In the past, speech research training was only available to students and researchers associated with major research universities and large centers where dedicated software development was joined with mentoring and expert technical support. In the current environment, inexpensive computers, electronic distance communication, and specialist freeware, have expanded the opportunities for dissemination of research and knowledge outside of such large centers. On the one hand, this is an exciting development, because it reduces barriers to entry for a wider and more diverse set of students and researchers. On the other, hand, the laboratory software for visualizing and manipulating acoustic signals is either prohibitively expensive for institutions to buy, or else discouragingly inefficient for students at introductory levels. Other software is easy to use but doesn't teach the fundamental scientific principles that underlie the manipulations allowed.
In order to meet this opportunity for expanded access, this award supports a conference workshop, "Software To Empower Learning And Research In Speech (STELARIS)," for scientists, students and software developers. The theme of the workshop is to identify the best existing platforms and develop standards for future developments that minimize technical barriers to data exchange, while maximizing use as a teaching and research tool.
There is currently an entry-level technical problem in speech and hearing research across the globe. As with any science, students and researchers face a steep learning curve before they can answer even small scientific questions that excite their interest. In the past, this problem was less obtrusive, because speech research training was only available to students and researchers associated with large physical centers at major research universities. Researchers at these institutions developed their own systems for their own research purposes, and students had help with the steep learning curve through in-person mentoring and expert technical support. This system has functioned to produce excellent, sophisticated research, but it has also resulted in a situation where teachers and beginning researchers face a tangle of competing software systems for visualizing and manipulating acoustic signals, many of which have limited application or are non-ideal in some other respects. Further, this laboratory software is either prohibitively expensive for institutions to buy, or else discouragingly inefficient for students at introductory levels. Yet, the explosion in computing technology means we now have the technology and experience to produce efficient, user-friendly software interfaces in consumer-grade computers using commonly available platforms. The ability to deploy such interfaces in the teaching of speech analysis is a powerful tool for educating a more diverse set of students in more distributed locations with fewer resources, e.g. baccalaureate-only institutions, community colleges, secondary schools, universities in less-developed nations, etc. Further, it can spark an increased interest in science, by reducing barriers that prevent students and their teachers from engaging in problem-based learning about acoustics and human communication. The Software To Empower Learning And Research In Speech (STELARIS) conference workshop was organized to bring together software developers, researchers, and teachers to (1) identify the best from existing platforms, (2) develop standards for future developments. The workshop was held on January 31 2011 as a full-day satellite extension of the VSLP conference workshop New Tools and Methods for Large-Scale Phonetics Research (www.ling.upenn.edu/phonetics/workshop/). The workshop took place at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Organizers were Suzanne Boyce (PI) of the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OH, USA Sarah Hawkins of Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK, Francesco Cutugno of University Federico II, Naples, Italy, plus Mark Liberman and Jiahong Yuan of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA, USA. There were 41 senior researcher attendees and 10 student attendees. It was generally agreed that the most important need was a method or methods for researchers to learn about available tools and databases of speech recordings. Subgroups shared information on which tools are available where, and also on websites that might be available for hosting standard versions of such tools for download. The group agreed on two steps for the future: (1) Organization of a special session at the Interspeech on whether such a database is feasible and if so, what is the best way to set up such a database This suggestion is being implemented currently. (2) Identification of a website and plans for hosting/maintenance. Perhaps the most important and visible outcome of the workshop is that, as partial implementation of (2) above, the student section of the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA), is now hosting a website for uploading of useful software and speech data for teaching and research. The URL for the website is: http://isca-students.org/?q=node%2Fadd%2Fspeech-tool&mid=53713. This database became available in late November, 2011. Francesco Cutugno also organized a STELARIS summer school, which was held at the University Federico II in September 2011.