Best practices for students using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 in a noisy (classroom) environment?

speakers533930983_5d8fad55d6_zSo this is an experiment. I’m trying to see what happens when I talk into to my computer when I have a DVD playing the Avengers, and the radio blaring on my iPad at the same time. How accurate is this?

I went to a demonstration where the person used Dragon NaturallySpeaking and just talked into the computer in the middle of a loud showroom as if nothing was wrong. And the computer picked up everything he was saying. It really was quite impressive.

So I’m trying to simulate what would happen in the classroom situation with a bunch of background noise happening. Overall, it’s pretty impressive. It’s recording what I’m saying and I can’t do this too much longer because I don’t want to wake up my little girl.

One of the big problems that I have with Dragon NaturallySpeaking is that I don’t think it works in the classroom well when you have a lot of kids talking in the background. (And this doesn’t count for the fact that you might feel self-conscious talking to a computer. After all, I would feel self-conscious talking to my computer as a teacher.)

The computer trainer for students who use Dragon NaturallySpeaking suggested to the students that they correct Dragon as they go along to improve Dragon’s accuracy.

I have another theory.

I think Dragon NaturallySpeaking is accurate enough as it is. I regularly get between 97 to 98% accuracy. So I think if you have students correcting mistakes during the classroom situation, you’ll pick up extra noise in the background and this will actually make the voice recognition software worse.

This happened with me and my cat when I was using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, but maybe things have changed in Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12. All right, let’s see how accurate Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been so far.


Okay, so I just listened to the audio of the previous text. One of the cool things about Dragon NaturallySpeaking is that you can give the command, “playback” and it will playback and highlight the words as you spoke them. I didn’t correct any mistakes when Dragon was transcribing my text, so it isn’t learning from my corrections. (Also, right now for this experiment, I’m not saving my user profile or running the accuracy tuning wizard.

In the first section, there were 289 words, and there were 28 word mistakes. This means that overall Dragon NaturallySpeaking had an accuracy rate of 90.3%. Not as good as it normally does when I’m working in a quiet environment, but not bad.

When I finish this blog post, I will not save my user profile, so that the next time they use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it’s a fresh start. (I want to tell my students to never save their Dragon NaturallySpeaking user profile.) Maybe one time, I will do another experiment and correct my mistakes when I’m speaking in a loud environment to see if that makes any difference.

By the way, when I was  listening back to the Dragon audio playback, you can hear the background Avengers fight scene, and the music on the radio. So clearly, the microphone  is picking up the background noise, but Dragon NaturallySpeaking is working hard to figure out what you are saying. (Maybe things work much better with a better noise reducing microphone headset.)

I’m still not convinced that Dragon NaturallySpeaking works well in a classroom environment – a noisy classroom environment at that – but if you do have to use the speech recognition software in class, I’m interested to see if it works better if you don’t correct mistakes in the classroom, or if you do fix mistakes as you go along.  

Ideas about getting the most out of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 in the classroom

I think I’m going to recommend to students the following best practices:

Best practices for creating a new student user voice profile on Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12:

  1. Find a quiet room with no background noise to create a pure voice profile. Do this one-on-one, and not with small groups of students training Dragon at the same time. 
  2. Read through the initial training text so that the student get an idea of how to use voice recognition software and so Dragon NaturallySpeaking gets an idea of your voice. Coach the student sentence-by-sentence if necessary before the computer is listening so they can read as fluently as possible.
  3. Run the accuracy tuning wizard / accoustic optimizer so Dragon can process the initial training voice data.
  4. Backup this pure Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice profile so we can restore to this default setting without having to re-read the text. On Windows 8, the user profiles are here: C:ProgramDataNuanceNaturallySpeaking12Users
  5. (You can also use Dragon’s backup feature, but I wouldn’t. I believe the backups are destructive and overwrite the previous backup so if students backup their voice profile themselves, I don’t think you can go back to this initial fresh voice profile. I’d rather do it manually.)

