Using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 in the Classroom

We just got Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Wireless Premium and we are cautiously optimistic. We’re trying to figure out whether speech recognition software can make us more efficient, as well as how good it would be in the classroom.

Right now, this post is being written using Dragon and Internet Explorer. (I did have to use some keyboard clicking and mouse highlighting when I was editing.)

I’m not sure if it’s easier to speak our ideas rather than typing this post, but that could be because we’re just starting out. Here are some of our first impressions. We’ll follow up with a second post in a month to see if our thoughts change after we become better acquainted with the program.

Why We Bought Dragon 11

  • We’re trying to find a way to become more efficient.  We use a lot of technology in the classroom. Our students hand in a lot of work online or submit a digital version on a USB key, and so we provide a lot of feedback by typing comments directly into those electronic assignments. The dream is to be able to dictate our comments instead of typing.In theory, it’s a lot quicker to speak than to type; Dragon claims that their software is three times faster than typing. This is based on the idea that most people speak at a rate of 120 words per minute, but type at an average speed of less than 40 words per minute. On a good day, we type around 80 to 90 words per minute, but carpal tunnel syndrome is just around the corner.  We’re willing to invest the time to train Dragon to see if it really is faster than typing.
  • By working with Dragon hands-on, we’re evaluating how effective voice-recognition software can be to help students in the classroom. If your child has great ideas, but has difficulties getting those ideas on paper is Dragon NaturallySpeaking something that could help these children to produce work? What kind of student would find this software beneficial? Is it more trouble than it’s worth? Would Dragon NaturallySpeaking work in a crowded, noisy classroom?
  • It’s kind of cool. The idea of being able to speak to your computer has been in popular culture for a while. Think about the computer in Star Trek, Jarvis in Ironman, and HAL in 2001. While voice-recognition software is nowhere near those three examples, it certainly has improved over the last few years. Think about cell phones. They used to be big, clunky bricks and now they’re sleek, lightweight, and everywhere. Perhaps, one day Dragon NaturallySpeaking and other voice-recognition tools will become more mainstream.

PROS of Dragon NaturallySpeaking

  • Wireless Is Cool. We’re using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Wireless version which comes with the Plantronics Calisto headset with Bluetooth USB adapter and we got admit it’s kinda cool. In the past, when we played with Dragon 9, we were attached to our laptop and desk with a USB headset. But now, we can pace around and do other things and our words magically appear on the screen.
  • You can teach Dragon new words. For example, Dragon understood names like Ahmed, Sanjay and Christina out-of-the-box, but we had to add other names of our students into the dictionary like Junko and Nadia.
  • When it works, it’s faster than typing. When you’re saying out a long sentence or phrase and Dragon captures the words correctly then it really is quicker than typing, especially if you don’t know how to type like a lot of students. (Our fastest student types around 60 words per minute on a good day, but most computer literate students in our class type around 30 to 40 words per minute.) The question of course is how accurate is Dragon, how much time does it require to train it to be accurate, and how much time does it require to correct mistakes.
  • Dragon is smarter than I would expect it to be. For example, when we add a period in the middle of a sentence, it automatically capitalizes the next word. If we insert words into the middle of a sentence, it automatically fixes the spacing before and after which is a nice touch. Sometimes, it even gets the punctuation correct, but more often than not we have to go in and add the commas and periods ourselves.
  • Dragon lets you customize your profile based on your age and your accent. For example, if you are 13 or under, or 14 to 21, the software uses a different voice recognition engine for teenagers than it does for adults. Dragon can also make adjustments to improve accuracy if it knows you speak with an accent. For example, a British accent, an Australian accent, an Indian accent, southern US accent or Spanish accent. You can also train Dragon to understand how how you say specific words if it keeps on hearing those words incorrectly.

CONS of Dragon NaturallySpeaking

  • Sometimes it doesn’t work the way you want work. For example, we spent a lot of time trying to get the bulleted list style to work, and we still weren’t able to do it by voice yet. Sometimes, Dragon thought we wanted to send an e-mail and so it popped open our e-mail client. You can turn off certain features if you don’t use them (like e-mail or calendar commands), which will speed up Dragon and reduce confusion, but ultimately it comes down to training Dragon to understand your voice.
  • It actually requires a lot of correction and training. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is sometimes prescribed as a tool for special education students to assist them with getting their ideas down on paper. Over the past few years we’ve seen several students receive funding for the software, we’ve seen several students receive training for the software, but we’ve never really seen students use this software effectively. Dragon requires ongoing training and correction in order for it to become an accurate tool. Often times, someone from the school district will come out to train the student for a week or two, but then the bulk of the work is up to the parents or the teacher or the educational assistant to help the student to train the software to understand the student.
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 seems to work slower in some programs than others. Although Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 works with Microsoft Word, it does seem to work a lot slower compared to when you speak into Internet Explorer or the bundled DragonPad word processor. At first glance, it seems quicker to type into Microsoft Word using the Dragon dictation box rather than speaking into Word directly.
  • Saving your profile can take time. Before you’re rushing out the door, you’ll need to give Dragon some time to save any changes you make to the profile. Dragon recommends that you optimize your profile to incorporate any vocabulary changes you’ve made. These things take time. If your students have 20 minutes to work on a writing assignment, and it takes you 5 minutes to get your laptop set up and Dragon running, and another 5 min. at the end of the class to pack things up, and you spend 5 minutes of your time correcting mistakes that Dragon make, how many quality ideas are you really getting down?

