RPP #213 Interview Transcript - Cameron Stoker of SpeechCloud

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Rod (00:00:00) - I'm very happy today to have Cameron Stoker, who's the CEO of Speech Cloud. So, Cameron, how are you and where are you located?

Cameron (00:00:08) - I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on. I'm located here in Utah and region from Arizona, but I'm excited to be here and be on this podcast.

Rod (00:00:18) - Great. Thanks for joining me. Before we get into the details of. Speech cloud. I'm very interested in how entrepreneurs get started. How they get involved and how they build a business like this. So why don't you give us a little bit of background on yourself and how you got involved with Speech Cloud?

Cameron (00:00:40) - Yeah, it's a wonderful question. AI Entrepreneurship is become quite a passion of mine. I'm actually an adjunct professor. I teach in the marriage school business and I just teach people how to start a business. So this has become something that, you know, not only that I do currently, but I actually teach. So it's, you know, entrepreneurship wasn't originally or specifically wasn't originally like a desire of mine.

Cameron (00:01:01) - I wasn't planning on starting this company. I'll kind of give you the quick, quick background. But, my background, I was a data scientist. I did data science and sales operations at Google for a good few years. I was doing that. So that's its own story. Snuck into Google somehow when I was 22 years old. Um, you know, just married my wife. We had a bunch of debt and I was doing my undergraduate degree and needed we actually needed some money to pay off debt. And so I ended up getting a job at Google while trying to do my undergraduate degree. And um, long story short, after a few years of Google, I decided I wanted to actually finally finish college, right? So I quit Google to come back and finish my degree. And when I came back, I met a girl in one of my classes who was deaf. And this is kind of how a speech that actually got started is met this girl, she was struggling to follow along.

Cameron (00:01:57) - You can kind of, you know, imagine the implications of not being able to hear or not hear very well what's being said by the professor and some of the tools that were being provided for her by the institution weren't maybe the best. And so a good friend and I came together at a hackathon promoted by our school and we built a simple AI transcription platform that would send what was being said by the professor and then send it to Amy's phone. And that was kind of how we started Speech Cloud. It was a fun project for a friend and but then we ended up having a bunch of people reach out and ask us like, could we use it? Those that with disabilities started seeing that there was this big problem with accessibility and education. And that's kind of what started our journey and speech. Cloud is not what I just described. It is a much, you know, it's a multifaceted suite of educational tools. But, you know, it all started with wanting to solve an accessibility problem for a friend.

Cameron (00:02:58) - So that's kind of how it began her journey.

Rod (00:03:01) - Yeah, that's pretty common. You know, you identify a problem in your own life, and you had the resources and the will to, to build an app around you find a need and build a solution. That's great. Appreciate it. Um, from the point of view of an instructor, what does your application do? Maybe just get a quick summary of, of the various features and then we can take in a little bit more.

Cameron (00:03:29) - Yeah. So Speech Cloud again, we started out as a transcription product and, and I'll just speak on this and I think it would be a good segue. You know, when you build a social product, a product that's trying to solve a social need, you have to understand that if you don't provide economic value, meaning you don't help the institution, company person that you're selling this to, maybe save money, make money, save time. Right? That's not going to have long-term success.

Cameron (00:03:57) - And so we realized when Covid hit and we, you know, lost a bunch of customers and all that, we realized there's this new shift in education. Specifically, there's this pain of teachers just want to show up and teach. But there's this need to have an online aspect of an in-person class. And so what speech cloud aims to do is provide the best in class learning experience while still providing the benefits of online learning. And so what that means is we do all the work of capturing the class for the professor, recording video, audio, live transcription. So the teacher just shows up, click the button, we capture the class for them so that the student has access to all of this archived lectures. It's all searchable type. And you know, teacher said, Will this be on the test? They can go find every time the teacher said, you know, be on the test. Right. And so aspect number one, aspect number two we found during that time is teachers want to have an engaging experience teaching class on Zoom, A lot of these things, it's very engaging.

