Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Listen to your blog!

It has occurred to me plenty of times that there are certain students in my classes who may struggle a little to read or understand some of the information I put on my news blog and my class wiki pages. Since my students depend so much on those sites, I've been looking for ways to help them out, just in case the reading is a barrier to their understanding. Of course we discuss much of our content and ideas in class, but when a student is working with the material outside of my class, the material should still be accessible to them.

So to that end I've been looking through a lot of different text-to-speech players to see what I can use on my main blog and on my individual class wikis. Earlier this week I came up with two solutions.

Solution #1. For the main class blog page, I've installed Odiogo. Odiogo is a "media-shifting" technology that transforms the text on my blog into a high quality, almost human sounding voice that reads the text of my posts to the students. This couldn't have been easier to install - all I had to do was put the url address of my class blog on the site and viola! When parents or students go to my class blog they can just click the "listen now" button and a very nice human-like voice reads my blog post!

Solution #2. Odiogo is a beautiful technology for blogs, but it doesn't work on wikis, so I had to find another alternative. I ended up using a little text-to-speech editor I found last year and posted about called itcansay. Itcansay is very simple text-to-speech technology which was originally created for ESL students. Simply copy and paste the text you want read into the box on the page, click "read it" and you hear a very computer-sounding voice (not as nice as Odiogo) read the text that was pasted in. There are several other good text-to-speech sites, but what I liked about itcansay is that there are not a lot of bells, whistles, or distractions for my middle school students.

*note - although the note on their site says conversion may take a few minutes, I have not found this to be true - conversion takes only a few seconds at most.

So all I did was put itcansay on each of my class wikipages as a link that will open in another window. I showed the students how it worked by having them copy and paste things into it like some directions I wrote, some text from another link I put on the wiki, and even a question I wrote into a Googleform on their assignment. Now they can always have itcansay open in another tab, ready and available should they need to listen to some text as they are studying.

Text-to-speech in class can be a little distracting, so we have invested in $2/pair earbuds for each class. I put each set of earbuds in a baggie with the students names on them, and keep a basket for each class at the back of my room. The kids get them at the beginning of class if they wish and keep one earbud in to "hear" text if they need to and one earbud out so they can hear me.

Right now about 1/3 of the students in my classes regularly use the earbuds and the text-to-speech tools, which is enough to make me glad I installed them!

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