Friday, April 19, 2019

Alexa in Education? Teacher Evaluation Checklist!

I feel burdened to be forward thinking on the subject of using voice speakers in education. With the title Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, I spent most of this year focused on the instructional side of my role due to rolling out the learning management system, Canvas. It’s really the nature of the title to be a support to educators and something I am fairly good at doing. But my passion and drive lean more to the word “Innovation” in my title. I love to think about educational reform, to consider new ways to do things, to enhance the educational experience with experiences. For the past couple of months, I have actually had more time to focus on this side of my role. I’ve attended conferences, researched concepts, read and brainstormed. This is the part of me that delights in being an educator.

I had the honor of attending the Technology Symposium that showcased big thinking of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga College of  Engineering and Computer Science. The keynote speaker was Chris Cochran that lives in a small town in Idaho or South Dakota, but basically some nondescript place. His talk was inspiring and motivating. He talked about the importance of thinking innovatively and why it doesn’t matter where you live to do that. He said, “Never before had there been a time when education and technology have been more democratized...You have to have confidence in nonsense. Those ideas could change the world forever.” 

Take that statement and intersect it with my ongoing desire to see educators using voice speakers in the classroom in intentional ways and my brain is now in Digital Thinking mode. I stand firm in believing that voice speakers can truly help with the equity gap of access in a very low-cost way. I also believe that voice speakers create an opportunity for more fluid connectivity than ever before. There is no need to look down at a device to find an answer, no need for keystrokes. I find myself in a space of “what’s next and how can I be a part?” 

This week while wearing my “Instructional Technology” hat, I realized we needed to be more proactive about evaluating the digital tools that teachers want to use in the classroom. I adapted some resources created by Kathy Schrock (the mother of edtech) so that our lower school teachers could do some self-evaluation of potential tools before asking the IT department to install apps on the iPads. After doing this, I realized that’s what the voice first world needs!

As a rule, people that have the skill sets to create robust voice Alexa skills or Google actions are not also educators. Designing these skills and actions are being critiqued through the eye of the computer scientist to focus on the conversational design model but that doesn’t necessarily make it good for classroom design. So this week I created an evaluation form for voice skills/actions as well. 

With this first draft evaluation form, I believe it can help teachers look for truly intentional voice skills to integrate into their classroom but also it might help developers in creating skills that match the needs of learners in more robust ways. Creating good skills is more than just conversational design and intuitive slots. The importance of being age level appropriate in language and learning is centered around grade level essential questions and standards could take voice in the classroom past rout memorization. 

I find myself asking “what’s next? And how can I be instrumental in this journey that I am so passionate about?” Today, Chris Cochran inspired me to figure that question out. Anyone want to join my think tank?