks on a range of devices; Singer believes this will change the way students take notes and how they interact in class. “They won’t just get a recording of the class but all the keywords they need for sophisticated search,” he argues.

Hasbun is banking on speech technology continuing to increase accessibility for more students.

“Not just the disabled, but also people who speak other languages, or even just people whose eyes get tired staring at screens all day,” Hasbun says. “And I don’t think it will be a hard sell.”

But, for all that it can do in the classroom, speech technology will never replace the need for a flesh-and-blood teacher, Ali is convinced. “Instead, we’ll empower teachers to perform even better,” he says. 

Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.

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