amazon alexa

Alexa comes to campus

Voice technology is enabling a new generation of campus personalization

“Hey, Alexa!” The now-common phrase has made its way from homes into dorm rooms at some U.S. colleges and universities, all with the intention of personalizing students’ social and academic experiences on campus.

As technology offers more ways to stay connected and access information, forward-thinking higher-ed leaders are leveraging voice technology such as Amazon’s Alexa to help students acclimate to campus life and feel like they’re at home.

In a wide-reaching move, Saint Louis University (SLU) has deployed Alexa-enabled devices in every student room on campus.

Earlier this year, campus leaders started looking at voice technology as a way to help improve the student experience and personalize social and academic activities down the road.

A spring pilot with 20 Amazon Echo devices and 20 competitor devices yielded a firmer idea of how voice technology can help students become more productive, gain more access to information, and remain more engaged on campus, says David Hakanson, SLU’s CIO.

After the pilot, campus leaders reviewed student feedback and realized the Echo devices could improve productivity. Through the university’s program, which is supported by Amazon Web Services, they built a university-specific skill to connect students with important campus information. For instance, instead of students having to pull up a browser on a mobile device to check campus library hours, they could simply ask Alexa and get an immediate answer in a seamless and uninterrupted manner. The seconds or minutes saved may not seem like much, but using voice technology for these purposes also caters to students’ desire for instant gratification while multi-tasking.

Students can ask Alexa about campus events and schedules, which goes a long way toward engagement, Hakanson adds. Resources like this are particularly useful, because studies show that strong campus engagement leads to better grades and improved retention.

When new skills become available, the university emails students to let them know and to solicit feedback on the new and existing skills.

Laura Ascione