This is a second of five posts where I will talk about some technologies that may change how we live, work and play. They are personal opinion and I could very well be wrong. I mention them sometimes in conference presentations and workshops and wanted to describe my thinking more in this series of short posts.
The second technology that I think will change how we live, work, play and learn is voice to text software for mobile devices. I first talked about this in my Learning and Teaching Scotland Literacy Co-coordinators keynote presentation in February 2010. Let me explain my thinking.If we consider the history of human communication it probably evolved something like this:
- We learned to communicate verbally
- We developed written language
- We developed electronic communication (with a keyboard)
- We developed smaller more ubiquitous forms of electronic communication with mobile (keyboard input changed)
- And now we are in a situation where mobile devices (computers) can be controlled by voice
Of course, technology manufacturers have been working on software that allows you to speak into a computer and then it turns your voice into text for years. I first started using it properly when I had my first Windows tablet PC back in 2005. I wrote a set of school reports by speaking into the software rather than typing them by hand. It took a long time because the software wasn’t particularly robust at the time – but in the end I eventually achieved my goal.
Speech to text software is not new to education it have been used in special educational needs for many years. The problem in the past with a lot of this software is that it is not always particularly reliable and it can also be very expensive. But like any technology it gets cheaper and more reliable over time.
For example, I first wrote about Google Voice Search for my iPhone back in November 2008 and now there are a number of apps that allow you to speak into your phone and they transcribe your words into text. Dragon Dictation for the iPhone (available in the US) is just one example of this.
Now, here is the interesting thing. Android powered mobile phones have voice to text recognition software already built in – this was first live demoed with the Nexus One mobile phone handset. Have a look at the video showing voice input for Android in action below:
Also, Android Powered Mobile phones outsold the iPhone OS in the US during the first quarter of 2010. One of the reasons for this is probably because Android phones are cheaper and they compare very well to the iPhone in terms of performance and functionality.
So what does this mean? Well, I’m not sure. But I know that very soon whether it is an android powered phone, an iPhone or a Windows phone most smart phones will have the capacity to translate the spoken word to text with a high degree of accuracy (in fact they can already do this).
If we accept that most mobile devices will be smart phones in the not to distant future and we also accept that most young people in Europe, North America, Australia, parts of Asia and a lots of other places in the world have mobile phones. Then we must also accept that it won’t be long until young people realize that they only have to speak into their devices to get them to write for them.
What’s my point – well if you’re a teacher and you currently struggle to get the children in your care to write with a pen or a pencil. Then it is going to be even harder post Christmas 2010 when lots more children have devices like I have described above and will be even less motivated to write with a pen or a pencil.
Technology like 'voice input' adds to the debate of why we get children to write with a pen or pencil in the first place. One of the reasons that we do in the United Kingdom, whether we like it or not, is because that is how we test children at the end of high school. They sit down and do written exams – but why else do we teach the process of writing with a pen or pencil and is this still as important as it once was?
What seems clear to me is that never before in the history of communication during the last 100 years has it been even more important than ever to make sure children have a real grasp of the spoken language. This is one of the reasons why I am delighted that our radical new curriculum in Scotland includes the spoken word as a type of ‘text’. Thank goodness it does as it is the only way, that I can think of, to really future proof language.
As with all of the posts in this series, I could be wrong about the above. I don’t know what the answer is and I don't think we can stop or should even want to stop this evolution in technology. But I do think we should, as educators, be thinking about how technology such as voice to text smart phones may impact on teaching and learning (in both a positive and negative way).
I think this will be a significant paradigm shift in the way children engage with text and we are within 12 months of the tipping point for secondary / high school students and maybe 24 – 36 months away from the tipping point for elementary / primary school children. Teachers and leaders in schools need to be ready embrace change and not be reactive to it or fight it (you will loose). Soon most children will have one of these devices and we can't stop it. Things are about to move very quickly, are you, your school and your authority ready?
What do you think?