Why Speech-to-Text Needs to Be a Part of Virtual Learning’s Future
By Mark Chen
May 21, 2020
Before the coronavirus, the quarantine, and the so-called Low-Touch-High-Tech economy, the schools that needed speech-to-text services varied widely — private elementary schools captioning virtual classes, public land-grant universities needing transcripts for research purposes in social science labs, and everything in between.
Now, in the post-COVID-19 era, two things have become clear: One, there are far more schools realizing that they need speech-to-text (particularly captions in a live remote classroom environment and transcripts for learners who need supplemental help). And two, this move is at least partially due to administrators seeing the ground turn to molten lava under their feet.
Budgets are getting slashed. State-level funding cuts are coming. Enrollment, which was never a given, is even more precarious and unreliable. Even the most seasoned faculty members are learning how to teach again, taking on unfamiliar eLearning software, on devices where distractions abound. And that’s just the start of the bedlam.
The Benefits of Speech-to-Text Services
Thankfully, advances in speech-to-text have come along at the right time to meet these challenges. School closures have impacted at least 55 million students. Of those students, 5 million have learned English as a second language. That’s not even counting the students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have unique learning needs that virtual classrooms can’t easily accommodate.
We frequently speak to the educational professionals who use speech-to-text services about how we can better help them. What we’re hearing right now is that the landscape is truly this unwieldy, unusually-paired combination of powerlessness and chaos. It has left a lot of administrators asking, “Where on earth do I go from here?”
The most obvious answer is: We all go online. We prepare to be there for the near- if not for the foreseeable future. But then what?
Something to Be Learned
It’s in these moments I recall one of my high school teachers, Mr. Grant, who used to say something like, “In the midst of failure and fear, there’s something to be learned.”
And I do think there is “something to be learned” here. While by its own right a logistical nightmare (especially at scale) for schools, the recent push towards virtual learning does offer a silver lining:
This moment of need can actually be an opportunity for educators to show just how serious they are about capital-A Accessibility. Schools can leverage the power of technology to put learning first, for all students. This can truly be a chance to double-down on inclusivity.
An Opportunity to Promote Access and Inclusion
The accessibility mandate demands we go beyond paying lip service to concerned parents and educators — or to prevent compliance-related lawsuits (though that is indeed an additional benefit).
It’s about a cohesive ideology pushing us into the future. A liberal education — not informed by any political slant, but rather the wide-ranging pedagogical process that has been around since the Age of Enlightenment, the ideology that still informs the way we structure and operate our education system — predicates itself on inclusivity.
We teach our kids about Mozart even if they don’t see a job in music. We teach them about Newton even if they’d rather play the piano all day. We teach the difference between Abstract Impressionism and Post-Modern Art, even though they may never have a practical use for it in “adult life” (unless they’re ever on Jeopardy). We have them tell their stories. We have them engage in dialogue with each other. We have them empathize and challenge.
The point is to open up the entire world and then let students choose where to go next. As a society, we have agreed that to learn, to truly learn, educators must include differing opinions, conflicting narratives, and varied worldviews. And to include, to truly include, means educators most provide access to that knowledge to everyone.
We think that Rev’s live captions for Zoom Meetings are the right technology step in this direction, especially for schools as they head into this chaotic future.
And while we do know that the combination of audio and visual learning (like that in a live caption stream during a meeting) creates an optimal learning environment for students, Accessibility is far more than what we’re doing at Rev. It’s an ethos that has to lead to some of mankind’s greatest achievements. If we’re to continue innovating, pushing ourselves as a species and as a society, it’s a mindset we need to applaud, encourage, and promote as best we can.
Mark Chen is senior vice president of product at Rev.com.
Featured Image: Allie, Unsplash.