When I wrote my first blog post in this iPods in Education Series, I wrote about how an iPod can be used by teachers to differentiate instruction for students by making use of books in audio format and playing these audiobooks on a digital handheld device from anywhere at any time. The focus of that blog post was basically using an audio version of a book and not regular pieces of texts. Since then, I’ve come across a number of websites that will all users to upload ANY piece of text and have their text-to-speech engine automatically convert the text to voice.
One service that I’ve come across lately (thanks to Mr. Robb’s blog post) is ReadtheWords.com. While the site requires teachers or students to create a free account, it allows users to upload a variety of text formats, such as text in MS Word format, PDF files, text in HTML format or simply by copying and pasting text, and the engine will convert the text to speech in either, English, French or Spanish. While there are other free sites that allow text-to-speech conversion such as Odiogo, vozMe, and SpokenText, I like this site because it provides variety: variety of languages, it recognizes a variety of text formats, and allows the audio file to be in a variety of audio formats. While I like the use of an iPod for this purpose, I know that not everyone is using an iPod so variety is important.
With regards to using these tools in the classroom, this is an ultimate tool to accommodate for student needs and differentiating instruction. Instead of having students copying text from an overhead projector, these notes can be made available on a blog or wiki for students to download and listen to. Playing these files from an iPod, or smartphone for that matter, allows students to listen and relisten to notes whenever they need to and rewind as many times as needs. In addition, for students who have difficult writing, providing audio versions of text makes the content accessible to them. Considering the fact the the services are free, the voice quality isn’t bad at all.
The above is for those, who like me, look for free solutions for personal productivity. However, not everyone is confortable with using free web services. For those of you that have a Mac an would prefer using software to do this task, for a reasonable fee, Ghost Reader will also accept a variety of text formats and convert it to multiple audio formats. I don’t know of any reasonable priced tools for the PC that will do this task. Let me know if you have any suggestions.