CTE has a series of about a hundred online documents — each about a page or two in length — that provide advice on a wide variety of teaching issues. We call them “Teaching Tips,” and they are the most popular resource on the CTE website: over the past year, they have been accessed more than a quarter of a million times by users not just at UW but all around the world. Some of them have even been translated into other languages such as Portuguese.
Given the popularity of CTE’s Teaching Tips, it’s occurred to me that there might be a sizable number of people who would prefer to access them in another format: namely, as podcasts. However, this presents a dilemma for me, since I could create two kinds of podcast. One would be the “traditional” podcast, in which the text would be read by a human voice, such as my own. The other kind would be a bit unorthodox because the text would be read by an artificial voice supplied by a text-to-speech engine.
My technological inclinations lean me toward the “artificial voice” option. I just think it’s awfully cool to be read to by a machine. As well, from a pragmatic point of view, creating podcasts by means of a text-to-speech program (such as TextAloud) would take a tiny fraction of the time that would be needed to make them with my own voice. Plus, the quality of artificial voices has improved greatly over the past couple of years (as an interesting side-note, Stephen Hawking could switch to a much more natural sounding voice, but presumably he chooses not to because the one he has used for years has become an integral part of his identity).
Still, can any text-to-speech program compete with my dulcet tones? Can it reproduce my nuances of emphasis and pacing? Well, you be the judge. You can listen to two MP3 versions of the Tip Sheet called “Teamwork Skills: Being an Effective Group Member.” The one done in my voice is here and the one produced by a text-to-speech engine in the voice of NeoSpeech Kate is here.
Let me know what you think, both about the idea of turning the Tip Sheets into podcasts, and about the question of producing them with a real human voice versus an artificial computer voice. You can do so by adding a comment to this blog posting or by emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.