HTC Smartphone Picture from BBC News

Ollie Bray writes another thought provoking post about technologies that will change how we live, work, play and learn, this time focusing on voice recognition software. As I have ranted on recently, this software has not been reliable or appropriate for many people in school.

Ollie writes:

But now there seems to be the very real prospect of converting speech to text on many mobile ‘phones’ very soon.

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.

Ollie raises the pertinent question of whether there is really any need to get children to use pens and paper at all. This is certainly a perennial debate for those of us whose main agenda is to consider the learning needs of students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

It is clear to many of us, in Ollie’s words, 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 he (and I) are ‘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.’

Adopting such new technologies such as speech to text recognition requires as much training as does learning to write accurately and automatically.

I know a couple of people whose grasp of the language is so powerful and whose thought processes are so refined that they can give a considered, fluent and beautifully polished response to a stimulus first time round.

The rest of us mumble, backtrack, contradict ourselves, or are just muddled in our thinking aloud (or is this just me?). We include circumlocutory devices and fillers (um, er, you know, like) and occasionally, with any luck and a fair wind behind us, form complete sentences. An accurate transcription of our speech is likely to need much editing before it can be regarded as coherent and easily understood by others.  Actually I don’t know what I think about very much at all until I write it down or hear myself speaking about it. Perhaps this is just me.

So to expect an app to be an easily accessible substitute for the written word is naïve. (By the way, I am not accusing Ollie of naivety – he is just the messenger). But it is imperative that we consider its advent.

Ollie concludes his interesting post thus:

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 to embrace change and not be reactive to it or fight it (you will lose). 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?