AUDIO

I know that devices like Alexia, Google Home and Siri have been in the classroom for some time now. But how do I use them effectively to enhance students’ learning? 

AUDIO - GETTING STARTEDIf you've used a device like an Alexa in your teaching, what were the problems or advantages? How could you make use of some of the many resources provided by Amazon and Google in your teaching?

WHO IS USING AUDIO?

Audio apps are used widely in education to record sound or voice.

Apps like Spotify, iTunes and podcasting platforms like Anchor allow students to consume or create media, and audio is also a feature of platforms like Discord, or messaging apps like Snapchat where students can create voice calls between two or groups of users.

These apps and services are well known and understood.

But a new class of audio apps are emerging that use voice as an interface, partly because it has been recognised that screen fatigue may be an issue.

These so-called ‘conversational interfaces’ or 'voice interfaces' allow people to use voice to search. It is estimated that as in the future around 50% of searches will be done by voice alone.

Voice interfaces are usually attached to a specific hardware device: an Apple device (watch, phone, computer), an Amazon Alexa smart speaker or a Google smart device.

These devices reply on connections to the internet to process voice commands and to perform actions like retrieving information or playing media.

Apple's Siri has over 375 million active users

Google has conversational interfaces to over 1 Billion devices worldwide

Amazon has over 100 million smart speakers

Grocery shopping accounts for more than 20% of voice orders

60% of smartphone users have tried voice search at least once in the past 12 months

55% of teenagers are using voice search on a daily basis

Top 3 common keywords in voice search phrases are how, what and best.

AGE RESTRICTIONS

Lots of children are now using the voice assistants in their homes. 6 out of 10 parents say their children interact with a voice-activated assistant such as Siri or Alexa.

This makes it hard to set age limitations for the use of audio devices. 

WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?

Easy to use: voice interfaces are easy to use, engaging and fun for students. They may have used these at home and so the process is natural. 

They provide immediate feedback

There are a wide range of applications

It's easy to create new patterns - called 'skills' - with little technical knowledge 

WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?

Privacy. There are concerns about about privacy when using these devices, including the question of when, for example, an Amazon Alexa device is listening, what it records, who can access that information and what will it be used for.

There have been many reports that devices store recordings when they say they don't. 

MORE ABOUT AUDIO

Audio interfaces are now capable of doing more than retrieving simple information.

More complex tasks can be done using voice throughwhat are called skills or voice skills.

Each platform has a different name for their voice skills.  Amazon calls them ‘skills’, Google calls them ‘actions’, and Samsung calls them ‘capsules’.

And each platform has its own set of skills - such as asking the time or for weather information.

There are tens of thousands of Alexa skills and Google actions available now, and more are added every day. You can read about some of them at:

https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/best-alexa-skills/

Some of the terms you will see used are:

Skill/Action

A voice application, which can respond to an 'intent' which is...

Intent

...what you want the skill to do in response to what you say

Utterance

The sentence you say

Wake Word

The word or phrase used to get start a voice assistant listening such as ‘Hey google’, ‘Alexa’ or ‘Hey Siri’

Context

Extra information that helps inter[ret what someone says such as ‘today’, ‘now’ or ‘when I get home’

 

Image

How Alexa skills work.

An overview tutorial of Alexa Skill building from Alexa Developers on YouTube.

An example of voice skiils in an Amazon Alexa game that allows fans to navigate Westworld, based on the TV show, using only their voice.

There are a variety of Amazon skills available. We've selected some of them below and more can be found at

https://blueprints.amazon.com/

Amazon Storytime
a collection of short stories for children aged 5 and above

The Magic Door
an interactive storytelling game that allows students to make choices during an adventure

The Queen’s Mathematician
a maths game for kids aged 6-8

Curiosity
a general knowledge learning app

Translated
translates English sentences into 37 different languages

This Day in History
voice skills for historical events

Word of the Day
a voice app to build vocabulary

MORE ABOUT PRIVACY

As with any technology, there are concerns about privacy when voice interfaces and devices including when, for example, an Amazon Alexa device is listening or if, and for how long, it stores information. There have been many reports that devices violate privacy by storing recordings. See:

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-07-11-do-voice-assistant-devices-have-a-place-in-the-classroom

and

https://phys.org/news/2019-03-hey-google-alexa-parents-voice.html

Amazon created Freetime, which is aimed at kids using Amazon devices, and that:

“FreeTime provides kids a safe place to enjoy age-appropriate books, movies, games, and more. Since then, parents of over 10 million kids have trusted FreeTime to give them the control they need to provide a safe place for their children to enjoy technology, and to rigorously protect the privacy of family members using Amazon products. We worked tirelessly to earn our customers’ trust, and have worked even harder to maintain it over the last seven years.

When we expanded FreeTime last year to include Alexa, we applied these same rigorous standards. We introduced an all-new version of Alexa, built from the ground up for kids, and a brand-new product, Echo Dot Kids Edition, to give parents more peace of mind. But we didn’t do this alone: we also worked closely with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and other leading industry groups, and followed industry best practices for securing verifiable parental consent.

Amazon has a longstanding commitment to preserve the trust of our customers and their families, we have strict measures and protocols in place to protect their security and privacy, and we adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).”

Read more at:

https://blog.aboutamazon.com/devices/amazon-freetimes-approach-to-family-privacy-and-safety

USING AUDIO IN THE CLASSROOM

Using audio technology in the classroom can seem daunting - especially in the light of privacy concerns, so it might be useful to consider the following:

Think about limitations. Teachers should use voice technology to enhance the learning experience they deliver face to face not replace it. 

Set boundaries. technologies like the Echo Dot Kids Edition uses FreeTime which can be configured to filter explicit music, manage content, and set time limits for usage of the Alexa device.

Turn off features. Removing the ability to make purchases would be sensible, as would muting the microphone so that the device cannot be accessed intentionally or unintentionally unless you want students to use it.

Personal information: As with many technologies, students should not share personal information such as their name, address, and age.

You can also find some examples of using Alexa in the classroom at

https://www.voices.com/blog/alexa-in-the-classroom/

Using Amazon Echo in the Elementary Classroom, from https://www.schrockguide.net/