I’ve been using an Amazon Echo device at home for over a year now, and I’m constantly asking Alexa for help with timing my cooking, searching for songs I want to listen too, and finding out facts. And I am always thinking about its potential uses in education from asking Alexa for help with your homework, providing equity of access to learner with additional learning needs, or getting students to write their own Alexa skills.
Echo is a voice controlled speaker device which is connected to the internet to access information, music, skills and many other things. You can basically ask Alexa for anything including adding items to your shopping baskets, even call or message anyone with another Alexa device. So as you can see the potential for education is huge!
If learners could use these tools for helping them with homework then we enable a huge range of learners who relied on parents previously to become more independent, and give equity of access to learners who have difficulties reading. The learners just have to ask for the information that they need. Now that’s a game changer for a whole group of learners. But of course we still need to teach them how to evaluate this information, as we don’t really know where this content is coming from in the same way as we would on a website via its URL. So this could cause some issues with regards to teaching information literacy.
By providing students with the opportunities and skills to develop their own Alexa skills we are providing with key skills for future careers. Not only do they have to come up with a suitable idea for a skill but all the skills they gain around developing this skill is very wide. Including:
- Collaborating on the skill with other learners
- Researching requirements of the new skill
- Planning the project
- Writing the coding
- Checking and testing the code
- Evaluating and tweaking the code
to name just a few. But then this skill is now available to all other Alexa users, and they can use their skills at home. This particular type of activity is a stepping stone to developing Internet of Things skills and is perfect for a Makerspace environment too.
You could even have them around your school or college so that staff and students can access information or particular skills that you have built. For example, you could build a skill for learners to ask Alexa for their next lesson, when their next exam is or what their current attendance percentage is etc.
I would love to hear about people are using these types of devices for learning and teaching. This smart technology space is a very exciting area of development for education, and will continue to become more flexible, accessible and innovative. Please share your ideas or experiences with us.