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Multi-sensory e-learning suite at London South Bank University

The Multi-sensory e-learning suite at LLU+ London South Bank University

South Bank University The LLU+ received professional development status in March 2004 when it became the Central London Professional Development Centre (PDC). The centre serves as a vibrant focal point for teachers and trainers to develop and extend their expertise in literacy, numeracy, ESOL, Family learning, dyslexia support and workforce and community development. It builds on teacher-training activities funded by the London Central Learning & Skills Council.

The Multisensory E-learning Suite at LLU+ integrates a range of assistive technologies and multimedia providing a multisensory framework for e-learning. They are developing e-learning approaches with learners who have specific learning disabilities (dyslexia) that affect their language, literacy and learning development. The Centre is exploring how e-learning can support students' needs and enhance their abilities; extending the pathways of learning through auditory and visual communication and interactivity to enhance key skills for academic studies.

Learning support and assistive technology training is provided for LSBU and London-based students who claim the Disabled Student Allowance. It is also a teacher-training centre for additional learning-support teachers studying our postgraduate certificate in Multisensory E-learning & Dyslexia Support.

Multi Sensory Development

The facility has seven workstations that use Keystone SpeechMaster, which includes the Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition system. Touch-screen access to the programs is provided along with floating desktops so that learners can stand as they speak and write. The trainers, Gareth Mason and Natasha McNerney have used Keystone and Dragon software from the early days of its development as a discrete speech recognition program. They are both dyslexics themselves and have first hand experience of using speech recognition to support their own difficulties with writing.

Our students have benefited immensely from using speech recognition. Zeeshan Ali said: "I found Dragon speech recognition software extremely helpful and was amazed to see how hassle-free writing can be and how much time can be saved; it is fast, efficient and virtually error-free."

Dan Duran had tried to use speech recognition on the Apple Macintosh with little success before he came to LLU+ for training. He explained: "For a number of years I had tried to use various other speech recognition software, without the kind of success that made it useful.

"That was until I was sent to LLU+ for help with my dyslexia. I saw Dragon Naturally Speaking and Keystone in action for about five minutes, then I realised the future was here, and what had been a clumsy technology was going to save me from the literary corner I have been living in for the past years. I got to grips with Dragon Naturally Speaking 8 and within about 15 minutes I was away with real ease. Believe me, it just makes writing painless. I liked it so much I got a Windows PC and now run Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 on it next to my Macintosh so I can write e-mails on the fly."

We have found that Keystone is an essential partner for Dragon NaturallySpeaking as it enables learners to enhance their voice profile by tailoring the voice training texts and offering the ability for students to use course reading material during the training process. This enables us to use course work texts that contain the language, vocabulary and writing style that Dragon needs to be familiar with when students use speech recognition. Dan Duran said: "Keystone gave useful options for Dragon Naturally Speaking to learn about my voice by offering different stories to read. You can even read your own work through it, which is easier as it's written in the way you think and talk."

Keystone also enables the enrolment training to be carried much more efficiently when it helps students to decode and pronounce the training material accurately. Zeeshan Ali confirmed this when he explained: "Keystone is another wonderful piece of technology. This made voice training a lot easier because it speaks out the training scripts. This helps me to pronounce difficult words and breaks up the training material into manageable chunks."

Dragon Naturally Speaking at LLU Dan Duran also feels that the speech echo is important when he explained, "Keystone has this killer feature, which is when you speak to Dragon Naturally Speaking it repeats what is on the screen. It's a better voice than computers normally talk to you in (i.e. less like Professor Stephen Hawking) and it really quickly indicates mistakes you have made. It's like listening to an echo of your voice, which though a little unnatural at first, gives you instant feedback to whether Dragon has got it correct.".

Keystone also provides a whole host of tools to support writing with speech recognition software such as homophone-checking facilities. It is clear to us that writing with speech recognition offers a whole range of new possibilities for writing as a whole, and that there are many ways of incorporating it in practice. We were very pleased to be able to purchase both Keystone and Dragon professional as a bundle in the SpeechMaster package form Words Worldwide Ltd, and we have received excellent support and advice about its installation and use. This has also given us a chance to discuss our awareness of how learners use speech recognition and Words Worldwide have been very open to this feedback.

Dan Duran said: "The way I have found myself using Dragon Naturally Speaking is very quickly to produce my hand-written notes and ideas for texting ready for an essay or other work. During brainstorming I write my train of thought (as a list of words) down in my sketchbook. Then at some point later I talk that into the computer word-for-word or else use the hand-written text as a prompt which I expand upon."

We feel there is great potential to use speech recognition systems within education when the differences and similarities of speech and writing skills are understood. Understanding the particular skills of learners is key consideration for any one proposing to incorporate the technology within and elearning framework so that the tools can be matched to learners needs.

Gareth Mason,
Senior Lecturer, Dyslexia and ICT; LLU+, London South Bank University

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