A conference session by Nick LaFave at Greenville’s Upstate Technology Conference put a seed in my brain about re-thinking and re-tooling assistive technologies to provide new bridges to learning opportunities. I’ve written before about how many technologies there are built-in to Apple’s OSX environment that can help students with special needs. In Nick’s session, however, we got to talking about how to use some of these assistive technologies for more general learning needs… that is, for what would be considered the typical classroom.
Apple’s Text-to-Speech support is one of them. One world language teacher used iPads to provide students with a full immersion experience in Spanish. Basically, what the teacher does is switch the software language from an English voice to a Spanish voice. he enables Text-to-Speech and has students do some independent reading on Spanish-language sites. Apple’s voices for Text-to-Speech and VoiceOver are pretty close to being natural, but still have some pronunciations that make it sound like software rather than a native speaker. Nevertheless, imagine having twenty-some Spanish speakers reading articles of interest to your students! Students can navigate magazines, blogs or websites and hear correct pronunciation of words from the language’s country of origin.
I had played around with the different system voices as part of a screencast I put together a couple years ago (see below) but never really realized the value when combined with that teachers’ approach. Sure, you could use the Text-to-Speech feature to make recordings of an article or story, but why not have the software help you differentiate by allowing students to engage in different content?