Cameron (00:04:55) - Your students aren't participating. So the second part is quizzes, polls, automated polls, discussions, just common tools to help facilitate more of a learning and engaging experience. And the third part is what we call course analytics, which is to keep students focused. We track students attendance, we track their disengagement. If they're on Facebook, things like that. We try to make sure that they know and the teacher knows kind of what's going on and we track other aspects that comprehension and so forth. And so the idea is once. A suite of tools, right? For everything. A teacher needs to just show up, teach a class, provide an engaging experience, and help students have the tools they need to learn better in class, but also after class. So that's speech cloud. So I hope that gives you some good content.

Rod (00:05:42) - Yeah. So the primary audience would be the faculty. They're teaching face to face, but have that extension for students that may for one reason or another, whether it was during the pandemic or whatever, you know, you know, participating online.

Rod (00:06:03) - So it seems to me that I've been following this industry for quite some time and there's a lot of competition out there, I think. Um, so can you point to any specific features that distinguish your product from, from some of the other products that are available?

Cameron (00:06:25) - Yeah, it's a great question. I think some of the things that really distinguish us is it's not just about capturing a lecture like Zoom. Right now we're recording this, right? But if I go back to watch this recording, I have an hour or 30 minutes, whatever it is, and I have to kind of seep through it and and sift through it. And and that's just no students going to use that. 5% of students actually go back and refer to anything that's recorded where with ours we actually have a 83% of students will go back at least and watch a minute. Um, plus because it's either they save things while the lecture is going and it archives that for them into clips or it's all searchable. So aspect number one is it's not just about creating features, it's about making those features applicable Zoom records, but it's not an educational tool, it's a conference tool.

Cameron (00:07:19) - And so I think that's the biggest difference is our product was built for teachers in person and built to help students better learn after class with the material that's provided. So I think like anything, you could have a phone that makes a phone call, but a phone that makes a phone call more seamlessly or better, that's I think that's the difference. So we took all these features in, ramped them up and amped them up so that they're actually fit for the class.

Rod (00:07:45) - Got it. Got it. So it this reminds me of a situation we were in my institution, one particular faculty person teaching a graduate course, and they had students that were on campus and they had students that were only, you know, participating remotely. And, um, they didn't divide it up into two sections, you know, Sure, the law schools would handle it that way, right? Especially pre-pandemic where I'm talking, you know, you would have an online class, but we only had one instructor and they didn't want to teach it twice.

Rod (00:08:26) - I had a laugh because they said. While these students are paying a lot, you know, they have to have a good experience. Well, then why don't you teach it twice? You know.

Cameron (00:08:37) - It seems a little bit more. It was very.

Rod (00:08:39) - Difficult for that instructor to keep a handle on the classroom and the remote students, especially if it's a graduate level course. They're not just lecturing. So what about your system helps the faculty member to be able to handle both audiences?

Cameron (00:08:59) - It's a great question, I would say, because you have. So there's all sorts of ways that people teach, right, from, you know, there's the hybrid model where you got an online audience and an in-person audience. You have the models of like like a flipped class or maybe you do an audience that's asynchronous prerecorded, right? And then all of a sudden you have almost more of an interactive audience when they come in for more of a Q&A experience. So so with all of those, some of that is is not I would say it's not always solvable with software.

Cameron (00:09:30) - A lot of it is behavior, right? Like you as a teacher need to make sure there's certain things in place. But we do solve though is that you know. The difference is we don't want your audience to be online and in person. So so my counter to this is actually when you have two audiences, you can't be that successful. And so what we argue is that, by the way, that we capture the material and the way that we capture the class, you instead should be having your students come in person, get butts and seats. The idea is that they should be there, right? Not not be online. And if they can't make it, then they can watch the material because 95% of the time people online anyways are not engaged. Right. Their online camera off, they're not involved. And so so really the counter is that shouldn't be the behavior. The behavior should be get them in person. If they can't make it because they're sick, they can't make it due to personal issues, then they still have access.

Cameron (00:10:30) - Right. So that's the difference. And so a lot of teachers even say like, well, if I capture my class or record my class, they're not going to show up. And it's like totally fine. Then it will only give access to those that attended. So part of our software, if you set certain settings, if they if they attended, then they will get access. If they didn't, they don't. And so so there's, there's that, that to me is the key. And, and so if you're going to have an online audience pre-record it or if it's a small class, I would almost argue like Zoom is a better choice than speech cloud right. Like like that's a conferencing tool. If you have four students, then great, right? Like don't don't be using speech cloud unless it's an in-person experience, if it's an online conferencing. But the moment you get like ten plus students online.

