How and why I talk to my Chromebook

    Published: 16 May 2019

    I recall, many many years ago, my headteacher wishing to explore the potential of using dictation – voice to text on his computer – as a way of doing emails and writing reports etc. This was long before systems such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home had made us more familiar with using our voices as input, and it required purchasing some specialist software to do the job.

    With this installed on his PC, the next step was for him to ‘train’ the software to recognise his voice. If I recall correctly, this involved him dictating passages from Shakespeare, before he could start to use the program for work. I'm not sure he ever really succeeded in using dictation as he had hoped.

    Speech to text is now far more widespread and accessible, and whilst high-end software is still available for a more professional approach, many devices now have some form of dictation tool built in, enabling the user to dictate with remarkable accuracy.

    Chromebooks are no exception, and in fact some of the G Suite apps include dictation tools which can be used on different types of device, not just Chromebooks. But these are specific to the app itself. However, we can switch on dictation as an Accessibility feature to enable us to use voice input on a Chromebook, anywhere that we would usually use a keyboard. More on that later.

    Using this feature, teachers can mark work in Google Classroom by speaking their feedback comments.

    Google Docs, the G Suite word processor, has Voice Typing built in as an optional tool, accessible from the Tools menu. When selected, the user is first asked to allow the tool access to the device’s microphone. Once this is done, it is just a case of toggling voice typing on and off from the floating tool, by clicking it. When it’s red it is ‘listening’ and when it’s black/grey it is not. It’s also worth noting that you can change the language from the drop-down menu available in the tool.

    Screenshots of dictation tool

    In addition to converting words to text, we can also dictate punctuation and even formatting. Try this, in Google Docs:

    1. Select Voice typing from the Tools menu and allow access to your microphone.
    2. If the tool is not red and ‘listening’, click on it so that dictation is possible.
    3. Say the following words, “This is my sentence [brief pause] full stop [brief pause] select sentence [brief pause] underline.”
    4. Click on the red microphone icon to stop it ‘listening’.
    5. You should see on your page: This is my sentence.

    For a full list of all the voice commands you can use with Voice typing, have a look at this article:

    This enables us to dictate to Google Docs, but if we want to use dictation on a Chromebook, to use voice input anywhere we might use a keyboard, we first need to switch on the Dictation accessibility setting.

    This can be achieved by clicking at the bottom/right of your Chromebook screen, somewhere near the clock. In the panel that opens, click on the Settings icon. Scroll to the bottom of Settings and click on Advanced. Then go down to Accessibility and Manage accessibility features. In that section you will find the Enable Dictation switch. Just be aware that the voice is sent over the internet to Google to convert to text, and you will get a pop-up to inform you of this.

    Images of Chromebook settings

    Once enabled, the user sees a small microphone icon at the bottom/right of the Chromebook screen, which can be clicked to start the dictation.

    Using this feature, teachers can mark work in Google classroom by speaking their feedback comments. They simply click (or tap, if using a touch screen Chromebook) where they want to type, click or tap the dictation icon and start talking. They can also compose emails in Gmail without typing. They can even ask questions in Google Sheets by using the Google Explore tool. For example, Explore allows the user to ask common questions about the data included in the sheet. If there was a list of student results from a test, the teacher can select the data, then open Google Explore (from the bottom/right of the Google Sheets page), click into the ‘Ask a question’ box and speak the question before Sheets will produce the answer, e.g. "Which pupil got the highest score?" With a bit of practice, using Dictation can speed up many tasks, especially for those that aren't the quickest of typists. Aim to use it in a quiet environment and speak clearly and not too quickly, for the best results.

    Image of Explore tool in Google Sheets

    Of course, the primary purpose of Dictation on a Chromebook is to enable accessibility for those that may have difficulties with working with a keyboard and/or writing, so it is worth knowing about and using this feature if you are working with learners that might benefit from being able to dictate their written work.

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