Monday, June 30, 2014

Voice to Text (VoT) Technology on Smart Phones

At the recent JALTCALL 2014 conference at Sugiyama Jyougakun University in Nagoya, I attended an excellent session given by James Henry from The Research Institute of English Language Education in Kobe regarding how he used Dragon Dictation, a free Voice to Text (VoT) application on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to teach pronunciation and speaking.  Over the years, VoT has improved dramatically and is much more reliable and accurate, and Dragon Dictation is one of the best currently available.
James showed us how students, using Dragon Dictation and at their own pace, spoke words or phrases from a list into their smart devices and compared what the application registered on the screen to the text on their papers.  After receiving this direct and immediate feedback on their pronunciation and speaking skills, many students were surprised by the results and felt challenged to try again, resulting in increased motivation and effort.
To better see this in action, please click on the following hyperlink to see a YouTube video of a similar process in an ESL classroom in California:

ELL students practice English with iPods


I was very excited by the potential of VoT technology and immediately began trying to incorporate it into my teaching the following Monday.  I introduced it to some individual students, who all strongly responded to the immediate feedback and reported that they felt challenged to try again and wanted to keep trying.  I also introduced it to a Technical English for Engineers class and quickly was able to have all the students practicing their pronunciation of the new and difficult technical and scientific vocabulary they have been studying.  With an adult staff class, I introduced VoT as a way for them to practice their speaking and pronunciation of conversational questions they have been studying.   Both classes responded in the same positive way.
Here are some suggestions and observations to make your life easier based on the above experiences:

  • Before you try to introduce VoT to a class of students, make sure you know how to use the VoT options the different phone systems: iOS for iPhones and Android for most other phones.  Often times, different phones have different settings in terms of input language, enabling voice to text, keyboard language, microphone button, etc.  One idea is to work beforehand with one or two reliable students so that they understand the process and can assist in class. Another idea is to have students change the language of their phones to English so you can help guide them through the process of figuring out how to use VoT.
  • You don’t have to use Dragon Dictation.  Most newer iPhones and Android phones have built in VoT that can be used in composing emails and other texts.  Dragon Dictation is easier to use, but it is not available for Android phones.  There may be some free VoT applications available for Android phones, however.
  • It is better to have students focus on individual words or short phrases (2-3 words).  With longer texts, it is much harder for the students to produce correct VoT text which that can be frustrating and demotivating.
  • Along the same lines, it is important to let the students know that even if they are unable to produce a VoT text with 100% accuracy, they can still be understood by a human listener.  Remind them that this activity is just to improve their pronunciation.
  • When appropriate, use the student’s phone yourself to produce the correct text to show them that the VoT actually does work the way it is supposed to.

Next semester, I have a Listening and Speaking class where I plan to incorporate VoT as a regular activity in the classroom.  I’d welcome any suggestions and thoughts on how that might be done.  Stay tuned for updates!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Technology workshop and presentation

On December 1st, I attended the CUE Technology Workshop at Keisen University in western Tokyo and was also able to give a short presentation about my past and current efforts to incorporate mobile technology into my teaching and into my students' lives outside of the classroom.

At the workshop, I attended some excellent sessions and learned what other teachers are doing.  I was particularly impressed by Mark Firth's presentation about students using smartphones to make videos as a learning activity.  He had some very good advice and pointers.  Dan Ferreira's presentation on digitally streamlining the essay correction process was excellent.

I will post again when the power point presentations are available on the website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting students signed up for free Quizlet user accounts (false start!)

In the week before our first computer lab meeting, I had the bright idea to have my Freshman English students signed up for free Quizlet accounts using their smart phones.  Bad idea.  Even though they have used the website or app before on their smart phones, it did not go well at all.  

One reason is that the app language is in English, so it was not easy for them to understand what to do. Some were signing up using their Facebook accounts, and some created new accounts with usernames and passwords.  Trying to monitor 24 students doing all this at the same time was quite stressful and not very effective.

And slow cell phone signals and wifi in classroom caused some smart phones to jam up.

I quickly realized that  trying to do it this way was a bad idea, so we stopped right there and then and moved on.  

The takeaway is to do it in a computer lab, very slowly and clearly, leading them through the process on the Quizlet website.  Another option would be to use my smart phone mirrored up on the TV screen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Change of Focus...

Over the last three years, I have been experimenting with incorporating Anki, a spaced-repetition software (SRS), flashcard website and smartphone application (app) into my teaching.  Personally and professionally, I think Anki on a mobile device is one of the best learning tools/methods available, and I use it daily to study Japanese.

However, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that Anki is not a good choice for many traditional teaching situations.  To work effectively, SRS systems require the users to be very serious and diligent in their use.  Many of my students, especially those taking required English classes, are not motivated enough to use it properly.  As much as they say they want to learn English, few of them put forth the time and effort, for many understandable reasons.

In short, using Anki incorrectly is an inefficient and ineffective way to study and may be a waste of time.

With that in mind, I have decided to change my focus to Quizlet (website and app) which has many similar features but does not require such serious and diligent use to be effective.  Quizlet has a variety of study and game modes to keep it interesting for students.  Another nice option is that teachers can create classes that students join and allow the teacher to keep track (in a limited way) on student use.

So, the plan for this semester is to incorporate Quizlet into two classes.

One is a regular Freshman English class, and we will meet in a computer lab once a week (out of four 45-minute classes) to use Quizlet.  We will aslo use Quizlet on smartphones for short periods on the three other days.

The other class is a once-a-week (90 minute) class.  We will also meet in a computer lab, with half the class time focused on face-to-face communication in my regular teaching style.  The other half of the class will be focused on using the Quizlet website, especially using the Test mode as an assessment device.

Overall, I want to see how to best use Quizlet in class for both students and teachers.  I also want to explore ways to get students to use the smartphone app (or website if they don't have a smartphone) to study Quizlet outside of class and how to monitor that usage in a useful way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recruit a student helper

In my efforts to introduce SRS flashcard systems and smartphones into the classroom, I found the recruiting a student helper is invaluable.

The key is to identify someone who seems technogically savvy and work with the student individually, either in or out of class, to ensure a solid understanding of what you are trying to do.

Often, that student will be the one who finishes earlier than the rest of the students in the early steps of implementing the systems.   You can use that extra time, waiting for the other students to catch up, to train your helper.

Once the student is on board, he or she can serve as your lieutenant, helping other students troubleshoot problems in their native language.  You can also discuss or solve potential problems with this student before they occur on w larger scale in class.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anki users - "Remember to Sync!"

If you are teaching students to use a spaced-repetition (SRS) flashcard system, such as Anki, that operates across different platforms (i.e., PC to website to app), it is extremely important to train the students to sync (or connect) before and after every study session and every card making session on any device - basically any time they do anything with their SRS system.  If the students do not sync correctly, then the data that exist in the different places will not be the same, and there will be conflicts later, which could cause them to either lose the new cards they made or any study progress.

The other SRS system that I am recommending for iDevice users, Flashcard Elite, does not have this problem with syncing.  Although, there is related problem with adding new cards to a deck that I will write about later.

Always syncing before and after every use of SRS ensures that the data are always the same in every place and removes the risk of conflicts.

I learned this the hard way today when I forgot to remind my students to sync at the beginning of our computer lab today - kind of embarrassing...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Creating flashcards with different SRS systems

Last week at the first meeting in a computer lab with my 25 first-year, Economic faculty students, I introduced the students to the concept of spaced repetition system (SRS) study and had them all sign up for accounts with Ankiweb.net and Quizlet.com.

During our second computer-lab meeting this week, students accessed their accounts and begin creating their own cards.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, in order for all students to have access to free SRS studying via a website and/or an smartphone app, Android smartphone students used Ankiweb.net, iPhone students used Quizlet.com, and non-smartphone students used Ankiweb.net

Overall, it went well.  Some students needed more help than others, but by the end, all but two students were able to create the 13 cards required for the current unit.  Some of the more technological savvy students even started studying their cards.

I might recommend, in this case; that you have all the Quizlet students and Anki students sit together.  That way it is easy to explain things and to assess progress.

The Ankiweb site, to be honest, while functional enough,  is designed to be used in conjunction with the free Anki computer program and not as a stand alone flashcard creation site.  One of the major drawbacks is that when students create decks via the website, they cannot choose name of the deck.  The first one is "My deck," and other new decks are "My deck1, "My deck2," etc.  However, as my students cannot download the program in the university computer lab, it is the best solution I can find for the Android smartphone students at this time.  Ideally, I will be able to find an Android SRS flashcard app that works with Quizlet.

The Quizlet website is very easy to use, and students can even choose to have the entire site with instructions be in their own language.  However, the flashcard studying portion of it is not SRS.  Yet, it seems to be the best choice to use with the best, free iPhone flashcard app that I can find, Flashcard Elite.

Ideally, it would be nice to have all the students doing the same thing at the same time.  However, this does not seem to be possible.  This combination of apps and methods seems to allow all students to study in a similar way and benifit from SRS flashcards.