Text-to-Speech Feature Studied in Reading Comprehension Pilot

Odessa College’s distance learning program, OC Global, is no stranger to innovation. OC Global takes a research and development (R&D) approach to education by seeking new ways to maximize accessibility and improve student success. That’s why a partnership with an industry innovator like ReadSpeaker is a good fit. ReadSpeaker delivers web-based tools to overcome content accessibility issues such as limited screen size and reading disabilities by speech-enabling online text. OC Global and ReadSpeaker have teamed up to add a text-to-speech feature for OC Global online courses. This approach improves access for students with learning disabilities and gives all students the option to listen to OC Global coursework via their computers, mobile phones or tablets. “By integrating ReadSpeaker text-to-speech capabilities into OC Global courses, we’re giving students a range of new options,” said Corey Davis, OC Global Executive Director. “Students with learning disabilities can access course text with a button embedded in each lesson that converts the text to speech. Students can listen to lessons while driving or engaged in other activities. It erases barriers caused by the need to access large amounts of text via a small screen, such as that on a mobile device.” Students are not required to download applications to use the ReadSpeaker function since it’s a cloud-based service. Students simply log in to their OC Global course and choose the listen button, which is supported by a wide variety of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, Chrome and Lynx. OC Global integrated the ReadSpeaker tool into its SoftChalk content authoring platform. The text is highlighted as it is converted into speech, which promotes reading comprehension for students who are developing that skill by enabling them to follow along with the text as it is read. “Anytime, anywhere access to course content is a top priority for many students,” said Joop Heijenrath, ReadSpeaker Cofounder and the executive responsible for ReadSpeaker’s business operations outside of Europe. “We’re pleased to work with OC Global. Providing online text-to-speech improves student access and helps increase reading comprehension.” In keeping with its R&D focus, OC Global is using the integration of technology in its coursework to try fresh approaches and measure results. OC Global is working with Live Ink to explore how presentation of text in a cascading style – Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting – rather than in standard block format as the text is presented as speech via ReadSpeaker affects comprehension and recall. OC Global is also working with SmarterServices, specialists in online learner readiness assessment, to gauge effectiveness by measuring whether or not this method improves reading comprehension. Student reading rates and recall will be assessed along with their perceptions of the course and academic performance. Studies performed by other organizations at the high school and college levels indicate that this method may improve reading comprehension and recall by a full standard deviation over control groups. As always, OC Global’s goal is to test new pedagogies and technologies to increase the quality and effectiveness of Odessa College’s online learning program. In a national education environment that often fails to keep pace with rapidly changing student needs and challenges, OC Global stands out by focusing on student achievement and by its willingness to try new approaches to improve results. OC Global’s partnership with ReadSpeaker emphasizes the institution’s readiness to adopt new tools to promote student success. Odessa College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges. To learn more about the college and its unique learning community, please visit www.odessa.edu. A complete course catalogue can be found at http://www.odessa.edu/catalog/current_catalog/.