Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Alexa Blueprints? The Possibilities for Education are Growing




A few months ago I stood in front of a group of voice user interface programmers and said, "I wish the interface to create a skill for Alexa was easier so that my students and my teachers could quickly create their own skills." Some people said, "It is easy!" and one in particular heard me and we have been talking back and forth ever since about what this platform would look like and what it could do. Roger Kibbe (@rogerkibbe) even sent me a link to a potential input/user interface page for students and it was so intuitive and happy looking! I believe with all my heart he is on to something amazing. 

Then this week Amazon came out with its own page. It's called Alexa Blueprints and it works simply and beautifully by using templates to create opportunities for people to create their own Alexa skills. This video is of me using the website for the first time to create a flashcards skill for first graders to learn their shapes based on definitions. That was the first concept that popped into my mind because our students had just done a STEAM time with robots to help them learn their shapes. 
So I created this concept yesterday and had all evening to think through the educational implications of using this in the classroom. Things to think on:
  • I can see this being a great tool for teachers to use to create a center for learning in their classroom but you can only share your skill with those using the same Amazon account so a teacher can't say "look for my skill to help you study for this test at home, etc." Each student would have to make their own skill using their parent's Amazon account...which I can tell you from recent events at our school isn't a wise decision to give out to minors.
  • Falling under the same issue, I would love to have my students create their own skills in class but
    • They can only use an Amazon account under the age of 18 "with involvement of parent or guardian."
    • The risk of letting them have access to my own account to create skills seems too great.
  • I continue to be a little leary of using Alexa in the classroom due to the instant access to information that could be used inappropriately by students by asking innapropriate questions. This week when Alexa Blueprints came out Mark Tucker (@marktucker) reached out to me to let me know it was out there and also to tell me that he thought it would work well with an Alexa Voice Remote. I didn't even know those existed. I must dig deeper at this capability. And FYI here is Mark's Youtube explanation of the new Alexa Blueprints platform.
So there are things that I would love to see:
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow teachers to feel confident with using these devices in the classroom without fear of some student ordering 42 packages of Tide pods on teacher's Amazon account. Could there possibly be Alexa accounts that are not tied to a credit card?
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow the teachers to both create skills that could be shared with all their students so that the teacher could create opportunities for learning outside the classroom for their students using this device.
  • Allow teachers to set up users under their own teacher account so that it could be used in a language arts classroom (for instance) and the students write their own stories using the templates available. 

And I know I have mentioned it before, but as an educator if you ever have the chance to speak outside your educational realm, do it. The connections I made at the Alexa Conference have allowed me to be more tuned into the possibilities of Voice User Interface than I would have ever imagined. Thank you Roger and Mark for keeping me updated on potential new things!