Best practices for students using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12:

  1. Tell students not to waste class time (and potentially decrease voice recognition accuracy) by (mis)training Dragon in a noisy environment and correcting mistakes. Instead, I’m going to encourage students to delete mistakes manually. It’s quicker and that way, they can focus on doing the assignment (instead of teaching the computer new tricks.)
  2. At the end, I’m going to ask students to use something like WordQ to play back what they wrote to see if they can catch any errors. I suppose students could use the, “playback” command to listen to what Dragon NaturallySpeaking heard, but unfortunately, once you start manually correcting mistakes, the audio samples become very choppy and distracting. (WordQ has a SpeakQ voice recognition program premium add-on, but I find SpeakQ is not as accurate as Dragon NaturallySpeaking.)
  3. I’m going to ask students to NOT save their Dragon NaturallySpeaking user profiles at the end of class. 
  4. If students accidentally save their Dragon NaturallySpeaking profiles, I can always restore it from my backup.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking really is accurate without any training. Straight out of the box:

Now, I know Dragon NaturallySpeaking gets better by learning word patterns that the user likes to use. But I think Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 is pretty darn accurate right out of the box.

no-training-writing-style-acoustic-optimizerI wrote a previous post using a fresh user profile:

  • I did the audio setup to check my USB headset and microphone levels
  • I skipped reading the initial training text
  • I did not let Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 analyze my email or word documents to see what word patterns I use.
  • I did not run the acoustic optimizer.
  • I used a USB headset with Windows 8 and Microsoft Word 2010 and no background apps running.

Even though I didn’t train Dragon NaturallySpeaking at all, the speech recognition software was accurate for 98% for what I said. Not bad, straight out of the box.

And, that’s why I don’t think students need to spend time “training” (or getting distracted by “training”) Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

Lets focus on getting students to produce work. This is my current game plan, at least for now.

Stay tuned.

Photo Credit: Title Me by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0)

dns_word_accuracy: 91.2

How accurate is Dragon NaturallySpeaking in a noisy classroom?

cat-8511402100_fea15da1c5_cI have a cat. I also use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

One day, my cat was meowing at me as I dictated to my computer. Really loud persistent meows.

There I was, trying to talk to my computer, correct mistakes (to train Dragon), and play with my cat all at the same time.

It didn’t work very well. The voice recognition software kept on making tons of mistakes that I had to correct and my cat just got annoyed with me.

Normally, I get around a 97 to 98% word recognition accuracy with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Having my cat around really dropped the word recognition rate, and that made sense to me because my cat felt strongly that I wasn’t paying enough attention. But, what surprised me the most was that the next day I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it seemed to continue to make more mistakes than it normally did.

Was this because while I thought I was correcting my word mistakes to teach Dragon NaturallySpeaking the nuances of my voice, I was actually training Dragon to make more mistakes because I was corrupting my user voice profile by adding a Kitty sound track?

Things I’ve learned about Dragon NaturallySpeaking from my cat

This was back in the day when I first started playing with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, so I simply deleted the user profile and started over from scratch. Everything seemed to work better after that, and I walked away with two important life lessons:

  1. Close the office door when I’m dictating to my computer because it seems Dragon NaturallySpeaking works better in a quiet environment.
  2. Feed the cat more.

Armed with those two basic principles, I’ve had a lot of success with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (Unfortunately, my cat has become a little bigger as well.)

Having an audio profile with few background noises make sense to me.

  • When I teach Dragon NaturallySpeaking new vocabulary, I find I get the best results when I speak clearly.
  • When I sit down to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the first thing I do is adjust my microphone and then do the audio check to get Dragon NaturallySpeaking to adjust the volume levels.

It made sense to me that Dragon would work better in a quiet environment. After all, when you’re speaking with someone over the phone, isn’t it easier to understand them when they are in a quiet office, as opposed to a loud cafeteria?

Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking a good tool in the classroom? Things to consider:

So, based on these experiences, I’m not an incredibly big proponent of using Dragon NaturallySpeaking inside of the classroom. Like everything, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is not a magic solution that will cure all ails. For the most part, I’d rather have my students use something like WordQ.

However, Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be a great assistive technology device for some students. Students and employees with physical impairments may find voice recognition software allows them to be incredibly productive. Some students and adults with learning disabilities may find it easier to produce work using the computer, as opposed to paper and pencil.

Here are some things to consider: Continue reading “How accurate is Dragon NaturallySpeaking in a noisy classroom?”

How to quickly add arrows and notes onto a screenshot

greenshot-exampleA little while ago, I did a presentation for teachers about using technology. I used Google presentation and I threw in a couple of marked up screenshots from different webpages showing how to login or access the site. I thought it was a pretty basic presentation.

Afterwards, I had a couple of teachers come up to me, and talk about how impressive the presentation was. I think it was because I put in pretty arrows on the screenshots.

Years ago, I remember adding arrows, circles, and colored rectangles (to block out sensitive information) using Photoshop. It took longer than I’d care to admit.

snipping toolThen, I saw that Windows 7 came with a Snipping tool that lets you take a snapshot of part of your screen and mark it up with a pen. I thought this was incredible.

You could highlight text and hand draw circles around important stuff before you even saved your screenshot. The only problem was that I thought my handwriting always look a little messy.

Then I found Greenshot and Greenshot is 20 times better than the snipping tool in Windows because you can quickly create neat and professional looking notes on your screenshots.

Plus, Greenshot is free.

Here’s what I like about Greenshot:


  1. It has a simplified but powerful graphic editor. You don’t have to worry about multiple layers. Just click the selection tool and you can change your markups. (With the Windows snipping tool, you can’t undo or change your annotations.)
  2. Super easy to draw circles around stuff.
  3. Super easy to draw arrows. Greenshot remembers your last settings so all of your shapes and mark up can have the same style.
  4. And, super easy to add text.
  5. It’s easy to highlight text. You simply draw rectangles with the highlighter tool so you can highlight text or images.
  6. You can blur out (obfuscate) part of your screenshot to remove sensitive information.
  7. Add cool border effects like torn paper or drop shadow (or at a basic rectangle.)
  8. You can crop your screenshots before you save them.
  9. You can add shadows to all of your arrows, boxes and text to add a professional feel to your work.

There are other cool options.

  • I have it set up so when I hit the print screen button, it lets me capture a region, but I could also set it up so that the print screen button captures the full screen, a specific application window, or just Internet Explorer.
  • I use Greenshot to create tutorials (like this one), so I have it set up to automatically open the screenshot in the image editor, but I could just as easily set the destination to automatically open up in Microsoft Word, upload to dropbox, or just save to my computer.
  • I also like how Greenshot gives me a magnifier when I’m trying to capture region, so I can make sure that I don’t get any unnecessary stuff.

How could you use screen capture software in the classroom?

Let’s say you want to showcase student work.

  • If you are student handin work electronically, you simply open up the document of Google Docs, take a screenshot, and you can start highlight or underlined text. You can also blur out the student name or anything else that you don’t want the class to see.
  • If the work is on paper, just snap a photo of the handwritten work using your phone. Upload the image to dropbox. Open the file on your computer and take a screenshot of the picture to get into Greenshot.

If you’re going to the computer lab, you could take a screenshot of the website that you want students to go to, and highlight or make jot notes directly onto the screenshot.

  • That way, students have a visual reminder of what to do.
  • Some of your students (with or without learning disabilities) will miss instructions the first time.
  • Now, after your done walking students through what they have to do, you can put on the computer projector, a marked up screenshot reminding students what to do.

If you teach art class, you could snap a photo of student work or your teacher example, and markup important features that you want them to know.

If you teach in the science lab, you could snap a photo of equipment and then add arrows to the screenshot to show important safety features.

How do you use screen shots in your classroom?


Are you using classroom technology effectively?

Let’s pretend you have a class of 24 students. As a classroom teacher, which would you rather have?

