My Computer and Me: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Bvoice-recognition-softwarey Bill Henk – If there’s one thing I love, it’s learning new things.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s learning new things.

As an educational psychologist, this love-hate affair I have with new learning never ceases to amaze me.  On one hand, I’m eager to embrace knowledge and skills that will empower me, yet the prospect of enduring a fresh learning curve can paralyze me, too.

Most of the time, I find myself subconsciously putting off the learning for fear of frustration, and worse yet, failure.  For me, procrastination trumps opportunity.

Fact is, I’ve probably done this avoidance dance with every tech-related aspect of my existence — cable TV, audio equipment, new car controls, garage door openers, laptops, PCs, keyboards and mice, printers, wireless phones, cameras, microwaves, amplifiers, drum pads, guitar foot pedals, operating systems, computer software, atomic clocks, weather stations, cell phones and apps, GPS — you name it.  Even when I can finally work the stuff, my use is basic; I never come close to exploiting the full range of features.

Another Steep Learning Curve?

voice-recognitionMy most recent foray into this arena occurred yesterday when I took on the challenge of using new voice recognition software.  To give you an idea of what a techno-moron I can be, I owned an iPhone for several months before I realized that I could dictate text for emails, Googling, notes, etc. (Even SIRI thinks I’m a knucklehead).

Once I discovered this capability, though, I became dazzled and smitten with it.  And thankfully, my cell phone was genuinely smart enough to make up for my learning inadequacies as I tried to take advantage of the wonderful little microphone icon.  True to form,  several months later, I’m nowhere near mastery.

Anyway, when I saw how quickly I could respond to emails on my cell (once freed from using those tiny little “keys” to enter text), it occurred to me how nice it would be to have that same capability on my laptop.  So with the help of our College’s crack technology specialist, John Mohammad, I took the voice recognition plunge.

telemarketerJohn did the heavy lifting by doing the installation.  My sole job was to “train” my not-so-old computer to recognize my voice so its transcriptions would be accurate.  So we worked through the oral reading that the software had me do (using excerpts from my beloved Dave Barry no less), with my trusty new headset and microphone in place.  Never before had I looked or felt so much like a telemarketer.

Once I got past that stigma, I encountered a few glitches, so it was fortunate that John was there to help me work through them.  Otherwise, I probably would have hit a dead-end and bailed.  But I persevered, and to be honest, basically all I had to do, quite literally, was read aloud with a heavy semblance of precision.

Sad to say, I made some outright goofs and mispronunciations, which is particularly shameful since my doctorate is rooted in reading.  But the software was patient, gentle, and forgiving, and I made it to the end.

Then we worked through the accompanying tutorial — me, John and the computer.  Now that it had become my turn to do the learning (as opposed to the computer), the process was not nearly as facile or effortless.  I limped along, and stumbled across the module’s finish line, but with only a minimal grasp of how to put the voice recognition software to work in the real world.

Me and My Co-Learner

Cutting to the chase, I tried the software last night in writing an email, and it went pretty well.  I made mistakes both in dictation and using verbal commands for revision.  I also left the microphone on while I played and talked with one of my cats, and that, shall we say, made for an interesting transcription before I deleted it!

But luckily, the software allowed me to fix all of the faulty text easily with intuitive commands (that were really guesses) and using manual keystrokes.  Although it probably took me twice as long to craft messages as it would have normally with typing, I’m actually confident that the software will eventually be a big time saver for me.

For the record, I thought about using the software to create this entire post, but the fact that you’re actually reading a respectable looking text is evidence that I came to my senses and bagged that idea.

human-computer-interactionWho knew that one day I would bond so closely with a machine?  We are now a textbook case of human-computer interaction or HCI.  I’m talking serious interfacing here.  Think Star Trek’s mind melding and the Borg.

What’s fascinating for me, as someone who studies learning, is that knowledge of both the machine and the human sides is necessary to understand what’s going on with HCI.  Computer graphics, operating systems, and programming languages, as well as communication theory, linguistics, social sciences, and cognitive psychology all come into play.

At any rate, since my trial run with voice recognition, I’ve struck up something of a symbiotic relationship with my computer.  Who was teaching who anyway?

In the end, it’s not going to matter; we’re in this learning together.

Trust me, this is not the wave of the future; it’s the wave of the present.  And resistance is futile.

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