Use of Amazon Echo/“Alexa” or Google Home in the Classroom

Many teachers are asking to have these devices set-up in their classrooms but there are two reasons that these requests are being denied.

We understand that, as with most new technology, the use of the digital assistants (Amazon Alexa or Google Home) in the classroom offers both opportunities and potential concerns. The opportunities are easy to identify - random pick a number, solve a math equation, suggest a synonym, read from an e-book, and so on. Unfortunately, the concerns are challenging and rooted in the way digital assistants work.

The two reasons are:

  1. COPPA Compliance - COPPA forbids a company from storing a child’s personal information, including recordings of their voice, without the explicit, consent of their parents.
    • Digital assistants, like Alexa, recognize a “wake word” which prompts the device to start recording your voice.
    • When Alexa wakes and enters listen mode, it sends the recording over the Internet to Amazon and the recording is stored with the Amazon account associated with the specific Echo device.
    • The recording can be later played, downloaded, etc. from the Alexa app on the mobile device linked to the Echo. These records are used by Amazon to improve their functionality.
    • The way these devices function is in direct conflict with COPPA.
  2. Network Compatibility - The design of an enterprise network differs greatly from a home network where these devices are designed to be used.
    • Digital Assistants use a simpler wireless protocol which is designed for home/personal use.
    • Additionally, Internet filters (which the District is required to operate to be compliant with CIPA) further complicate the matter. Filtering will interfere with the functionality of the Alexa and other digital assistants.

Does this mean that teachers will never be able to use Alexa-like devices in the classroom?

No, the market and development for products like Alexa are very dynamic. For example, at the end of November 2017 Amazon introduced Alexa for Enterprise; Amazon is partnering with vendors such a Microsoft to incorporate enterprise “skills” into the products. As personal digital assistants mature, they are becoming more enterprise-friendly and providers are developing better structures for managing these devices at an organizational level.

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  • 30-Nov-2018
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