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UOWD research team develop learning aid to ‘google’ audio content

Monday, 19 May, 2014

Three students working as research assistants to University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) Professor, Dr Mohamed Watfa, have launched a one of a kind application that allows users to instantly search audio recordings based on key words, bringing the ‘googling’ concept to spoken content.

The technology was initially developed as a learning aid for university students, but shows great potential for a range of educational and professional applications.

Mentored by Dr Watfa, the three students – Henna Wadhwani, Nikiforos Rotas, and Nsimba Kupessa – developed the friendly app ‘MaPal’ (Mobile application for assisted learning) as part of their final year Bachelor of Computer Science degree program.  

The students are now working on taking the project to the next level as part of the research activity within the newly established Simulation and Smart Systems Research Centre (S3) at UOWD, which was co-founded by Dr Watfa.

Henna explained, “MaPal allows users to tag audio recordings with keywords that correspond to the content of the recording, allowing them to text-search the spoken content at a later date.

“The results of the search give the user all the sections of the recording where their search term was tagged, allowing them to go directly to the relevant places in the audio content, almost like ‘googling’ lecture notes.”

The team originally came up with the idea as a tool to support students in university lectures. “We wanted to use technology to enhance the learning experience by developing something that would help students really make the most of the material they get in the lecture theatre” said Nikiforos.

“Students can use pre-programed keywords or create their own. The application then helps them to focus in on the key themes of the lecture, and most importantly, to discuss them with each other through the share feature within the app.” 

The technology behind MaPal is an intelligent algorithm developed by the students to generate and tag the keywords. The application works without an Internet connection and also allows user to take and tag photos while recording, to add visual images to the audio content.

The application has recently been launched on the Google app store following user-testing in the university. While it has only been applied in the classroom environment to date, the team anticipate that the app has much wider possibilities.

Nsimba said, “It could be a useful tool for professionals, for example, journalist could tag recorded interviews according to the themes covered, or executives could use it to retrieve important extracts of conversation in meetings.

“Beyond this, there is also potential to broaden educational opportunities by using the application to create open source content for students at every level, and from different educational backgrounds.”

Team mentor Dr Watfa said that there was some initial concern that the app might be distracting in a classroom environment, but in actual fact, it has shown to help students focus and absorb more information in lectures, as well as encouraging them to interact more after class.

Speaking about the future of the technology, Dr Watfa said, “This is an application that has great potential to make a difference to students who perhaps do not have access to the very best learning environment and resources, particularly at school level.

“It could allow students who are following the same curriculum anywhere in the world to share the best educational content and interact with each other, thereby enhancing their overall learning experience.”      

The app can be downloaded for free from: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mapal