How Do Teachers Use Alexa in the Classroom?

Tara Parachuk | October 8, 2019

students their hands in a classroom

Not only has Amazon Alexa become popular in our homes, but many young students are now starting to encounter Alexa in the classroom as well. While there are many ways that technology is being used in digital learning, introducing hardware and AI represents yet another learning trend, and many teachers are finding advantages to leveraging Alexa as a learning tool and even a classroom assistant.  

Learn how Alexa is changing the classroom environment through amazing features like learning applications, parental and privacy controls and much more. 

In this article

  1. Alexa for Kids: Using AI in the Classroom
  2. Ways That Teachers are Using Alexa in the Classroom
  3. Alexa Content and Privacy Controls: Making Alexa Safe for the Classroom
  4. The Best Alexa Skills for the Classroom 
  5. Best Narrator Styles for Alexa Skills

Alexa for Kids: Using AI in the Classroom

Children have loved talking toys for a long time, but Alexa takes the concept of intertwining technology with fun, interactivity and learning to another level. This smart device is quite small in stature, but don’t let that fool you when it comes to the potential it offers for learning.

Of course, Alexa can be used for lighter tasks, like playing the national anthem so kids can sing along or even announcing break time. However, educators everywhere are taking it one step further, by customizing their classroom learning. Virtual assistants have been found to help increase student engagement, by creating a fun learning environment for both students and teachers.

Ways That Teachers are Using Alexa in the Classroom

1. Announcing the Weather

Alexa can start the school day off by announcing the weather for the whole class. Her accurate weather predictions help you organize classroom breaks, without having to worry about any weather-related disruptions. This feature helps you set the tone for the day by creating a dynamic learning atmosphere for young students. Julie Daniel Davis, an instructional technologist, uses Alexa to play classical music in the classroom, which she states becomes a great transitional tool for different periods.

2. Setting Reminders

Alexa can set timers, countdowns and reminders for different activities like tests or games. By using Alexa, you no longer have to worry about an activity going over the set time, as such features streamline your lesson plan and help you focus solely on creating exceptional course content.

3. Assigning Partners

Alexa has a randomization setting that you can use to randomly assign students a partner or group, making it easier for you to divide a big class. The randomization setting can also generate numbers for different activities, like a fun math lesson or a guessing game.

4. Reading a Story

The smart speaker can conduct fun storytime sessions for young students, allowing teachers to sit back and assess student engagement. Some people question whether an AI can effectively narrate stories, and Bamboo Learning has solved this issue by using a human voice for its storytelling segments. 

A human voice can easily express a range of emotions, something which a synthetic voice currently lacks. The co-founder of Bamboo Learning, Ian Freed explains: “Long-form content sounds much better with a narrated human voice. The cadence of the pauses and the natural flow for 2-3 sentences long responses, works better with a human voice.”

5. Listening to a Story

Students can take part in the storytelling action by using an application like Select A Story. This feature allows students to direct a story into the scenario of their choice by telling Alexa what to add in, and just goes on to show how far AI has come in terms of human interactions.

They can use commands like, “Alexa, find a fairy,” to change the storyline, allowing them to develop their imagination in an exciting and interactive way. This interactive feature gives you another great reason to add Alexa to the classroom.

6. Answering Questions

Alexa can answer student questions, becoming a great classroom assistant. By setting up ‘question and answer’ sessions, you allow students to develop the habit of asking important questions, which becomes a great classroom skill. This skill also shows how a dynamic learning environment facilitates open conversations in the classroom by encouraging students to speak up.

7. Playing Games

Alexa has several educational games that can be used to create a blended learning strategy for all grade levels. Creating educational games can be highly time-consuming for teachers, and Amazon’s store has hundreds of games, covering different subjects and grade levels, like Math Mania and Spelling Bee Winner. Interactive games can make difficult subjects like math and science fun and engaging for all grade levels.

8. Delivering Personalized Content

One of the most innovative features the device has is the ability to allow teachers to personalize different applications. For example, you can have Alexa read out a pop quiz that covers questions based on recent lessons, or base interactions off syllabus materials. Educators don’t require coding skills or any AI expertise to use these applications.

