Voice technology also has potential for faculty, he says. For instance, faculty may one day ask Alexa and avoid wading through a report in search of data.

“We think the voice technology is going to expand well past the student experience, and will help overall productivity for different user groups at the university,” Hakanson says. “That’s our true purpose as a university–to help students with their success.”

Other colleges embracing voice technology

“I’ve seen the technology disruptors, and when voice [technology] came out, I knew it was really one of the next disruptors,” says John Rome, Arizona State University’s (ASU) deputy CIO. “It was inevitable.”

ASU’s first foray into using Alexa’s voice technology for student services was in the form of 1,500 students in an engineering residence hall. The university powered Alexa with the information to answer roughly 500 ASU-specific questions.

Many students used Alexa for basic functions such as playing music, setting timers, looking up local information, and contacting family. But ASU also offered a program to help students learn how to build Alexa skills, and some engineering faculty members spent class time focusing on skill building for the devices.

“How do we train this next generation of students? They aren’t going to be only web developers or project managers–now there will be voice developers. We’ve placed ourselves in a position to [help train them],” Rome says.

The need for expertise in voice technology crosses multiple industries, he added, including the automobile industry, healthcare, and marketing fields, all of which are beginning to use voice to improve functionality and better meet consumers’ needs.

“We’re saying, ‘We want to be part of this new ecosystem and this new potential job market–how do we help prepare our students for it?'” Rome says. “This is part of the experience at ASU–exposing students to this technology.”

Voice technology: the latest technology trend in #highered

Privacy and security in a personalized age

Both universities hope to one day use Alexa to further personalize educational experiences for students. For instance, students might ask Alexa about the status of financial aid packages, grades, or course schedules.

But with more presonalization comes a concern about keeping sensitive student data and information private.

“We do see personalization in the future, and we want to make sure everything is in place from a security and privacy standpoint,” says Hakanson.

“We’re very cognizant of the privacy and security issues–that’s why we’re being thoughtful as we start doing more around Alexa personalization,” Rome says.

In the future, students could access sensitive information about classes or financial aid, but the challenge lies in multi-step user authentication.

“What is the best way to first authorize, then continue to authenticate, that particular student? Do we do it through voice, do we send something to a mobile device for verification? We’re being more intentional,” Rome says.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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