Sesame Workshop Tackles Literacy With Technology


Elmo and his “Sesame Street” buddies could soon be having two-way conversations of sorts with children.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of “Sesame Street,” and the children’s speech recognition company ToyTalk plan to announce Monday that they have signed a two-year research partnership agreement to explore how to use conversational technology to teach preschool literacy.

The agreement formalizes work the two have been undertaking for more than a year. Sesame Workshop has been testing prototype mobile apps that use ToyTalk’s proprietary PullString technology, a combination of speech recognition meant to understand children’s speech patterns, artificial intelligence and prewritten scripts responding to what a child has said.

The first products resulting from the partnership could be available early next year, said Miles Ludwig, managing director of Sesame Workshop’s Content Innovation Lab. Products that more formally teach children to read will take longer, however. When it comes to technology that tells children whether they pronounced a written word correctly — as opposed to, for example, asking them to come up with a word that rhymes with “cat” or discuss their feelings — “We need the accuracy to be very high,” Mr. Ludwig said.

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