Rod (00:11:15) - Tough. Yeah.

Cameron (00:11:16) - Yeah. And so I think a lot of it is like, I don't think Speech cloud is the best fit for every situation.

Cameron (00:11:24) - But the majority of teachers just want to be in person. Majority of students felt like their tuition wasn't valuable being online. Right. So really what we're trying to aim is get back in person, get in brick and mortar, but still have those benefits of online learning and we help facilitate that. Very good. I think that's a good way to think about it.

Rod (00:11:42) - That's honest and makes it make sense. It reminds me of another anecdote which I think you might find funny. One of the first things I did when I joined my last institution, which was about 12 years ago, they were very slow to the game and they didn't have any lecture capture. So that's the first thing I had to do because my previous institution, we had instituted lecture capture back in, gosh, 2000. I don't know when it was, but so we put in lecture capture in the large lecture halls. And in that lecture hall, there are two big screens. And for whatever the reason, I forget what software we're using at the time.

Rod (00:12:21) - But it would only capture the capture, the video and the audio instructor, but only capture what was being displayed on one of those two screens. Not sure why, but one teacher was very resistant to, well, some. A lot of faculty resisted having their lectures captured. Right. But this one instructor. She saw the attendance going down, so she only put up her slides on the screen that was not being captured. The sort of punish students who weren't coming to class.

Cameron (00:12:55) - Very valuable lecture capture. It sounds like it's awesome.

Rod (00:12:59) - So, yeah, I always have to laugh at that. Yeah. We also got. Do you ever have pushback from faculty that are worried that you know the off the hand comments and you know between classes or at the beginning of the end something is captured that's not meant for the whole student body. Have you run across that? Are there rules around that? How do you handle that?

Cameron (00:13:24) - Yeah, it's it's a wonderful question. Some of it. Right, again, is behavior like anything.

Cameron (00:13:30) - And that's a terrible way to put it in some sense because you want the professor to feel comfortable. And so so there is a couple of solutions. One is like the lecture capture won't start until the designated time. So you can show up ten minutes before class with speech cloud. Say, Hey, start this in ten minutes. And so then you could just be interacting with your students and it'll automatically trigger at 9:00. So some of it is just, you know, there is some solutions like that where it won't capture those conversations before class. You understand at 9:00 it's going to flip on and start recording and that's when you need to start being maybe more professional, not have personal conversations. Some of it, though, is, you know, you can delete anything on the fly. So as it's going, you said something that, hey, maybe you shouldn't have. Okay. Right. You can actually just walk over, click, delete and it'll delete that bubble of text and it'll delete that section.

Cameron (00:14:25) - So, so we do have teachers in mind. We still always say, Hey, you know, maybe if you aren't comfortable, the best way I would say is if you aren't comfortable saying something and getting captured like every student has a phone in their pocket, if you're saying things that students don't like, every everything you know, got 100 people that can whip out a phone and capture it if they really want to. So.

Rod (00:14:47) - That's right.

Cameron (00:14:48) - So there's no stopping recording now.

Rod (00:14:51) - That's right. That's right. That reminds me of another incident where we had a two hour class and students would come up in between. And it was I guess it was a continuous recording. And so the student would come up to the podium and talk about personal issues. It would get captured and we would have to scramble. I would get a panicked call from the faculty member and, you know, behind the scenes, we would have to go and and erase that. Or worse yet, when the faculty member has the wireless mic on, as you know, they go to the restroom after teaching the first part of the lecture that's happened.

Cameron (00:15:35) - Yeah. So I think a lot of it is. The nice part is we've built our entire system ourselves. So, you know, you can just kind of go in and be like, Hey, I didn't like this. Quickly delete it. You can choose the settings. Hey, don't, don't push this recording out to my students until I say go. So there's there's a lot of nuance where if you are one of those that may or may not have a habit of doing certain things, then just make sure the recording needs a manual push right before it'll be sent to all your students. Yeah, So, so there's things like that. A lot of it is we've, we've learned that over time because some would be like, oh, I said something, can I delete it? And it's like, not yet now. Yes, of course. But yeah, so I think a lot of it is learning these behaviors and implementing certain tools to fix them.

