Edtech trends come and go. Some have more potential to stay than others, considering their general usefulness in the classroom and the level of innovation they bring to everyday school activities. However, there is one trend that is steadily “invading” our homes and indeed, our classrooms. That is of course, artificial intelligence.
We’ve all “talked” to Siri, Alexa or Google before and some of us use the virtual assistant daily. Some teachers have found very useful applications in the classroom and companies have even started creating and refining apps especially designed to be used by the AI in a school setting.
In fact, AI-powered digital assistants in the form of smart speakers can function much like a teacher’s sidekick by taking care of routine tasks such as setting timers for activities, breaks, and offer a way for students to interact directly with A.I as part of their learning process.
Read more: 4 Ways AI will be a great teaching assistant
Here are some examples of what teachers can do with the help of a digital assistant in their classroom:
- Set up reminders, such as to stop a classroom activity and start another
- Use automation to reduce routine tasks, including scheduling school events in the calendar
- Quiz students about a topic
- Play trivia games and other educational apps
- Teach digital literacy, as students interact with A.I and learn more about this technology that they are definitely going to use in the future
- Easily access content such as audiobooks and music
- Offer more options for differently-abled students through voice recognition
Exploring the most popular smart speakers for the classroom
That being said, to be able to do all that, teachers need a device such as a smart speaker, that can blend in the classroom setting, is affordable and easy enough to use. The rise of AI has also increased the popularity of these devices. In the U.S alone, 66 million units have been installed as of December 2018.
Read on to find out what are the most common options that teachers can choose from, but first a small disclaimer has to be made: this is just to present options, not an endorsement for one or the other. Schools can decide which ones could serve them best — if they wish to use such technology in the first place, of course.
Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
Over a quarter of US adults own a smart speaker, and Amazon Echo is the most popular option on the market, with various versions such as the Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Echo Look. The Amazon Echo Dot is a fairly compact device with many useful features, including voice recognition.
The smart speaker is powered by Alexa, the digital assistant that can answer any questions your students might have, or set reminders for classroom activities. Most importantly, the AI is enhanced by skills, such as Alexa Storytime, an app that reads different stories to children.
Even more, teachers can search for music, add quiz or trivia apps, or even schedule meditation time with the help of the digital assistant. The device is great for teens and adults, so it would be best to use in a university campus.
The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition is geared towards a younger crowd, featuring parental controls, kid friendly content such as music and books, and Voice Shopping is disabled by default. There is also a “positive reinforcement” feature so children get to practice how to say “please” and “thank you” when interacting with Alexa. All in all, the powerful voice recognition, advanced AI feature, and access to good content makes it the most popular digital assistant in the classroom. It will probably stay this way, especially if Amazon continues to innovate specifically for this area.
To sum it up, Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition are comprehensive choices in terms of smart speakers, with the help of the advanced Alexa assistant, and apps that are designed especially for classroom use.
Google Home Mini
According to the previously mentioned data, Google Home seems to be the second most popular smart speaker in the US. In fact, the Google Home Mini is a fairly affordable option, which also comes equipped with Google Assistant.
Now, as Google users know, the assistant can do pretty much everything, from answering questions, searching for music, news, adding events to your calendar, reminders, check students’ spelling, and more.
In fact, much like Alexa, Google Home has actions (instead of skills), that can be of much help in the classroom, especially with routine tasks. A nice action is making your own flash cards with the use of templates, which means that students do not necessarily need to know how to write code to create them.
An apparent downside is that the Google Home Mini does not have a powerful speaker system so teachers will have to decide whether this is an inconvenience for classroom use.
All in all, the Google Home Mini is a good option, especially if teachers prefer the Google Assistant, which is similar to Alexa in terms of what it can do. A big bonus is the actions feature and the fact that people can create actions themselves.
Although it is more expensive and still growing as a product, the Apple HomePod deserves an honorable mention. As such, Alexa and Google Assistant are far more advanced than Siri, and so far this device cannot recognize voices – that is about to change with the upcoming iOS 13 release scheduled for this September.
However, there seems to be a major advantage to the Apple HomePod for music teachers. As the sound system is very good, they can use it to search for music from different eras using an array of services such as Apple Music, YouTube, and Spotify. Of course, teachers might also want to consider this option if they are planning to use mostly Apple products, for a seamless integration.
Although the Apple HomePod needs to catch up to its other counterparts, it does have potential for future use in the classroom.
AI won’t replace teachers anytime soon. In fact, as schools are starting to use more and more AI in their daily activities, there is a huge potential for digital assistants to take on more routine work, so that teachers can focus on teaching and interacting with their students. Even more, children, teens, and even adults will need guidance in using this technology. Teachers will not only have to learn how to use these devices, but also know how to explain the complicated ethics behind using AI, and deal with privacy concerns as well (something that we will discuss with another occasion).
Read more: The race is on for the AI-powered classroom
So, what do you think? Will we be seeing one of these smart speakers in every classroom or is it a trend that will be quickly replaced by another?
Ioana believes that education in action is the only way to change the world. When she is not writing about learning and ed tech, she can usually be seen reading a book and drinking lots of coffee.