Flash briefing 40 – Voice for learning

Amazon and Microsoft called the assistants apps skills. And there’s a reason for it, the assistant is supposed to learn from the skills, be enhanced by them. Can smart speakers enhance learning and education? At Arizona State University (ASU) this fall, 1,600 Amazon Echo Dots were distributed among engineering students in the school’s Tooker House — a residence hall on campus. Students at ASU are primarily using the Echo Dots as a tool for campus connection.
“Alexa, what’s happening on campus this week?” “Alexa, where is the science building?” “Alexa, when is my next Calculus exam?”
The students at ASU also found a practical application for the devices in the residence halls, proposing a skill for Alexa that could identify how many washing machines are available in the laundry rooms.
Educators from higher ed powerhouses like Arizona State University to small charter schools like New Mexico’s Taos Academy are experimenting with Amazon Echo, Google Home or Microsoft Invoke and discovering new ways this technology can create a more efficient and creative learning environment.
The devices are being used to help students with and without disabilities gain a new sense for digital fluency, find library materials more quickly and even promote events on college campuses for greater social connection.
These applications are very practical but the next challenge for voice in edtech is finding a way to more thoroughly integrate Alexa/Google Assistant/smart assistants into the school’s curriculum.
Some professors are already experimenting with machine learning as a new type of virtual “assistant.” In early 2016, Ashok Goel, a Georgia Tech computer science professor, deployed IBM’s Watson platform to answer routine questions posed by students. Goel revealed the assistant’s “identity” at the end of the semester, and students were surprised to learn that a machine had been answering their questions.
Using machine learning for routine tasks — so instructors can spend more time on complex teaching activities — is one of the primary applications that educational technologists foresee in higher education.
How education can be transformed by intelligent assistant by providing context aware, personalized learning is a task to see, and it’s the dream of every educator. Imagine the possibilities for learning when each student could have a teaching assistant tailored to his learning needs. This is the new education revolution that Kevin Robinson and my mom dreams.
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