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AI in Education: Voice in Schools

September 9, 2020 by Amy Foxwell

The rise of deep learning and AI in education naturally brings voice into the equation. In the current environment of growing ‘touchless’ interaction, voice activation and interaction is, and will continue to become, more and more present in our daily lives. Schools are no exception. 

Using Voice and AI in Education to Reduce Touchpoints

With a large daily flow of individuals, reducing touch points is an important step forward in keeping our environments healthy. While there are questions as to how exactly COVID-19 is spread and if touch is truly a threat, surely with a growing population and continually arising illnesses, schools will begin to integrate voice not only in their accessibility initiatives, but throughout schools and campuses.

Voice in the context of assistive technology is already a major asset for accessibility. Having text read out loud automatically by text-to-speech engines has provided a leap in literacy, learning outcomes and psychological support such as motivation, self-esteem and persistence for those with learning and language challenges or low vision issues.

However, now text to speech can be used in various infrastructure as a health measure, as well as a broader learning tool. Take for example voice commanded equipment, whether vending machines, education tools or communication methods. Instead of touch screens, students and teachers will be able to direct tools through voice. Whether this be telling a device what to do, listening to questions, or providing answers. For example, educational equipment will be directed by voice commands to pull down a screen or open an app.

Digital Assistants as Educational Tools in Schools

Leading digital assistant players may themselves claim that Home Assistants such as Google Home or Amazon Dot do not belong in the K-12 classroom due to privacy and compliance laws. However these voice assistant devices are still already making headway into classrooms. They are being used to provide pronunciation for language learners, supplement out of date science texts, or teach students about AI as well as the art of questioning. There are even technology projects such as in the Montour School District, where AI in education has been programmed by the students to answer questions about their school.

While in a Higher Education environment educators are encouraging students to use digital assistants to help with coursework such as questioning during peer editing and reading, or developing speaking, listening and pronunciation for language learners. It’s even being promoted to help students acquire endangered languages. AI is being developed for use in schools, such as AI tutoring systems, where voice is a crucial aspect. Such systems can engage students in dialogue and provide feedback in subjects where they need extra help. For example, BI Norwegian Business school provides chatbots to respond to questions on assignments. 

Chatbots, Voice and AI Used by School Administration

In addition to educational goals, voice is becoming more and more important for school administrations. Chatbots are becoming an all-in-one assistant, advisor, student services administrator and teaching assistant. Many universities are beginning to provide digital assistants in dorm rooms and communal spaces. They provide any number of services, including advising and degree-planning services, completing administrative tasks, looking for mentoring or career opportunities, and connecting with alumni groups. For example, Leeds Beckett University in the UK uses chatbots to help students find places in classes and Georgia State University even uses chatbots to keep students engaged over the holidays. 

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