Another Nifty Tool for Reading with Your Ears

I recently posted about a text-to-voice app called Voice Dream Reader which you can have read an open document to you on a mobile device. Allison Sheridan (Podfeet.cNarro copyom) recently wrote about another platform agnostic, nifty tool that will convert a website to audio called Narro, and I just had to try it out.  What is neat about this app is that it will take the url of a website you bookmark and convert the text into a podcast that is delivered to a podcast player on your mobile device.  Since I am a voracious consumer of podcasts, this is great.  The Narro podcast just gets merged into my play list for consumption.

Adding an extension to Chrome or a bookmarklet to the bookmarks bar in other browsers on your computer gives you a “button” that you click when you want the url for the website sent to Narro.  There is also an IOS Narro app that can be used while mobile surfing.  To use the service, you sign up for a free account at which provides you with your own personal podcast feed.  There are 15 voices with a variety of accents from which to choose for your listening pleasure, or you can have it do a rotation of voices.  Like Voice Dream Reader,  the voices are not real humans, but they are pretty good for machine generated voices.  With the free account, Narro will allow you 20 conversions per month.  If you need more conversions, Narro Pro is your ticket.  The pro version ($7.99/month) gives you other features as well.  It allows you to create audio files from plain text documents, sync articles from read it later services such as Pocket and Instapaper (does anyone really actually read the things stored there later?), convert emails and attachments to audio and have RSS feeds delivered in podcast form.  I use Feed Wrangler to deliver RSS feeds from several blogs into the Mr. Reader app every day.  However, many days I do not have time to read the posts so they just build up and get deleted when the list becomes too long.  Of course, I know that I throw away things I really needed to know about!  It would be great to have the RSS feeds come to me as a podcast daily for listening to when doing other tasks.  I haven’t yet decided if it is worth the monthly fee to have this feature, but I definitely am thinking about it.

You should check out Narro.  They do not ask you for any financial information when signing up for the free account so you don’t have to worry about ending up with some subscription you didn’t mean to pay for.  Why don’t you try it out…the price is right!

Free Countdown Timers for Classroom Applications

In my flipped organic chemistry class, active learning is encouraged by asking questions and posing problems for students to solve (see my post “Enough with the Lecturing“.)  To foster engagement, students record their answers using student response devices, “clickers”.  As an aside, I, unfortunately, have found that a grade needs to be assigned to their work for them to take it seriously.  Most of the time, the questions require the students to work out the solutions.  They are allowed to use anything at their disposal to arrive at a solution including notes, textbook, collaboration with other students, etc.  In these cases, students are given amounts of time to work out the answers commensurate with the difficulty of the problem.  lightning_roundHowever, on occasion, we have what is called a “lightning round” in which objective questions which should not require any in depth discussion or complicated reasoning to answer are asked.  These questions must be answered individually with no aids as if they were quiz questions.  During the lightning round, the students are typically allotted 30 seconds to one minute to log their responses depending on how long it should take an average student to read the question and possible answers.  To ensure that I do not close the polling  too quickly, or leave it open too long, I add countdown timers to each question slide.  One of the timers I like is a little hour glass “animation” that empties just like an old fashioned egg timer.  When the “sand” has all gone from the top to the bottom, I close the polling.  The images below show the timer at the start, a midpoint, and at the end.

countdown screen shot countdown screen shot2 countdown screen shot3

These timers are part of a package containting a variety of different styles designed by David Foord.  All are free for use in educational or non-commercial applications.  If you have a use for countdown timers that work in Power Point, you can download them from A6 Training.



Surfacing from Mounds of Documents: Reading with Your Ears!

Journal articles, pdfs, webpages, etc….so much to read… little time!

If you are like me, you have mounds of documents to read.  Many years ago, I was an early adopter of an Audible subscription.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Audible, now a subsidiary of Amazon, sells audiobooks.  I have little time to read fun stuff so I listen to the best new books, classics and anything in between while driving, flying, going to the VoiceDreamReadergym, doing house chores, etc.  It is a great service, but it does not help me get through all the professional stuff I need to read.  So, the problem to be solved is how to use some of this time to get some professional reading done.  The solution is an app for mobile devices called Voice Dream Reader.

Voice Dream Reader will read almost anything text to you excluding DRM-protected documents.  The app was designed to make text accessible to the visually impaired as well as those with dyslexia and other learning styles.  If you have a tablet such as an iPad, you can turn on the screen reading accessibility option to have what is on the screen read to you.  I have tried this and found it to be cumbersome although you can use it with texts such as Kindle books which do not work in Voice Dream.

The app is incredibly easy to use.  You open the document you wish to have read to you and press the play button.  As the text is being made audible, the line being read is highlighted on the screen with the current word appearing in a box.  Although I don’t really have a use for that, I think it is a great feature for aiding those who are learning to read or have difficulty reading.  The program is auto-scrolling so you do not have to change the pages of the document manually, and you can adjust the speed of the reading from very slow to speed reading.  There are multiple voices available so you should be able to find one you like, and the program can read to you in 30 languages.  To start being productive, all you have to do is open your document, don your headphones, press play and do your chores or work out.

I find this to be a great way to digest documents I have saved as pdf files.  My work flow for this is to save the text as a pdf, print to pdf or scan the document.  If I scan the document using my Fujitsu Scan Snap, it automatically asks me if I would like to OCR the document which I do.  If I have scanned document some other way, I open it in PDFpen Pro (an awesome OS X program for working with pdfs), and OCR it.  Doing the OCR not only allows me to use the pdf with Voice Dream but also makes the text searchable which has lots of other uses.  Voice Dream Reader handles a large number of file formats other than pdf as well.VoiceReaderContent

Voice Dream Reader is not Audible!  There is no human reading you the document.  It is definitely a computerized voice that does not always get the pronunciation right and does not recognize that a hyphen at the end of a line of type splits a word into pieces that should be combined for reading.  While this can sometimes be a bit annoying, voice technology has come a long way in sounding more natural, and I find these annoyances a small price to pay for how it helps me get stuff done.

Voice Dream Reader is available for both IOS and Android devices for $9.99 and comes with one voice, Heather.  Additional voices can be obtained as in-app purchases.