Five Reasons Why It’s Difficult for Students to Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

When you think of voice-recognition software, it’s hard not to imagine something like Jarvis in Ironman, but the reality is that while the technology has improved drastically over the last few years, it still has a long way to go.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is sometimes prescribed to special-education students to help them with their work, but it’s not a magic bullet.  Here’s why:

  • It takes a lot of time to train the computer and to correct mistakes so that the program understands you. If you don’t train the computer, it doesn’t work. If you don’t practice with the software, you can’t get better at it. The problem is that if you are a struggling student, you may not be able to train the program independently. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is quite smart. If you make a mistake, it can give you a list of options to choose from to correct the mistake, or you can even type in the actual correction yourself. However, if you’re a struggling student, how easy is it to tell the difference between they’re, their, and there? Schools and parents may not have the time to help the students train their software.
  • Another problem is that you have to speak out punctuation marks. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 does have an autoformatting option which will allow it to add periods and commas. However, the software is far from perfect. Some students might get bogged down by trying to add punctuation marks. Still, it’s easy to imagine a classroom where a student uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking to get down a rough draft which is then later revised and edited on the computer.
  • It’s easy to get distracted. We’ve seen several students get distracted by trying out voice commands, instead of focusing on getting content down.
  • The software can be slow – you may be waiting for it to catch up to your ideas. Using voice recognition software requires that you speak in a certain way. You need to speak clearly in phrases, instead of word by word. Even if you are enunciating clearly like a newscaster, you might still be waiting for your words appear on the screen, depending on how powerful your computer is. Having said that, we’re using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 and it appears to be a lot quicker on our system than Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.
  • It can be embarrassing to speak out loud, especially for older students. You’re saying your ideas out loud and you might be self-conscious about any mistakes you make, or you might just not want people to hear your ideas. If you’re a teacher or a professional, you might not want your colleagues to hear your private e-mails.
  • It can take time to set up. How much time does it take to take out your notebook and pencil? How much time does it take to take out your laptop and headset, boot up the system, and turn on Dragon?
  • Geek may be the new chic, but it’s hard to be the only person using something. If the room is quiet and everyone is scribbling away their ideas on paper, it’s hard not to feel self-conscious as you’re speaking into a computer.

Where to get Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11

We had a little bit of trouble getting Dragon (actually, it took us for five days from the time we decided to get the software and the time we actually installed the software).

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • You can buy Dragon online directly from Nuance or from brick-and-mortar stores. In our city, some of the big box stores like Staples, Future Shop or Best Buy carry Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
  • Not all retail stores carry all versions of the program. In fact, while Future Shop and Best Buy both list Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 on their website, none of the stores had it in stock in their stores. The only place we could find the cheaper Student and Teacher version was from Nuance’s online store.
  • Make sure you do some comparison shopping – prices can vary. We initially bought the Education version from Nuance online and then later that same day, discovered that Staples had a special sale and sold the premium wireless version for a $100 off. We had some problems trying to cancel our order with Nuance online.
  • If you’re buying it online, think about shipping. Some places offer free shipping. Nuance charged us $19 (USD) to ship to Ontario via DHL courier. The Education version that we ordered from Nuance arrived the next business day and we could track the shipment online.
  • Think about sales tax and duty fees. If you buy from Future Shop, Best Buy, or Staples, you’ll have to pay sales tax. Bf you buy from Nuance online, you won’t get charged tax, but be prepared to pay for duty custom charges as it’s being shipped from the States. (Canadian boarder fees from our Nuance shipment would’ve been around $15.)
  • Think about return policies. Future Shop, Best Buy, and Staples will usually allow you to return unopened software. Even if you buy it online, you can return it in store. When we bought directly from Nuance online, it was a headache to cancel our order. (UPDATE: We received a full refund from Nuance.) We bought the Education version from Nuance’s web store at seven o’clock in the morning. We called back at noon to cancel the order and received a cancellation ticket. We were told that the order could only be canceled if it hadn’t been shipped yet. Unfortunately, the sales department and the order fulfillment department are not connected, so even though we tried to cancel our order at noon, the product still got shipped two hours later and then at seven o’clock at night we received an e-mail from the fulfillment department saying that the order had already been shipped and could not be canceled. If we still wanted to cancel the order, we could refuse to accept it from the carrier and Nuance would refund us the money when the package returned to the warehouse. Unfortunately shipping costs cannot be refunded. We refused to accept the shipment when it arrived the next day and the product was sent back to sender. We contacted Nuance and they will be refunding our money, except for the shipping fees.

Bottom line: If you’re thinking about getting Dragon NaturallySpeaking, shop around, both online and at retail stores. If you don’t need a wireless headset, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Student and Teacher Version is $100 cheaper than the regular premium version. At the time of writing,  we couldn’t find the education version at Future Shop, Best Buy or Staples - it was only available from the Nuance website – but that could be because this latest version of Dragon only came out in August 2010. We had no problems with buying Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 from Nuance online, except when we tried to cancel our order. So as long as you do your homework and shop around before ordering online, you should have no problems.  (UPDATE: We received a full refund from Nuance.)

Stay tuned as we keep you posted on our progress with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11. How useful can the software be in the classroom?

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