Rod (00:16:23) - Right, Right.

Rod (00:16:24) - So of course, I'm a technologist. I'm interested in some of the back end technology. So it sounds like in your platform it can be totally centrally scheduled throughout the university. Is that how it works? Um, do you have other does that mean that is there a certain hardware requirement that every classroom must have? Uh, how does that. How does that work? Mean, there's a big lecture hall or there's a small, um, seminar room or a smaller classroom. How does that set up?

Cameron (00:17:02) - Yeah, it's a great question. All you need is a computer, right? That's. That's kind of our whole thing is there's no hardware required. There's hardware suggested, right. Like you said when we started this, if I'm talking from a laptop microphone, how good is that audio? And then how good is that transcription of that audio going to be? Right. Like anything, if it's a poor quality camera looking at poor quality recording. So that being said, it works with anything, right? You just it's browser based, you open it.

Cameron (00:17:31) - The idea is and we do this these demos all the time for schools, I'll show up and say, Hey, book a classroom, any classroom you want, I'll show up. Just sign into whatever is the overhead computer and I can get speech cloud running in 20s and it'll automatically sync up to whatever hardware is synced up to that computer. If you have a PA system, it'll grab onto it. You've got a camera on the back, it'll grab onto it. So the nice part is in the silver lining, I would almost save of Covid in the pandemic. It's a lot more. Classrooms are now situated and have hardware that are already implemented and so 90% of the time you could just walk into a class, have the main computer and speech cloud will work great with that, right?

Rod (00:18:18) - So again, it's a little technical, I guess, but are the video and audio files, I guess they're cached locally on the local classroom hardware and then set up or is it streamed right to a central location?

Cameron (00:18:34) - It's it's streamed to central location.

Cameron (00:18:36) - It is cloud based. And so it's all cloud based. And for that reason, right, we store it in our own encrypted, you know, storage and the value to that. Right. It's everything goes to the cloud immediately. The moment you want to release it to your students, everyone has access to it immediately. So everything is cloud based. It's not on that local hardware.

Rod (00:19:01) - Got it. Got it. Well, that's good. Yeah. Remember the days when that wasn't the case and boy, we had a lot of it. Folks drove them crazy, you know, keeping. Keeping the hardware up to date. It seems like every year Windows or updates and all kinds of conflicts with all the different software that they're running on on each classroom computer. And they had people running around the campus, you know.

Cameron (00:19:26) - Not scaling.

Rod (00:19:27) - Things up. That's not the way it is anymore, luckily.

Cameron (00:19:29) - No. So it's not even a software that you need to download on. It's all it can be, browser based.

Cameron (00:19:34) - You just show up. Open up Google Chrome. You know, sign it and we integrate with all LMS. So, you know, you have canvas or blackboard. Usually you're actually pulling up speech cloud through some kind of LTI integration. And so you just click a button, automatically sign you into speech, cloud, press start and go. So that's the idea.

Rod (00:19:55) - How about this? What do you do with the at least the last mile, last university? There's still faculty there that didn't use PowerPoint and they insisted on using the blackboard. And then students start complaining. Well, they can't see in the video. They can't see what's on the blackboard. How do you handle that situation?

Cameron (00:20:14) - It's a great question. Again, that's one of the things no hardware software will solve, right? If a teacher doesn't want to use hardware software or make it more accessible for the student, you know what I mean? Like now in those situations, that then comes down to it. Usually the camera can zoom in beyond the PowerPoint or excuse me, on the PowerPoint, not on the PowerPoint on the whiteboard.

