A closeup of a smartphone with the Amazon Alexa app

Voice technology: the latest technology trend in higher education

Campuses are deploying Alexa to improve the student experience in and out of the classroom

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.

That’s what happened last year at Saint Louis University (SLU), for instance, when the college deployed Alexa-enabled devices in every student room on campus.

Campus leaders had begun looking at voice technology as a way to help improve the student experience and personalize social and academic activities down the road.

Can voice technology increase student productivity?

A spring 2018 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.

Related: How AI will shape the university of the future

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. The seconds or minutes saved may not seem like much, but using voice technology for these purposes also caters to this generation of students’ desire for instant gratification while multi-tasking.

Making campus life a little easier

Students can ask Alexa about campus events and schedules, which goes a long way toward engagement, Hakanson adds. Resources like this are particularly useful; 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.

Voice technology in the classroom

The Echo devices, which are managed centrally, also are used in classes, and Hakanson says faculty could deploy department- or major-specific skills to specific groups of students in the future.

“We may find that there’s a skill specific to engineering students, so we could take that learning community and deploy the skill just to them; there’s a huge value proposition for being able to do more,” he says.

“As a university, we know a lot of these technologies are going to find their way on campus,” Hakanson adds. “How do we engage our students with this technology? They’re becoming much more accustomed to consuming information and performing tasks based off of voice commands. When we talk about productivity, we think that’s really why students want to use voice technology.”

Laura Ascione

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