Artificial Intelligence

Curriculum Associates Acquires SoapBox Labs, Gains AI Speech Recognition Tech

Education technology company Curriculum Associates (CA) has acquired Ireland-based SoapBox Labs (SBL) to incorporate SBL's voice AI speech recognition technology into its instructional and assessment programs. SBL's voice engine recognizes and uses children's speech patterns to analyze and assess their language skills down to the phoneme level.

SBL said most speech recognition technology is built on predominantly adult voice data, which is not useful for educating children. SBL's voice AI can recognize children's speech patterns from two years old and up.

The speech engine has been trained to recognize kids' voices from thousands of hours of speech data from children across 193 countries, regardless of age, race, accent, or dialect. It has been tested to eliminate bias based on these factors, and is "highly accurate, returning pronunciation scores down to the level of individual phonemes," the company said.

SBL said on its website that its top uses for voice technology in education are:

  • Early literacy practice and assessment "from phonological and phonemic awareness to blending and decoding, letter sounds, words, and short sentences";
  • Reading fluency at all stages from phonics to oral reading and comprehension, including assessing "pronunciation, words correct per minute, reading errors, intonation, and prosody";
  • Language learning through pronunciation and comprehension practice and language skills assessments, including speaking, reading, and conversing; and
  • Mathematics, from counting and word math to times tables and multiple choice questions.

CA, which has a number of comprehensive K–12 educational programs, including iReady, said in a release that its acquisition of SBL "will bring new and innovative supports to the ways in which children learn to read, how multilingual learners build oral vocabulary, how teachers monitor progress and provide feedback, and more broadly, how classrooms can better engage in all forms of discourse."

"Curriculum Associates and SoapBox Labs share a commitment to improving student outcomes by expanding access to high-quality instructional materials and innovative technologies," said Rob Waldron, CA's CEO. "This groundbreaking partnership will bring state-of-the-art voice technology to more classrooms, helping to ensure every learner is set up for success. It will also deepen and expand an asset-based, inclusive approach to learning across our entire product line."

Visit this YouTube page to watch a video of how SBL's voice AI technology works.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.