9. Incorporating Diversity

The interface is user-friendly and this unique quality is making Alexa highly accessible to diverse demographics. A recent Times of India article explains how Alexa is being used in India to teach students from various backgrounds. The school’s version of Alexa speaks different regional languages and is even dressed up by the young students. This shows how Alexa can be added to classrooms around the world, adding to its versatility and appeal.

If you’re catering to students from multiple backgrounds, get different translations for your smart speaker application to make it extremely effective.

Alexa Content and Privacy Controls: Making Alexa Safe for the Classroom

Technology always comes with multiple risks and smart speakers are frankly no different. The topic of privacy and security in the classroom is always worth exploring and should be examined in depth. However, at a high level, there are some privacy and security measures that you should be aware of, especially if you’re worried about students accessing inappropriate information or facing privacy issues. Content and privacy restrictions on your smart speaker offer controls that can make the classroom a safer learning space and also help parents trust the idea of integrating such devices into the classroom.

Here are 5 ways you can make Alexa safe for classroom use:

1. Set Guidelines for Student Usage

Let children know about the privacy risks associated with smart speakers and strongly advise them not to tell Alexa any personal details, like their full name, address or school name. You can also delete the voice history regularly to minimize the privacy risk.

2. Deactivate Voice-Purchasing

You can access the Amazon settings on your smart speaker to deactivate the Voice-Purchasing feature. This stops your students from accidentally ordering items online, a common issue that parents face at home.

3. Setting a Music Filter

The internet is filled with a variety of content and some of that may be highly inappropriate for children, especially content like explicit songs. To prevent students from playing such songs, access the settings on your Alexa account, select the ‘Music’ option, then click on ‘Block Explicit Songs.’

4. Amazon FreeTime

An Amazon FreeTime subscription gives you access to a variety of parental tools such as activity controls, activity reports, disabled applications, etc. Amazon FreeTime is a great program for schools to invest in, as it ensures that smart speaker usage is strictly monitored.

5. Set Explicit Content Restrictions

If you are worried about students asking Alexa inappropriate questions, you can set explicit content restrictions. This is a great feature for higher grade levels, as students at this age tend to be curious about widespread topics and this feature allows you to monitor questions and maintain classroom decorum.

The Best Alexa Skills for the Classroom 

We rounded up some of the best Alexa skills for your classroom periods. When you incorporate these skills into your lessons, you allow for dynamic learning to take place, which increases overall student engagement and learner retention.

  1. Amazon Storytime offers you a large collection of short stories for children aged 5 and above, ensuring that you never run out of storybooks for young kids.
  2. The Magic Door is an interactive storytelling game that allows students to make choices during an adventure. Your students can find hidden items, solve riddles, and help magical creatures when playing this game. 
  3. The Queen’s Mathematician is a math game for kids aged 6-8. This skill includes fun stories and adventures, with math problems that make playing with numbers fun. 
  4. Curiosity is a fun, general learning app that helps your students listen to cool new facts every day, increasing their general knowledge and sparking amazing conversations between students.
  5. Translated can help you teach a foreign language to your students, as it allows you to translate English sentences into 37 different languages, such as Korean, Norwegian and Polish.
  6. This Day in History helps your class uncover historical events that took place on the same day, throughout history. History is always a fun and interesting topic, but sometimes it can be a bit boring for students and such a skill transforms the lesson into a dynamic learning program, making it quite enjoyable.
  7. Word of the Day helps you build your class’ vocabulary by regularly teaching them new words. This is a fun skill to use during an English lesson because it helps young children learn about proper word usage and sentence structures. 

Best Narrator Styles for Alexa Skills

If you are looking to create an Alexa skill for the classroom, you will have to consider the kind of voice over your application requires. This feature will determine the quality of a student’s experience, because certain applications work better with a human voice, such as the Bamboo Books Alexa Skill by Bamboo Learning.

Human voices are perfect for a storytelling application or adventure game because they tend to be highly expressive, a feature that increases the appeal of the narrator. If your adventure game is highly creative, a human voice over can help students imagine the fantastical world it creates.

On the other hand, a math skill for a 7th grade level classroom might require an AI voice, as AI’s deep learning feature and custom text-to-speech tool work well with such complex content. If you’re ready to create such a skill, find the best voice actors to enrich your project.

Do you think Alexa is a useful classroom assistant? What are your thoughts about having a smart speaker in the classroom?

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