Today in higher education, there is an increasing amount of educational content provided in many different formats, which means an increase in the barriers to consuming this content for those with sensory impairments (blindness, low vision, eye strain), motor impairments while using computers, special needs such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, or cultural barriers such as low language proficiency.
Text-to-speech (TTS) technology, which gives students the ability to listen to an audio version of written content, can help remove these barriers—and a growing body of research supports the value of TTS for all types of learners. Here are some of the key studies on TTS in higher education, and what they suggest about the efficacy of text to speech in college classes and beyond.
Struggling to empower all learners in your college classes? Text-to-speech solutions from ReadSpeaker can help. Learn more about TTS for education.
Research on Text to Speech in College Classes
The most recent research on TTS in higher education tends to focus on speech synthesis as assistive technology, removing barriers for students with disabilities. Virtually all the studies show improvement on reading outcomes for learners with disabilities who use TTS. For example, see the following text-to-speech research papers:
- A 2021 study by Bruno et al. found that postsecondary students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) improved reading comprehension scores significantly after receiving direct instruction on use of TTS.
- A 2019 research synthesis by Bakken, Uskov, and Varidireddy concluded that TTS helps students with disabilities meaningfully engage with higher-level academic texts.
- Wood, Moxley, Tighe, and Wagner’s 2019 meta-analysis says that “text-to-speech/read aloud presentation positively impacts reading comprehension scores for individuals with reading disabilities.”
These studies follow decades of research demonstrating the benefits of TTS in higher education. A closer look at one illustrative study may reveal some of the reasons so many researchers reach the same conclusions about TTS.
Assistive Technology and Text to Speech in Higher Education: The Multimodal Campus Project
The 2015 pilot Multimodal Campus Project at Barcelona University was carried out by Marina Salse Rovira, Mireia Ribera Turro, Rosa Maria Satorras Fioretti, and Miquel Centelles Velilla. The results revealed the existence of widespread reading and writing difficulties among higher education students—and showed that speech technology can minimize them.
The main aim of the Multimodal Campus Project was to evaluate 1,200 freshmen students when text-to-speech reading aids were added to the university’s Moodle® Learning Management System, and measure need levels and the added value of the technology. Students were taken from different disciplines and different classes to ensure the research stretched across a range of student profiles.
Benefits of Text to Speech for Higher Education Learners
The study’s researchers gave questionnaires to students and teachers. These forms identified potential reading difficulties and attitudes toward the implementation of reading aids, use and preferences, and overall satisfaction. The questionnaires were also used to assess the integration of the assistive technology tools into teaching. Researchers also conducted In-depth interviews of a small sample of students.
Highlights from the research include:
- 35.2 % of the respondents had some degree of disability diagnosed. These were mainly vision impairments, followed by dysorthography or dysgraphia, ADHD, and dyslexia or dyscalculia. The most common reading and understanding problems were attention deficits, followed by difficulties in numerical operations.
- 20% admitted they had issues concentrating while reading, or understanding long written texts.
- More than 60% of Spanish-speaking students stated they had difficulty understanding how some English words were pronounced.
- ReadSpeaker was viewed as an easy-to-use program with a good integration of functions and a low learning curve that didn’t require external support. More than half of the interviewees stated they would keep using the reading assistance programs if they were available.
Results of the MultiModal Campus Project show that ReadSpeaker users experienced significant improvements in memorization (25.2 %) and reading comprehension (24.5%). It is worth noting that users perceived ReadSpeaker very positively, and no change was required from 53.16% of the students.
A Proven Usefulness for Reading Assistance Tools for All University Level-Students
Overall, results of the study show both a need for and the usefulness of reading assistance tools in a university context, not only for students with special needs or disabilities, but for all students.
According to the Multimodal Campus Project report, “ReadSpeaker is a suitable program to solve deficits in web and learning management systems, as well as in homework learning resources.”
The results of the Multimodal Campus Project match similar research on TTS in other learning environments.
Information technology offers technically and economically feasible solutions to complement learning resources by adding audio output. A multimodal presentation of materials is indeed helpful for a significant number of students, and particularly for those with difficulties in reading or writing, as found in previous studies (i.e. Neerincx et al., 2008).
Similar studies completed at Ohio State University (2013) and Uppsala University (2004) measured the usefulness of reading assistance tools, like ReadSpeaker, tracking the progress of over 1,000 students over the course of a single semester. ReadSpeaker text-to-speech tools were shown to minimize widespread reading and writing problems among higher education students.
Taking into account the worldwide trend to promote inclusive universities and learning accessibility, it behooves universities and other higher education institutions to use text to speech tools both to acquire and retain students, as well as increase their institution’s overall learning results.
How Text-to-Speech Technology Helps Students Learn: An Expert Opinion
In higher education as well as other teaching levels, text-to-speech technology like ReadSpeaker TextAid fits well within a literacy environment of multiple intelligences, multi-modalities, and multiple literacies. Adhering to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, the presentation of texts in different formats provides learners with a variety of ways to access the content, allowing each individual student to learn in the way that is personally most effective.
This bimodal presentation of content improves comprehension and academic results. As far back as 2000, Wise, Ring, and Olson found that TTS supports decoding, which frees the listener to focus on the meaning of the content rather than just the act of reading itself. This in turn encourages comprehension of larger concepts, student dialogue, and writing.
But as education researcher Michelann Parr points out, this assistive technology has even more important implications: increasing motivation and self-confidence for all kinds of students.
Research shows us that belief in oneself and choice in what and when to read act as powerful motivators for children to learn, Parr says. Text-to-speech technology improves motivation by allowing students to be successful not only in reading a text, but in understanding grade-level content alongside their peers.
“For those students who are frustrated because of a lack of decoding skills and fluency, text to speech is a confident internal voice, a support for comprehension and a valuable lifelong tool,” Parr says.
The conclusion is clear: By introducing text to speech to college classes, as well as primary and secondary education settings, teachers can help every student learn more effectively. To start introducing the benefits of TTS to your classroom, contact ReadSpeaker today.
Dr. Michelann Parr, Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, Canada Michelann Parr taught Kindergarten to Grade 6 for over ten years. Her experience includes early literacy intervention and working with struggling students. She teaches language, literacy, and special education, at both graduate and undergraduate levels, in the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University. She holds workshops on successful approaches to teaching literacy, poetry, writing, drama, and using technology as literacy support.