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Dragon NaturallySpeaking Case Study

HMP Holme House


Holme House is a category B male local prison, housing around 1000 remand and convicted prisoners. The education department within the prison is currently run by New College Durham, a local college who run the education contracts for all of the North East prisons. Both establishments endeavour to support and encourage prisoners by making education accessible and providing aids and adaptations where appropriate.

After seeing KeyStone SpeechMaster, a voice recognition and read-back package comprising of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and KeyStone ScreenSpeaker, at a local demonstration, representatives from the education department at Holme House agreed to act as a pilot site for use of this literacy aid software in HM prisons.

Lesley Clarke, the teacher responsible for the pilot, currently teaches 'Preparation for Work', including guidance and personal development that includes literacy issues. She also has recently completed the OCR Certificate for Teachers of Learners with Specific Learning Difficulties and describes herself as, "not really technically minded or very computer literate, although I am fairly confident with word processing".

Logistical and Technical Issues

Before the KeyStone SpeechMaster literacy software could be installed and the pilot commence a number of issues had to be resolved.

[Q:] How could the prisoners be allowed access to the system securely and maintain the prison's policies and procedures?
[Q:] No educational sessions can be held on a one-to-one basis with a prisoner, therefore learning support had to be given in group situations.
[Q:] Voice recognition software requires relatively high computer specifications.
[Q:] Levels of background noise potentially affecting the users recognition rates.
[Q:] The staff involved had no experience of using voice recognition software.

The education department were allowed access to some laptops that had suitable specifications for the study. Their mobility allowed the prisoners to have access in their normal classrooms and current group sessions. Low cost, noise cancelling microphone headsets were provided, removing unwanted background interference.

It is common to feel apprehensive when using new technology in a classroom environment. "At first we did not feel confident enough to use the software with the men, as we did not really know how to use it ourselves. We asked for assistance from W3 and after an on-site training visit and a little practice at home we felt confident to support and guide the prisoners", said Lesley. The importance of teacher training and long-term user support cannot be underestimated. W3 always recommend training and provide 12 month user support in such circumstances.

Prisoner backgrounds

Two prisoners took part in the KeyStone pilot study. Bob, a convicted prisoner aged 28, who although a bright and eager learner, had negative experiences during his schooling and arrived in the education department without having achieved any previous qualifications. His main concern included spelling and getting his ideas down on paper. Verbally very competent, he felt his written skills were embarrassing and although he wanted to develop these skills, Bob was anxious about writing in a classroom environment.

The second prisoner Pete is a 22-year-old convicted prisoner with a broad Yorkshire accent. Pete has a short attention span and often lacks concentration. He preferred learning through discussion and practical tasks rather than working alone and experienced particular difficulty keeping track of what he wanted to write, leading to difficulties with sentence construction, structure and spelling.

Prisoner experiences

Both Bob and Pete had several sessions using the software package and enjoyed the experience with Pete in particular finding SpeechMaster to be a useful and constructive way to aid his learning. "Pete achieved reasonable recognition rates when creating his written work despite his broad accent", reported Lesley. "He in particular gained confidence quickly and explored the software's tools fully, showing me some additional features that were useful to both of us". Dr Peter Kelway of Words Worldwide believes this to be quite common, "The use of voice recognition software has a steep learning curve, once the users' initial commitment gets them past the basics there's no stopping them experimenting to see what they can do."

However, Lesley also reported, "Bob was a little more frustrated, but he had never used a computer before so I think he was tackling some techno-phobia barriers as well as learning to use the software. However, he also found it quite exciting, useful and would have liked to have been able to use it on a longer and more regular basis".

Overall, both prisoners were enthusiastic about using this literacy aid software and felt proud that they had been able to better express their ideas, produce improved written work and learn useful computer skills with a new technology along the way.

Teacher comments

Lesley believes that this software is a valuable tool for all learners and not necessarily just learners with disabilities such as dyslexia. "I think many prisoners are low in confidence and self esteem and that to be able to use this sophisticated software can do nothing but increase their confidence and motivate their learning.", "SpeechMaster could also be used to develop communication skills and many other teaching and learning benefits. Just the experience and skill in using this kind of software is beneficial to learners, but especially those whose attention, concentration and planning difficulties prevent them from feeling confident about their written work."

HMP Holme House (01642) 744112

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