Voice Recognition with Bob! A taste of the on-line learning experience

by Dr. Stephanie A. Burns



When I first wrote about this experience I had a great deal of difficulty. It was one of the hardest topics to get my head around because the event that led to it was so big and had so many facets.

The intent of this article is to share with you a small part of the experience I had in creating and facilitating my first on-line learning course. I also want to visit with you the myths that are being created about all forms of technology by those who simply can't get it to work in the limited way they are thinking.

To write this I poured over the lesson plan I wrote for the Voice Recognition with Bob course (150+ pages) and the student entries from the on-line lessonbook (500+ pages).

Here are the thoughts that strike me most

I guess I want you to know first that in an on-line learning course there are some days we all laughed so hard I could hear people falling out of their chairs! One day I got caught off guard with a student's dictation and sprayed a mouthful of coffee over my monitor. I had to discipline myself to not read student reports as they came in, because I couldn't settle back down to get any work done.

Next I want you to know that in the end I felt closer to this group of students than I feel when working with a group 'live' - except maybe the longer events like Training To Train and Goal Achievers where over time the quality of communication can be similar. But in a 'live' environment people can go through the event and never say much of anything to me. In the on-line environment to say nothing you have to write "I have nothing to say". That is saying something! Of course, no one ever said "I have nothing to say" but you get the point. Writing in once a day or so is the only way you are "visible". And for as much as we might like to be "invisible" in 'live' classrooms, we don't like it when our "invisibility" really means "no one knows you are there."

Of course, everyone writing in meant that there was an unprecedented amount of opportunity for observational learning. This is not readily available in 'live' events - but here you could observe everyone's process if you chose to do that and learn vicariously from their experience. Many people ended up grateful for all of the ideas they got from others.

But with that said, another beauty was that there was no forced interaction, and you never had to read anyone elses reports. The level of choice, WITHOUT dimishing the quality of learning, was astounding. Those of you who have worked with me in events know to what degree I attempt to do this - but here there was no trying about it - the students were in control.

The lessons themselves were full on. This was a serious learning situation where we were developing a competence that, if mastered, could save hundreds of hours. I also predict that this skill will hold these individuals in good stead when the world moves closer to a voice recognition world of access. I say the lessons were full on so you know that I was respectful of the time people needed to dedicate to this endeavour and that I did not add any unnecessary activities into the process for fun.

I liked it too that students could take a day off here and there and catch up on the weekends if need be. It didn't happen often and never it seemed for no good reason. But there were times when people had computer problems, or were travelling or otherwise extremely busy. I liked it that the course could accommodate that type of movement. So many 'live' events require absolute attendance at the time of the class.


Bob lives in the chips!


I want to say a sincere thanks to all the volunteers in the Voice Recognition on-line course test.



The homepage for the
original Bob Course.

Even after all my experiences with designing on-line environments for courses this simple design absolutely did the trick of motivating students to turn up for the next on-line lesson everyday for 4 weeks.




I liked it too when I woke up in the morning and saw that everyone in the program could use whatever was their best time for learning. For some it was early, others sponsored by their companies did it on the job, still others were doing their lessons late at night.

Just about everyone quickly began to look forward to the next mornings email. And, that, without prompting became the ritual. Up and off to check the email and get the day's lesson. Then planning for when the lesson could be done, but all the while thinking about it through the day. Then getting the lesson done and reporting in to the lesson book.

It was amazing how much importance we had to place on learning not only to educate the software, but on the whole process of learning and then to top it off addressing a whole range of myths we uncovered exist about 'talking' and 'writing' and 'editing' and 'dictation'. I wove into the course major lessons on 'how' to learn efficiently, 'how' to learn on-line efficiently, and 'how' to use 'real-time' experience to learn the truth about our behaviours.

This course became not just about learning how to use ViaVoice, it became a rich interwoven learning process that left everyone involved competent with ViaVoice, knowing how to use their computer and internet in new ways, knowing how to organise their learning in their busy lives, knowing how to learn more efficiently and making a few new friends to boot.

I just loved it!











A side note here for the critics of ViaVoice and voice recognition technology.

While working on this project I read a good number of reviews about ViaVoice and other voice recognition software. In the main much of it was negative and much of the negativity centred on what was considered to be a lack of readiness, or sophistication, of the software. I noted, however, that most negativity - be that from reviewers or attempted users - stemmed from a short exposure to the product.

There seemed to be a pervasive myth that you can somehow install this software and mysteriously know how to use it well (or better that it will know how to use you well!). There were a few erroneous notions that needed de-mything.

1. Because we know how to talk we will know how to dictate.

2. We are faster and more efficient using typing to construct a finished document than dictation.

3. The software has misunderstands us when we speak inarticulately more than another person will. We do not remember the many times each day the person we are communicating with says, "whatcha say?", "what was that?" "did you say ...?" or misinterprets us ("Oh, I thought you said ..."). This happens so frequently we no longer consciously process the experience. We are happy to correct our poor speaking behaviour to be clear to another human in away that is scoffed at when needing to do so for the software.

4. There is no learning process required.

5. You have to dramatically change you speaking speed and behaviour to be functional.

These notions started to be expressed as "truths" by people who themselves did not own voice recognition software - only know what they have read.

Here were some of the questions I used with my students to help them think more accurately about this new technology and their relationship to it.

How long and by what process did you

become competent as a typist (if indeed you are)?

learn to use any basic application on your computer - say Lotus notes or Filemaker?

learn to drive a car?

learn to write a decent paper or report?

learn to deliver a coherent presentation?

learn to use the features your palm pilot (or even your mobile phone) competently?

Might I venture a few guesses

It took awhile.

It was not done in one hour, one session or even on one day.

It, indeed, happened in layers of competencies woven together - a little bit over a longish time.

Then there was a point at which you shifted from "learning" to "using" and you have been stuck with that level of compentence ever since - meaning that the skill hasn't improved with use.

I am happy to go on record stating that this technology:

has reached a stage of development where high utility is possible.

is a significant tool enabling me to create the volume of material you see in these newsletters.

requires a learning plan and process be followed not unlike any significant complex competency you now possess.

is part of the future. You can learn to develop competence with this tool or stutter along as many still do with other skills which remain poorly developed.

for the investment in learning you to possess a skill that allows a quality of expression and speed in certain daily tasks not possible with other technologies.

Happy talking!


(Quickly dictated with ViaVoice)



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