Sunday, April 20, 2014

Getting Excited about Speech-to-Text in Googledocs

My three previous blogs have been about using Googlesites with students for doing project work. I described the procedure that I went through with my students to teach them how to build a site to house their projects. By developing their projects on Googlesites, it enabled me to preserve them online, in one easily accessible place, without the worry of my students misplacing or losing their projects by the time the oral exams roll around in two years’ time, when they will need to present and discuss them with an external examiner.
At the heart of the Googlesites work for the project, are the Googledocs, themselves. I have been using Googledocs for quite a few years now. Ever since being first introduced to them while collaborating with two colleagues who live in different areas of the country, in order to devise a training program for teachers.  Googledocs has the magic of being able not only to crumble walls and cause the constraints of distances to evaporate, it dematerializes barriers that would exist  even if I had been working in the same room as my collaborators. As opposed to  pen-and-paper, or even other word-processor options, a collaborative Googledoc enables all collaborators to write on, edit and annotate the same document at the same time, as talking through our plans.
As if that were not cool enough, Googledocs has just gotten even more magical for me, because I have discovered that I can easily record my text on my tablet or smartphone as I am doing right now for the draft copy of this blog entry. The potential this holds for EFL teaching simply boggles  my mind when I think of the uses that it has for working with my students in the classroom.

I intend to experiment with it using it not only to help my students develop their writing skills but also as a form of objective feedback - a way to help them improve their pronunciation, by using the Googledocs as a non-threatening, non-criticial way of mirroring how clearly they pronounce words and sentences that they want to say in English. The program transcribes what it “hears”. If they pronounce “tree” instead of “three”, Googledocs will write the plant and not the number.
I, myself, use the speech to text options often. I rarely type text messages anymore because it is just so much easier to record them.  If I am out walking and I want to write an email, I will as likely as not, dictate it in gmail on the phone.  However it seems that most English speakers that I know never even consider this option. For Hebrew speakers, the idea is even farther from their minds because speech to text options are nowhere near as good in Hebrew yet as they are in English.
So what am I thinking about using this tool for?
Thanks to the projects that we just finished my students are reasonably proficient in Googledocs, and all but one or two have smartphones. Therefore, what I plan to do is a session on developing their writing skills. I will assign a topic for a composition and then teach them how to dictate into a Googledoc on their smartphones. This will be used as their first draft. They will share it with me and we will be able to conduct process writing using Google Docs.
There's only one glitch that I can see: on the standardized matriculation exams that they will have to pass in two years time, for which they need to hone in on their writing skills, they will not be able to use a computer to write, let alone Googledocs to dictate. Still, in the meantime, maybe this will be a help in teaching them how to compose their thoughts into a few paragraphs while working on their aural skills, as a bonus!
But hey! I see my job not only as a trainer of passing standardized exams. I'm trying to teach them a skill for life.
Have any of you ever tried anything similar? Can you think of any other ways to take advantage of this incredible feature of Googledocs? (Am I the only one getting excited over this? ;-)