On the 30th of May, John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning is announcing two new JISC TechDis services. In his plenary speech at the 7th National Digital Conference (ND 2012), John Hayes will launch the TechDis Voices and the TechDis Toolbox.
The TechDis voices are two high-quality, youthful and modern voices (Jack and Jess) that can be used with text-to-speech (TTS) tools. Across England, staff and learners in higher education institutions and further education colleges as well as the skills, adult and lifelong learning sectors will have access to these voices.
Text-to-speech (TTS) technology allows text in electronic formats to be read out loud by synthetic voices or saved as MP3 files for later listening. The quality of synthetic voices is judged by how easy they are to understand and by how human they sound. TechDis have worked with hundreds of learners and Cereproc (a specialist synthetic voice company) to ensure that Jess and Jack meet those standards. Feedback from those involved in the Beta testing has been very good.
“Jack’s pronunciation is the best I have heard for a long time. Jess is even better than Jack – brilliant!” says Sid Cameron, Assistant Manager of Soundwell Learning Resource Centre, City of Bristol College.
To have a high quality free voice is an exciting development because just about everyone can benefit in some way from text-to-speech. For instance, you may be able to multitask and listen to texts whilst travelling or exercising. TTS is especially useful for people with print impairments, such as dyslexia, as it can help them understand the meaning of text more quickly and accurately. It can also be very helpful to those for whom English is an additional language (EAL) as they may be more confident with spoken rather than written English.
Sal Cooke, Director of JISC TechDis says, “We are hoping that Jess and Jack will help bring text-to-speech out of the shadows and into the light of mainstream education provision. There are so many benefits for so many different types of people.”
This is a collection of resources which give useful hints and tips on technologies that can help individuals work smarter, quicker and more efficiently. JISC TechDis has a history of providing simple easy-to-use resources for tutors and lecturers. Here we have shifted our focus and Toolbox is aimed directly at the end users – the learners themselves.
While written primarily for those with disabilities or difficulties, it is useful for just about anyone who wants to gain or improve on the skills most valued by employers. It explores many common workplace technologies (such as Microsoft Office and Google) and explains how to get the most out of them. It also suggests different tools for different needs, for instance, those with a visual impairment may find screen magnifiers or text-to-speech tools useful. Individuals with dyslexia or memory problems are advised to use task lists, calendars and reminders.
The contents of the Toolbox were determined via feedback from groups of former students who were asked “what should your tutor have told you but never did?” The development of the final resource has been shaped by our learner ambassadors. That’s why it contains bite-size videos, short guides, animations and brief audio files.
These small bits of just-in-time information can be easily understood and absorbed allowing users to learn something new and put it into practice straight away. Most people use technology everyday. Using it smarter can help people be more productive, organised and creative.
Since 2011, JISC TechDis has been working with the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) on three projects to ‘improve take up and understanding of assistive and mainstream technologies for the benefit of disabled and disadvantaged learners.’ As part of this partnership, BIS provided the funding for both the Voices and the Toolbox.
The third project is the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) in conjunction with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). These projects which are currently in Phase 2 and will be launched in 2013. SBRI brings innovative solutions to specific public sector needs, by engaging a broad range of companies in competitions for ideas that result in short-term development contracts. It uses the power of government procurement to accelerate technology development, supporting projects through the stages of feasibility and prototyping which are typically hard to fund.