  1. Access to a class set of (24) laptops for two weeks of the school year. (If you choose this option, you get 10 computer days and you could either use those 10 days consecutively over two weeks, or you could space those 10 days across the school year. Maybe you visit the lab once a week for 10 weeks.)
  2. Access to half a class set of laptops (12 devices) for four weeks of the school year.
  3. Access to eight (8) laptops for six weeks of the school year.
  4. Access to six (6) laptops for eight weeks of the school year.
  5. Or, access to one (1) laptop for the entire school year.

It seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? If you’re asking, I’d rather have option #6, access to a class set of laptops whenever we needed it. The big question is, when do you need a computer? Does computer usage have to be a transformative experience that allows students to do something beyond what they could with simple pencil and paper?

The reality is that computers are a limited resource. They are expensive. And how do you share an expensive, limited resource with all of the students at your school?

Of course, there are broader questions, like how you make sure there is equitable access to technology across your entire school board or province. Going beyond that, we could talk about how this is really just a first world problem. And, at this point, I have to wonder, if computers were as cheap as pencils, would every kid be given a computer? Is this about effective pedagogy or economic reality?

Anyhoo, this summer, I’m looking forward to spending some time stepping back and thinking about whether the technology I use in my classroom program actually improves student learning.

I’m having a lot of trouble writing this blog post because my mind is swirling with ideas that I’ve read or heard over the past few months. I’m not sure where to start (or what I agree with):

  • Going to a computer lab – an actual room with computers – will be a thing of the past. Mobile devices and school Wi-Fi means using computers as educational tools should take place in the classroom. After all, we don’t say, “boys and girls, we’re going to stop this lesson to go down to the pencil room because this is the only time slot available.”
  • Giving every student access to their own computer isn’t effective. There are schools / school districts that have tried this 1:1 student to computer model without significant academic gains. Students learn better on the computer when working in groups of two or three. We want to move away from the model where everyone is working independently and looking down at their own screen.
  • Student engagement is not a powerful enough reason to use (purchase) technology in the classroom.
  • Some technologies are just fads / Schools are putting the cart before the horse when purchasing technology. Are we buying these devices to meet a need and improve student learning, or are teachers simply motivated by the latest trending device (iPad anyone?)  
  • Multiplatform / multi device labs are a good thing: android tablet, iPad, Windows, Mac, Chromebook. Having more tools in your toolbox means you could choose the right tool for the right job. (It also makes it harder for teachers to troubleshoot problems when you have different devices.)
  • I can’t get access to technology, so I’m not going to bother using technology in my classroom program.

Coming back to the original question, I know there are teachers and classrooms in every single possible combination. Some of us have access to a class set of laptops. Some of us have one or two computers sitting at the back of our classrooms. (And some of us don’t have access to computers at all.)

But if money was no issue, what kind of access to classroom technology would allow you to effectively transform your program and improve student learning?

How to lock down your iPad so students can only use a specific app in the classroom

I know quite a few teachers who own iPads (or iPad minis.) There are lots of great iPad apps for use in the classroom, but not all of us have access to school iPads. So, of course, some teachers opt to use our personal devices to bridge the gap.

There are lots of people out there who would never hand over their personal smartphone or tablet to a student. You’re just asking for trouble. The problem, of course, is that our iPads contain a lot of personal information that you don’t want your students rifling through: your contacts, emails, photos… Heck, you probably don’t want them flipping through your recently viewed movies on Netflix.

But there are lots of great reasons to use an iPad in the classroom: make a movie, create a stop motion animation, access accessibility features like voice over, or use a voice recording app so the student can demonstrate their understanding while drawing on the iPad. Some of us are brave (or crazy) enough to hand over our own personal devices to our students to use in the classroom.

Unfortunately, Apple iOS doesn’t allow us to have multiple user accounts which means there’s one single user account on your iPad for teachers, family members, students, etc. This is one of the biggest downsides to having iPads in the classroom: multi-user management doesn’t exist which means if you’re a teacher and you’re letting a student in your class use your own personal device, you run the risk of having students mess around with your stuff.

wpid-Photo-Apr-13-2013-919-AM.jpgThere is a buried feature in iOS 6 that lets you lock your iPad to a specific app. You can disable all of the hardware buttons, the home button, and even parts of the touch screen so that a student can only use a specific app and not access your personal stuff.

