This year, students at Arizona State University will have the opportunity to live in college housing with Echo Dots in a program that encourages engineering students to practice voice user interface development skills on consumer hardware.
ASU has built a new work / live space for first-year engineering students called the Tooker House, and those moving into its residence hall will be able to opt in to the program and receive an Echo Dot for their dorm room. The school says Amazon has donated 1,600 Echo Dots and is also providing developer kits to help add the technology to ASU’s existing engineering curriculum.
Outside of Tooker House, any student in ASU’s engineering school can enroll in one of three upcoming fall courses that teach concepts like voice user interface development, which includes Alexa skills. The students will be encouraged to independently build Alexa skills outside the classroom using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), which can ideally be incorporated into student project programs, or solve needs in the local community.
Previous company partnerships and initiatives in colleges have not been entirely successful. In 2012, there were concerns over privacy and monitoring when several universities teamed up with CourseSmart to monitor students’ reading through digital textbooks. In 2015, the Los Angeles Unified School District tried, and failed, to implement a program with Apple that would place iPads in the hands of every teacher and student, citing lack of training and contract issues with publishers.
Granted, ASU’s program is more likely to succeed given that it’s opt in, directed toward engineering students, and is centered around a piece of hardware that is not a replacement for an item crucial to a university’s learning experience. And perhaps most importantly, the devices are there for the students to tinker with instead of rely on.
Amazon Alexa’s growth since its launch in 2014 has been largely contributed to third-party developers, and the company has continually encouraged people to create and build experiences with the Alexa Skills Kit. This year, Amazon opened up certain backend functionalities to all developers and also offered to pay developers who create Alexa skills with the highest engagements in the US, UK, and Germany. This ASU initiative is yet another avenue for Amazon to encourage more people grow Alexa’s capabilities, this time right from the classroom.