Ryan Lahti has a demonstrated commitment to increasing literacy amongst his students. Lahti, who won third place in Remote Learner’s Idea-A-Thon contest, is currently employed as an instructor for the Pathways to Adult Secondary School (PASS) program at Nunavut Arctic College in Canada’s far north. In this role he works to help adult learners obtain their high school diploma online. In many cases his students have no access to a physical high school.
“There are 25 communities in Nunuvat and there’s not a single road connecting any of them, so we do everything online,” he said.
Beyond the geographical challenge, Lahti faces a more fundamental problem of low literacy. Nunavut has the lowest adult literacy rates in Canada, which presents a significant barrier to online learning. Lahti has long felt that improved text-to-speech functions embedded in an LMS would be a way to ensure students were both able to access information and work on reading comprehension. He expanded on this idea in his submission to Remote Learner’s Idea-A-Thon.
“Students have to read poems and short stories. In some cases they’ve (the publisher) incorporated an author reading which is nice and convenient for the students, almost an audiobook style, but that only exists for some of the more challenging texts,” explained Lahti. “For me it’s more important to have that audio element for the other content you see on the page, like assignment instructions. My idea is a button that would facilitate the process of reading back all the content on the page.”
While recognizing that text-to-speech readers are not a new idea, Lahti feels such a tool built specifically for the LMS platform is important, particularly for his students who are often new computer users. Lahti believes his idea would also be a boon outside his specific community of learners. An intuitive text-to-speech tool would benefit users with visual impairments or dyslexia.
“A lot of our students aren’t very savvy when it comes to technology. If there was a more intuitive way for them to access text-to-speech I think that would be awesome. Most of my students are Inuit and most of them are English as a second language learners,” he said.
Lahti said he was thrilled to be selected as third-place winner in the Idea-A-Thon contest and is looking forward to working with Remote Learner to explore avenues through which his idea can become reality. He hopes to one day take his practical experience as a teacher and apply it to online learning technology.
“I’m in a job I absolutely love but I hope one day to be involved in distance education more than actual instruction,” he said.