Today I tried something relatively new.  I spent a little time teaching my son how to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  I got the idea a few days ago when he was putting together a report on volcanoes for his fourth grade class.  I worked with him to help him write the paper.  I showed him how to organize his notes and then set up the sections that he would write.  His mother identified the topics for the sections and then he sat down read the notes and wrote out each of the sections by hand.


After that, I took his handwritten notes that I had encouraged him to write as fast as possible and disregard any mistakes, and I read those aloud using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert his writing into typed text.  That took me about two minutes as he had written out about five pages where the paperwork with about one paragraph per page.

Now he had made a number of mistakes in his own grammar and spelling and punctuation because I encouraged him to go faster just get the “ideas out of his head” just as my 12th grade creative writing teacher had taught me years ago when I was learning to compose on a novel new device known as the computer.

So back then I was thinking I should have him use Dragon NaturallySpeaking instead of me speaking this into the computer.  Unfortunately at the time, we had a rapidly approaching deadline for the project that he was working on in school as he had to also create a working volcano.  This was one of those projects where everyone in the class, possibly everyone in fourth grade had to create a model working volcano along with write up a report about volcanoes.  In fact, on the day of the report, I took him to school and helped him carry his volcano and report in the school.  There was a long line or parade of parents helping their kids carry their volcanoes to school that day.  Long story short about that when my son had one of the best looking volcanoes, but his volcano failed to fire because we’d used much baking soda, or was it baking powder I don’t remember now as my wife was responsible for the logistics of the explosion.

That all happened last week, and today my son said, “Hey dad, can I learn how to talk to your computer today?” after he finished up his homework.

Honestly I had too much work to do, but the day had been a pitiful wash anyway and this seemed like a great time to sit down with him and get him set up on Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  Now I’m going to go into the details of this experience in a future article, but I did learn one thing right off the bat that could be important for someone that’s installing Dragon NaturallySpeaking on a brand-new computer.  My son wasn’t using the program on my own computer or have the software installed, I only have the one license.  My son doesn’t have a lot of e-mail on my computer nor does he have a lot of documents.  This is important to understand because Dragon NaturallySpeaking actually trains itself to adapt to your writing style by reviewing your e-mail and all the documents on your computer. 

Since my son didn’t have any e-mail on my computer and he didn’t have any documents on my computer, at least no documents that could be discerned from my own documents, we couldn’t use this part of the program and set up Dragon NaturallySpeaking and to tune it to his writing style.  Now I don’t know how big of a difference this would make, so in my little experiment, I had him take the initial training is required which took about 10 minutes.  I then recorded him saying several sentences and watching how accurate or inaccurate Dragon NaturallySpeaking responded.  My son at nine years old was a little uncomfortable just saying some sentences off the cuff and continuously and so this in part played into the inaccuracy of the transcription, but part of it was also the fact that dragon just hadn’t had a chance to adapt itself to the way he speaks and writes. 

So I then had him read through another training session, because Dragon provides many training sessions that you can use if you want to.  You don’t have to use these extra training sessions as the program will learn as you use it in everyday work, but for my son it seemed practical to go ahead and try it some more plus it never hurts for him to get more practice reading.  There were not too many reading samples that were suited towards a nine-year-old, but there was an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland which is maybe a year or two over his reading level.  So he started reading Alice in Wonderland and as I watched him read it, I started to realize that Dragon NaturallySpeaking and voice recognition in general could be an excellent tool to help evaluate and monitor just how well students read.  The program in its test mode knows exactly which word should be said and has a range of how the words should be pronounced.  It doesn’t proceed until the person gets the word right or until the computer learns what the person is trying to say.  This is a lot like what a teacher has to do when they’re working with students to help them learn how to read.

As I was watching my son, I could just picture a whole classroom of students sitting down and reading to their computers.  Each student progressing at their own pace, and getting slight corrections from the computer as they went and possibly little help from their teacher from time to time when they ran into strange words or names like “Dinah” a name mentioned in Alice in Wonderland that stumped my son for quite a while.

So anyway I’m going to do a lot more with this I think in the future with both my son as well as my other daughters as they get to the age where they can read off of the computer.  I have a feeling that this could end up being a very good investment for my children both in learning how to read as well as how to compose and put words together verbally. 

After coming home from the holidays a couple months ago my mother wanted to set up something akin to like life insurance fund for my kids and it didn’t seem like a bad idea, but as I look at things now I suspected that same money might be better spent on something like this.  Don’t get me wrong Dragon NaturallySpeaking as a reading tool isn’t quite ready for prime time, but I think there could be some value in maybe picking up another license for my kids to share on their computer, instead of putting that money towards life insurance rates.


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