Cameron (00:20:34) - Right, Right. And that lot of a lot of times the answer actually is our hardware that we have nowadays is very well situated for that. But yeah, if the teacher doesn't zoom in, you know that's that's. That's, I guess, the sad nature of it, Right. And so we do think. Part of the answer is just training, right? Helping teachers understand and it's not training on the tools, it's training on. Is there so many teachers that say and I said this earlier, right, like, I don't want to be captured. It's like, that's out of your control now, sadly, because students will whip out their phones, how many of them will set their phone down and be capturing your voice and what you're saying without you even knowing? So I would argue it'd be better instead to have the control back in your hands versus the student hands. Right? Where if you said something you didn't like, the students aren't pulling out their phones to record you because speech clouds are already doing it and you said something you don't like.

Cameron (00:21:29) - You can erase it, right? So make it a great experience for your students and you're actually going to going forward in the future, have more control. By using products like these, then you will going forward because students will do it for you. Right. And and you won't be able to have access to it. So that's my argument. It is a training on helping teachers understand you'll actually be safer by implementing these tools.

Rod (00:21:52) - Yeah, I'm surprised that faculty that like to do chalk on our blackboard, it's all whiteboards now, markers on a whiteboard that they haven't adapted to. You know, just writing on a on a on a, you know, a touch screen system where like with a pen, like with the Apple devices, you can write with a pen. It's too bad. That would be the perfect solution for that. But that's the way it goes. So getting back to some of the please technology, I'm sure you're compatible with all the LMS out there linking in using just to pass through authentication from from the local LMS.

Cameron (00:22:33) - Right? Yeah. So single sign on as well as data integration. So we do because we do a bunch of quizzes and stuff like that. If you do so there's two types. There's 1.1 integration, which is like a normal teacher can set it up without institutional approval usually. Then there's like 1.3 integration, which is usually institutional adoption, right? Institutional implementation. And with institutional implementation, you can take any data that we capture from attendance to grades, and it'll automatically send that to the student to excuse me, to the teachers, you know, LMS gradebook or whatever it is. So, so those, those are some of the values thanks to lti, lti integrations. That's a that's what's always nice. So that's, that's kind of what we have.

Rod (00:23:18) - Yeah, I know faculty love it when they have to worry about attendance and you know, it automatically takes attendance for them. And by virtue of the fact that their gosh, remember all these, remember when the clickers were in you know for doing Oh yeah, in class polling and everything.

Rod (00:23:37) - And at one point, you know, the whole this was the pharmacy school class. So there were, you know, 200, 250 students in a class and they all had clickers except you would find them in the back row. They'd be stood there holding five clickers, you know, clicking in all.

Cameron (00:23:55) - I remember the day, Oh yeah, I went to college in 2012 and I remember everyone. You always had that guy who had like, yeah, the five clickers of his buddies. And just like.

Rod (00:24:09) - Oh gosh, we were thinking all kinds of schemes back then about how we were going to do. Oh, what was it? Um, the, um. I'm this near field communication. These button. You can put this like button on the doorway and but students would have to have an app on their phone. And as they walked in the doorway, they would tag them or whatever, But we never did that. It was too much, too much. Too much of a headache.

Rod (00:24:35) - So one of the first things you got into was that doing the transcription of audio, right? That's correct. Did you say used I and this is quite how many years ago was that that you started that?

Cameron (00:24:45) - Yeah, we started that back in late 2018. Early 2019 is really when we started. We built it for fun for some of these friends in 2018 and then 2019, we actually had some schools talking to us about it. So that's kind of when we officially started. We didn't we used an aspect of I, I wouldn't say the way we, we think of I would say more of a machine learning is more how to define it. It's a really I can see where this question is going. And I'd love to actually say I love the premise. I mean, there's negatives. Let's let's make sure there's clarity. AI is there's a lot of negatives with with. The whole change into AI. And I know a lot of teachers have been in uproar with ChatGPT. How can you tell somebody wrote their essay? So there's a lot of things that are drastically affecting education.

Cameron (00:25:34) - That being said, what we are doing right now and we aren't. This isn't very public. This is something we're doing. Just a lot of testing is we're implementing a bunch of AI tools that can actually take your transcript. So you have a 50 minute lecture and we can take that transcript and basically create content for you. Think, think a textbook, right, that you have 20 lectures. We have all that information. We can now create quizzes, material, summaries, information, you know, study guys, whatever, whatever you can fathom. Right. Because the hardest part about it, AI is input, right? If you're going to get a good output, you need good input. And the beauty of our software and the way our transcription works, we have every word said by the professor in the material they want to focus on. Yeah. So the, the beauty is it's not a textbook that is like fits all for Biology 101. It's now a Biology 101, you know, taught by you that is a textbook directly based around the material you want to focus on.

