Leveraging Voice Assistants in Universities: Benefits for Students and Institutions

Education Technology Insights | Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Today, university students have a variety of tools to connect and engage with technology. Educators and students from universities such as the Northeastern University, Arizona State, and the Georgia Institute of Technology have been experimenting with Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Microsoft Invoke. With the help of technology, they find new ways to create a more efficient and creative learning environment. The devices are used to help students with or without disabilities. They gain a new sense of digital fluency, to find library materials faster, and even to promote college campus events and promote greater social connections.

The emerging presence of voice control devices in classrooms and universities, like many technologies, also raises concerns about student privacy and unnatural dependence on digital tools.

The Northeastern University works with startup n-Powered to help address these concerns and at the same time, to make intelligent assistants more helpful and prioritize privacy. n-Powered has created a custom Amazon Echo Dot application called Husky Helper in a pilot program to help students access more personal information. Then, they had to pool the university’s data together.

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Since Husky Helper has a strict privacy policy, it does not collect or share information with third parties, including Google or Amazon. Furthermore, all data in the system is encrypted. Students can even opt out of using Husky Helper completely or choose not to share specific information, such as financial assistance data. The devices are a one-stop shop for students who need information on any factor like housing, student affairs, dining, athletics, library, and professional services.

Applications such as Husky Helper could help to increase the value of other university smart assistant programs for students in the future while protecting privacy. It is specifically designed to reduce the cognitive loads of students so that they can concentrate more on studies that increase their learning and creativity.

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These device deployments are now used to communicate public information and provide standard campus services. It is expected that in the future, student-centered, custom programming will enable a better learning experience.

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