A friend of mine recently showed me this trick at school, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find it. (How long has it been since iOS 6 came out?)

Guided Access lets you lock down your iPad so a student can only access one app. According to the Apple website, it’s designed to help students with disabilities (i.e. autism) remain on task and focused on content.

In reality, Guided Access is something that every teacher who uses an iPad in the classroom should know about.

Continue reading “How to lock down your iPad so students can only use a specific app in the classroom”

How to shut down Windows 8

Change is tough for some people. So I imagine when your school computers switch from Windows XP (or Windows 7) to Windows 8, a lot of students and teachers will wonder where the start menu went.

(It takes a while getting used to a new operating system. Ask anyone who’s switched to a Mac or Chrome OS device.)

Most of us are used to shutting down our Windows computer in two steps:

  1. Go to the start menu and
  2. click shut down.

But of course, they took away the start button in Windows 8 and replaced it with a start screen. So now, it takes four steps to shut down your Windows 8 school computer (if you can find the hidden charms menu):

  1. Pull out the charms menu.
  2. Click the settings charm.
  3. Click the power button.
  4. Click on shut down

Some of us will have no problems with finding the charms toolbar. (You move your mouse to the top right corner of the screen and it magically appears. Or, you hit the ⊞ Win+C buttons.) But I’m anticipating a lot of questions from some specific teachers (you know who) who can’t find the hidden toolbar.

Add a shutdown shortcut button

Personally, I’ve added a shutdown shortcut button to my desktop, start window, and toolbar at the bottom. Now I can shutdown Windows 8 in just one click. I suppose you could add this shortcut to your school computers, but I just imagine a lot of accidental clicks.

Use a keyboard shortcut to shut down Windows 8

Some of your tech savvy students/teachers might find it easier just use a keyboard shortcut to shut down their machines.

  1. Use ⊞ Win+D to go to the Windows desktop (if you’re not already there.)
  2. Use Alt+F4 to open up the Windows shutdown screen.

Of course, this might not be as easy on a Windows tablet.

Add back the start button to Windows 8

Or, you could just add back the start button to your Windows 8 machine. There are a couple of third-party apps floating on the internet. (I haven’t tried any of these):

Then again, maybe this isn’t an issue at all. Our students will grow up in a world of Windows 8 and never know the start button even existed. Have I become that teacher who talks about the past? Will the Windows start button take a backseat beside the Commodore 64 and that turtle in Logo?


How do your students shut down Windows 8?

Things I like about Animoto for Education

A colleague of mine recently showed me a very cool way for students to create good-looking videos. It’s called Animoto.

Animoto lets you quickly and easily combine text, images, and videos into beautiful videos. The videos really do look good. Your students will be impressed with what they can create. My friend’s grade 6 students wrote short stories for their kindergarten learning buddies. They then created promo commercials for their short stories as a media literacy assignment. The 30 second promo videos were very cool.

You can do everything with their free lite version, but you’re limited to creating a 30 second web quality (360p) videos. If you want to create longer videos (i.e. 10 minute videos), download your video, have a wider variety of video style themes or commercially licensed music tracks, then you have to pay money.

Once you start using Animoto in the classroom, you’ll quickly realize it’s a great way for creating family portrait videos. If your phone is filled with snapshots of your family, there’s a free Animoto app that lets you quickly put together a video memory. We use shutterfly in our home to create photobooks. Animoto’s a way to create a video photobook. If you’re okay with web quality videos, you’re looking at the Animoto Plus account ($3.00 per month.) If you want HD video quality or longer 20 minute multi-song videos, you’re looking at the Animoto Pro account ($25 per month.)

Having said that, teachers can apply for education accounts.

Continue reading “Things I like about Animoto for Education”