Cameron (00:26:33) - So that fair to say, like what's the value of speech cloud? I think some of it is the platform that we've built and based around where it can go with the future tools is and what I just described is going to be really a really neat future with AI.

Rod (00:26:48) - Yeah. That you anticipate it. One of my last question is usually ask, which is what's coming down the pike and what, you know, what are some cool new features you're planning to to implement. I like you. I'm following AI very closely. There's another little plug for myself. I do a besides the podcast. I do a newsletter called the The Good Newsletter, and I focused on technology. It helps people's health and whatnot. And so now I'm focusing really on on AI and how AI and education that's been my that's my new focus. It was originally I was spending a lot of time on, on cardiovascular health and so forth. But so education, I'm really anxious to try, for example, Khan Academy and their new AI tutor Conmigo, which sounds wonderful.

Rod (00:27:42) - Um, but it didn't occur to me that this this would be a great way to generate quizzes based on the content, right from the faculty. And I haven't. That would be a neat thing to test with ChatGPT. I bet it could do it right. Speed it, a bunch of text and. And have a generate some quizzes based on that text. That would be interesting to see what the results would be. Anything else you care to say about that? Is there something initially like the first thing that might come out from speech cloud that would involve AI?

Cameron (00:28:16) - Yeah, that's a great question. Actually, we're launching so we're launching a free plan for teachers next week. One of the biggest problems we have by nature is just a lot of professors are unable to use speech cloud or aspects of speech cloud due to budget constraints. So aspect number one is we are launching a free plan next week, part of that free plan and this this will be a part later down the pipeline will be an AI part of it.

Cameron (00:28:42) - So we won't be capturing the lesson with our free plan. But one of the biggest things that students struggle with are putting in practice what teachers have to offer. And so what I would say in the next few months we will be offering a limited AI functionality with our free plan for teachers that will basically allow you to put in content that will give practice quizzes, questions that can be moved around, switched up, created, so you could create a thousand questions based on the content of the input for your students. And it would create tons of these quizzes for your students, all for free for them to practice on their own time. So that's that's what I'm really looking forward to, is just how AI is allowing students to learn in almost a custom way. And it's so cheap. That to me is what's going know talk about conmigo. I think it's the key to all of it is always input, right? What you give the eyes is what you're going to get out of it. And so if teachers really put in some good stuff.

Cameron (00:29:43) - Um, with speech going forward in the future, we're going to have some really great stuff for students to be able to actually learn the material. So that to me, that'd be the last plug I would say is just keep an eye out for that. It will be actually on our free plan. So I think that'll be that'll be neat.

Rod (00:29:58) - That sounds really good. Free is always good, especially in, in in higher ed in private colleges that don't have any money. Um, my last institution actually had a merge. Uh, University of the Sciences merged with Saint Joseph University because the pandemic was like the, the straw that broke its back with the lower enrollments and so forth. So it sounds like you're really on a good track. And it sounds like this would be a a good way to to end our our podcast. Any other final words you want to you want to plug for speech cloud.

Cameron (00:30:35) - I appreciate it. The last plug, I guess, is just if you ever have feedback, the goal is this is not a finished product.

Cameron (00:30:41) - And what I mean by that is we are constantly building with teachers. We work with teachers daily and the goal is not to just build something and then stop. The goal is to keep building and improve. So if any of you that use speech cloud or planning on using speech cloud, reach out right? Let us know how we can improve and if there's certain things you guys are looking for because that's I'm a professor, right? But really, I'm not like I don't teach day and day out. So I think the last plug is just feedback. That'd be great.

Rod (00:31:10) - Well, great. Cameron, really thank you for joining me today. And I learned a lot and sounds like you've got a great product there.

Cameron (00:31:17) - Rod, I appreciate it. Thank. Thanks so much for having me.

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