Postgraduate News & Views

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Brummies are often given a hard time about their accents, but Birmingham University researchers are aiming to have the last word on speech-recognition technology. Shona D'Arcy, an engineering PhD student, and her supervisor, Professor Martin Russell, have been darting about Britain recording different accents to assess the efficacy of voice-activated technology used in products such as phones and cars. The gizmos react best to what is described as a "standard southern accent".

"We're recording all the accents, then we'll test existing systems to see how well they perform for each accent," says D'Arcy. The aim is to pinpoint sounds that confuse speech-recognition systems – aspects of the Cornish burr, for example. "In Cornwall, the word 'discard' has a very pronounced 'a' before the 'r'," says D'Arcy. The latest set of recordings was taken at another city that gets a bit of stick for its rather prominent accent, Burnley.

The National Theatre is helping to deliver a new postgraduate course at Goldsmiths College, University of London. It is called "Cross-sectoral and community arts", and has been developed in response to the way that the arts are increasingly being practised beyond the confines of the artistic world – in prisons, healthcare and corporate training, for example. Such work offers the chance to be an artist yet have a structured career that involves helping others. But there's little high-level training available for it, and Goldsmiths seeks to fill that gap. The course is aimed at arts graduates, practising artists and people running workshops. Core modules will include the background to and practice of arts outside the art world, and project management and development. Goldsmiths already runs professional certificates in performing arts, and has a good relationship with the National Theatre, which has offered short courses using theatrical training to teach leadership skills. This means that the new course will have a strong performing-arts flavour. But it will be open to artists from any discipline, and may be studied to certificate, diploma or MA level.

"Clever dummy" sounds like an oxymoron, but actually describes a new type of equipment at Queen's University School of Nursing and Midwifery rather well. The Belfast school will be the first in Ireland to use "human-patient simulators" for basic and more advanced teaching. As well as pre-registration nursing and midwifery courses, Queen's offers post-registration and postgraduate courses, and says that it is "delighted with the opportunities that the simulators present for enhancing learning".

Each simulator (Queen's has two) has cutting-edge technology that replicates a pulse, blood pressure, and a voice to describe symptoms, and can simulate breathing as well as heart and – ahem– bowel sounds, and everything from a cough to pneumonia. "The equipment can recreate difficult cases that are unlikely to arise during normal training," a spokesperson says. The beauty is that students can safely practise high-risk procedures.