This past August Arizona State University (ASU) and Amazon announced a new initiative to put an Echo Dot in every dorm room in the university’s new resident building for engineering students, the Tooker House. The goal of the program was to learn how students use Alexa as well as to encourage the undergraduates to develop custom Alexa skills. According to ElearningInside News, the experiment is going quite well and both faculty and administrators are happy with the results so far.
Alexa as a Campus Guide
The experiment’s initial findings reveal that 72% of students use Alexa at least once a week or more. More than half of the students have enabled an Alexa skill, with the most popular being the university’s official Alexa skill. Even more revealing is that the students used Alexa as a virtual campus guide:
Initial findings also reveal that a high percentage of students have been relying on Alexa to acquire Tooker-House related information (e.g., “Alexa, when is the Homecoming block party?” or “Alexa, when is the next electrical engineering tutoring session?). The most common questions asked focus on directions (e.g., “Alexa, what’s the fastest route to the library?”). Dining hall menus and hours are also popular (e.g., “Alexa, is the dining hall open after 8:00 pm?”)
These findings could persuade other universities to replicate ASU’s experiment on their own campuses. Having Alexa as a campus guide could be particularly useful for onboarding incoming freshmen. The ability to Alexa for information is easier than searching a university’s website and could increase engagement for campus activities and allow students to have a smoother transition in adjusting to university life.
Voice as a Teaching Tool
But ASU is also experimenting with Alexa to improve more than dorm living. Computer Science and Engineering Program professor Dr. Yinong Chen is working to teach Alexa voice commands to replace mouse clicking. He believes voice can replace online searching and improve educational tools, like Blackboard:
“We currently use Blackboard in our classes, but it is difficult for students to search for answers. This means that on our discussion boards, students, and I have hundreds, ask the same questions over and over again. They don’t want to spend time going through all the past questions and looking for the answer to their question. The voice-activated interface bypasses the search function. Alexa can find automatically the right question and answer to help students, and that will transform education in the future.”
While ASU’s program has mostly received enthusiasm from faculty in STEM-related fields, the university is hoping to expand its reach to other studies. But so far, Alexa is being used successfully to improve student’s lives both in the dorm and in the classroom. For that reason, ASU, Amazon and Alexa get a passing grade for the semester.