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Voice Recognition for Teachers

Voice Recognition for

Summary for if you're busy: Voice recognition works brilliantly now, even in noisy environments. By far the best software is Dragon Naturally Speaking. Get the cheapest version "Standard". Click here for educational pricing. You're crazy not to buy a special microphone designed for voice recognition as well. Click here. Watch out! Even though it works fantastically, psychologically you'll find it quite uncomfortable, and if you don't work alone, consider privacy and annoyance.

Read on for a bit more detail:

Here's me dictating at almost 200 words per minute with 100% accuracy. I am using a headset designed for voice recognition, which I think is very important if you're going to bother buying the software.

But that's just a gimmick. In real life I don't each those speeds because I can't think of what I want to say that quickly!

I use voice recognition quite a bit to dictate emails and
documents. Here’s some information for other teachers curious about it.


Why would I use it?

Not for speed. The claim that you can dictate text with voice
recognition quicker than you can type it is not necessarily the case,
especially if you can already type at a decent speed. I find that by the time
I’ve made corrections, it is about the same speed as I type.

Because you’re sick of typing. This is my main reason. I just
get sick of typing. My fingers get tired or sore. Or mentally I get annoyed at
the effort and clunkiness involved with tapping each individual key for every
last letter in every word.

Because you hate the paperwork of teaching. I use voice
recognition mainly for the boring bits, e.g. writing teaching programs, giving
feedback to numerous different students about the same task. Emailing various
people on a similar topic. There is littleHeadset_steve_collis_3 creative fun in this sort of typing.
It is repetitive and dull. Voice recognition is at its best for this. It lets
me fly through it as quickly as I can talk, without getting tired fingers.
Take, for instance, essay marking. Students make the same

mistakes over and
over again. It is soul-destroying writing “start each paragraph with a topic
sentence” or “ensure you integrate quotes into your sentences rather than just
putting them by themselves” over, and over, and over again. I suppose you could
use macros for this. And of course typing these comments is easier than handwriting
them. Easier than all these, is voice recognition.

You’re in danger of repetitive strain injury. Or some other
muscular problem. Or perhaps it’s too late, you’ve stuffed your fingers but are
still in a job that requires heaps of text-production. I enjoy playing computer
games in the evenings, and it’s too much for my fingers if I’m also typing.

How well does it

Very, very well. The technology is much, much better than it
was 5 or 10 years ago. Here's a less gimmicky demonstration than the one above:

Accuracy is not 100%, but it isn’t far off (there are some
words it always gets wrong with me). You can speak as quickly as you
want to without hurting the accuracy, providing you’re speaking clearly. In
fact, speaking in phrases or full sentences is much more accurate than dictate
one or two words, because it gives the recognition program a context to help
figure out what you said.

Correct by typing. The best way to use it is to have your
fingers ready to correct bits here and there as you go. The program would
rather that whenever you make a mistake, you retrain the program to avoid the
error in future. Fair enough, but you come up against a law of diminishing
returns. The program is already very accurate and it’s not worth me stopping to
retrain every few sentences to push accuracy from 96% to 98%.

DANGER! DANGER! I often don’t notice errors. DANGER! DANGER! It
is very difficult to accurately proof read your own dictated text. So many
times I’ve reread my dictation carefully, and missed huge errors that make you
look careless when your document is published, email received, or whatever. I
was intrigued that a few years ago I noticed quite a few errors in a
colleague’s emails, only to discover he was using voice recognition himself.


Which program to use?

Without a doubt, Dragon Naturally Speaking, which is miles
ahead of any competition. The current version is 9.0 but they've patched it to 9.5 for free. There are three versions: Standard, Preferred, and Professional, but all have the same accuracy and the same speech engine, so you can get the cheapest version, Standard, and get the same performance, with fewer bells and whistles in the software.

The student price for the Standard version is as cheap as $60.


The teacher price for the Standard version is $100, and about for the Preferred version $200. That particular website offers to bundle Standard with a proper voice recognition headset (which I imagine is very good, like my recommendation below) for $179 or Preferred for $279. Read below to hear about how important the headset is. Don't bother with speech recognition if you're not willing to get a decent headset.

I recommend getting the Standard version for $100, and then buy the following headset separately.



Which headset should
I use?

The microphone makes a big difference.
Ah, now this is the
important bit. Don’t use the microphone that comes with the software. Instead,
invest in a proper microphone with built in Digital Signal Processing. This
sort of microphone has circuitry built in that modifies the input even before
it gets to the computer, isolating your voice and getting rid of other
background noise. This improves accuracy remarkably. It also allows you to
dictate in noisy environments, or even in the car! My wife and I drive to work
together, and when she drives I’ve been known to dictate. Even against the
noisy engine of our old Ford Laser, and Amy Grant on the CD player, accuracy is
similar to in a quiet room by myself.

Plantronics DSP 400
The headset that I use, and can vouch for,
is the Plantronics DSP 400. It works tops. My only criticism is that the joint
at the top of it is fragile and breaks easily. Mine has been stuck together
with tape since shortly after I purchased it. Look for cheap prices on this headset here. (As cheap as $70, although I don't necessarily recommend you order from the cheapest shop.)

My friends will laugh at this because I have a reputation for using sticky tape with just about everything.


How good a computer
do I need?

Check the specs here: http://www.nuance.com/naturallyspeaking/preferred/sysreqs.asp. In particular you need a decent
amount of memory, because on top of what you’re already using, the voice recognition
program needs more. There is nothing worse than a computer that goes sluggish because it has been forced to use the hard disk for memory because it has run out of normal memory.


The negatives of
using voice recognition:

Watch out! It feels very weird dictating. It is a very
different mental space to typing. In casual conversation, it is normal to
backtrack, trip up, reword, change direction, and even change opinion
mid-sentence. And in conversation we tend to mumble, especially if we’re not
absolutely sure of what we’re saying. To dictate properly you have to have in
mind the next few words you’re going to say. Speech comes in bursts. To dictate
they need to come in clear, confident bursts. I find I’ll dictate several short
bursts of 7 or 8 words, and then go on a roll for a few sentences with no

There is a process here of getting used to thinking before
speaking, and then speaking with clear enunciation.

You become aware very quickly of which sounds you tend to

It can annoy colleagues. Some of my colleagues can block out
sound and focus on their own work, even while I’m droning on in the background.
Others can’t, and out of considerateness (or fear of retaliations!?!?) I avoid
dictating while they’re around.

It can be embarrassing. For some reason, I find it very
uncomfortable dictating emails when colleagues can hear me dictating, even if
the emails are of a mundane nature. I think this is fascinating. I can only
assume that, for me, composing emails requires a sense of private space. I tend
to type emails rather than dictate them, if I have company in my staff room.

A funny video where a demonstration of Vista speech recognition stuffed up:

This video features a completely different speech recognition program, the one built into Vista. Even at it's best it is nowhere near as good as Dragon, but on this day it was definitely not at its best.