Should You Add a Digital Assistant to Your Classroom?
posted by: Melissa | November 29, 2018, 08:15 PM   

Google Home and Amazon Echo burst onto the market four years ago. While some predicted that these devices would be yet another technological fad, they have proven their staying power as well as their reach. As they penetrate deeper and deeper into the market place, some are asking if these devices have a place in the classroom.

Most teachers have three criteria to be met before they’ll use a new piece of technology. They need to know the technology is relatively easy to set up, it is easy to use, and it has a clear purpose which will make their job easier or their teaching richer. In many ways, digital assistants meet all three points. These digital devices are easy to set up, needing only to be plugged in and then added to the Wi-Fi. The teacher may have to do research to discover all the capabilities of their digital assistant, but since they respond to voice commands, they’re also easy to use. Finally, they also have a variety of uses in the classroom.

Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo can perform a myriad of small tasks around the classroom to make the teacher’s job easier while complementing their teaching. They can keep a running list of classroom supplies or classroom maintenance tasks. They can provide schedule reminders to the teacher, or play background music while students work. They also have become much more than an organizational helper, featuring apps that are especially well suited to the classroom. With these devices also supporting as many as 25,000 third party “skills”, they can field questions from students, do research and engage students with contests and subject games.

However, teachers have reason to be wary of the devices before jumping in and there are many reasons for concern. Specifically, their makers have raised flags regarding classroom use. One Amazon executive said their smart speakers had issues with privacy and were not appropriate for classroom use. After all, these devices are constantly on, constantly monitoring what’s going on around them, and constantly connected to the internet with the purpose of sending information back to the manufacturer. Using a device such as this risks running afoul of federal student privacy laws. Additionally Google Home devices pair with a Gmail account and by doing so may potentially put parent and student information and private data at further risk.

Either oblivious to the risks, or finding ways to minimize them, many teachers are adding these devices to their classroom, often raving about the results. The benefits of this technology, they say, are too great for it to be ignored completely, leaving educators in a murky grey area. The situation is just the latest in a series of battles between utilizing all that technology has to offer and respecting the privacy rights of students. It likely will not be the last, as technology continues to redefine the boundaries of AI in the classroom.

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