Technology Helps Solve Educational Dilemmas

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Speech technology is being used in a variety of educational settings to solve problems in striking new ways. For instance, University of Richmond professors are using speech technologies to help students with foreign languages. Voice Notebook, which offers translations and transcriptions, “is foundational for what we do with language learning,” says Michael Marsh-Soloway, interim director of the University of Richmond’s global studio. “It provides meaningful, authentic language translations.”

Foreign language students can use the technology to record something like a play or speech, use the translation algorithm, then compare that to their own translations, Marsh-Soloway says. The university also uses Praat—a program for speech analysis and synthesis written by Paul Boersma and David Weenink at the Department of Phonetics of the University of Amsterdam—for applied linguistics. The computer program analyzes speech phonetics, showing, among other details, how confidently someone is speaking a foreign language.

Help for the Hearing-Impaired

Meanwhile, other technologies are being used in the classroom by the hearing-challenged. “Children need a better signal-to-noise ratio than adults,” says Maureen Doty-Tomasula, senior product and marketing manager for Oticon. While adults can often hear speech even when there is significant background noise, for a child, the classroom teacher needs to speak at least 15 decibels above the background noise for the typical student to hear; those who are hearing-challenged need an even better signal-to-noise ratio. 

So Oticon developed ConnectClip, a microphone that enables wearers of the Oticon Opn hearing aid to receive speech from instructors that stays above the noise; the device delivers speech directly to the Opn hearing aids via Bluetooth. Student wearers of Oticon Opn need only provide instructors with the ConnectClip microphone, which they wear during class. 

Similar devices transmit to hearing aids through FM radio signals, meaning instructors have to tune in to the right channel, ensure there aren’t interfering signals, and work with bulky equipment, Doty-Tomasula says. The ConnectClip devices are also far less expensive than FM equipment, adds Kandice Hunt, an instructor with South Carolina’s Carter Hears!, which provides instructors and assistive equipment for school districts statewide.

“This is very appropriate for the school setting,” Hunt says. “The connection is better than that with universal receivers (which use FM). We’ve been impressed with it.”

Some of the hearing-impaired have cochlear implants and can use Mini Mic or Baha 5 for direct connections between an instructor’s voice and the implant, according to Hunt.

“We’ve been getting more students with hearing difficulties,” says Mike Dixon, assistant director for the University of Richmond’s Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology. The university works with students to determine if assistive technologies will help in the classroom. Students with cochlear implants have benefited from a system in which teachers use a wireless microphone that connects directly to implants. 

Relearning Speech

According to the American Brain Association and the CDC, as many as 62,000 children each year suffer brain injuries. Many of these injuries result in at least temporary loss of some speech capabilities, says Emily Dubas, clinical services, and education manager at Constant Therapy.

The company’s voice-enabled Constant Therapy app includes 80 exercises children can use rather than the traditional flashcards or paper worksheets as they rebuild their speech capabilities, Dubas says. “Constant Therapy is used by speech-language pathologists at schools to work on speech-language and cognitive skills. A significant part of the program is the real-time speech recognition.”

Students can speak into the app and the program analyzes their vocal response, providing feedback on responses to help with articulation, voice level, and auditory memory, as well as letting users know if an answer is correct.

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