Computer serves as friendly tutor for children at Portland's Tucker Maxon School
Each year thousands of deaf children receive cochlear implants -- electronic devices that help them hear. But with those devices in place, they also need help learning to talk. Because they are hearing language for the first time, the children often have difficulty enunciating clearly. Now a unique computer program developed by scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University OGI School of Science & Engineering is coming to their aid.
The scientists are working with students who attend Tucker Maxon Oral School in southeast Portland, most of whom were born with severe hearing loss. Many have received cochlear implants. To help them learn how to listen, recognize sounds and speak clearly, OGI students and faculty created a "talking" computer named Baldi that recognizes commands punched into a keyboard and then "said" them aloud.
Children warm up to Baldi's giant smiling face, which was created at the Perceptual Science Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition, children can control the computer, making Baldi a personal tutor that never tires in helping them help them practice their sounds.
"Baldi is a great tool for our children," said Tucker Maxon principal Patrick Stone. "It is so user-friendly and gives the children confidence about their speaking skills. Baldi is a big hit in the classroom."
Baldi has been part of Tucker Maxon's curriculum for five years. "We notice that the students are highly motivated to use the technology and so spend a significant amount of time independently engaged in speech and language practice," Stone said. Best of all, most severe to profoundly deaf children who received a cochlear implant at an early age and are enrolled in a program focusing on the development of auditory skills are demonstrating excellent listening skills and a high level of spoken communication, he adds. Baldi is also a great example of what speech technology can do to enhance education, said Jan van Santen, Ph.D., professor and head of the Center for Spoken Language Understanding at the School of Science & Engineering.
"Speech technology has traditionally been driven by the military and telecommunications industries," said van Santen, a longtime Bell Labs researcher who joined the School of Science & Engineering in 2001. "But there is huge potential for speech technology that is useful for education and health. We are trying to tap into that market and make our work helpful for the average person who has a learning or medical problem." The OGI School of Science & Engineering is the only school in the United States focusing on speech technology for education and health, he said.
Speech technology could someday be used to help illiterate people learn to read, to help non-native speakers learn English, and to give autistic people more ways to communicate. Researchers at the School of Science & Engineering are studying a variety of ways humans and computers can better interact, and are developing innovative solutions that are strengthening communications between man and machine. OHSU is in final negotiations with a potential business partner for bringing this technology to market.
ABOUT TUCKER MAXON AND THE OHSU OGI SCHOOL OF SCIENCE & ENGINEERING Tucker Maxon Oral School was founded in 1947. Forty percent of current enrollment comprises students whose families moved to Portland specifically to enroll in Tucker Maxon. Students range in age from infants to high-schoolers. For more information about the school's use of technology, visit www.tmos.org/tech/.
The OGI School of Science & Engineering (formerly the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology) became one of four specialty schools of Oregon Health & Science University in 2001. The OHSU OGI School of Science and Engineering has 63 faculty and more than 300 master's and doctoral students in five academic departments.