03 February 2021

Hands-free tutorial

 I first became proficient typing by voice. Then I learned how to navigate various programs and windows by voice. Then I started marking, and I figured out the best ways to provide feedback and document grades by voice. This also taught me how to work Excel by voice. I am still coming to terms with PowerPoint! But one big milestone would be to actually see students by voice. The problem is that you have to talk to the students. And you can't talk to your computer at the same time. If I am marking, I can just talk to the computer non-stop; no problem. But if you're interacting with other people you have to keep switching between two modes: talking to the software, and talking to people. And while you are talking to your computer you are very aware of the people that are listening in and waiting for you to be done with your clunky interactions. That doesn't help! So how did it go?

I had a bit of a chat with my personal tutees, and wanted to do a sort of a quiz with them. The quiz questions were all in the category of useful stuff to know, such as what grades do you need to pass to the next year? How do you get mathematical support? What do you do if the plagiarism software flags up a worrying amount of similarity in one of your essays? How do you find an article that cites another article but applies it to a specific region? That sort of thing. And I had them prepared in a PowerPoint. But if I wanted to show that, I had to switch on my voice recognition software and then start talking to my computer. That went sort of okay. But when we got to the question about finding literature I wanted to show them what I did in Google scholar. And that was tricky! I had my students on my main screen, and Google scholar on the secondary screen, and I was a bit under pressure, and when I tried to close a pop-up window I accidentally closed the entire browser. And then I had to start again, with the browser of course opening on the main screen, with me not yet having figured out how to move it across quickly (I have now), and the software can't do all the things on the secondary screen that it can do on the main one, and it all became difficult. We got there in the end, but things were decidedly easier when I still used my hands. But practice makes perfect! Soon I will be interacting with students a lot more, and I'm sure I'll get better at it. And in the meantime I suppose I am normalising working your computer by voice. Everyone should be able to do that when needed! And it might even serve as a cautionary tale: this is how you end up if you don't look after your arms…

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