Based on several comments on a previous blog post, Alexa: Your New Teacher Assistant, along with a few questions I’ve received via email, it seems there is a definite knee-jerk reaction by some districts to incorporating voice assistants in classrooms. While voice assistants are new technology and evolving quickly, I don’t think that necessarily makes them dangerous despite the recent scare with the Alexa emailing a recording to a person on a connected contact list. In all reality, stories like that one should reinforce the need for what most schools are already doing: providing training in the effective use of technology for educational purposes.
Responding to New Ideas with New Policies
When I look at some of the knee-jerk reactions that have taken place, it seems very reminiscent of when BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) was being praised (or scrutinized) in districts across the nation within the last decade. Those that accepted BYOD as a viable environment within classrooms thought through making sure their networks were secure, reviewing their policies, procedures, and practices, and even tailoring professional development to help teachers understand how to have BYOD in their classrooms. Districts put together their list of best practices, had open discussions with teachers, principals, and parents, and recognized that some educators may need more time before they can confidently support students in a BYOD environment.
Join the Conversation
I think we should approach voice assistants in the classroom in the same manner. Regardless of whether we use Google, Amazon, or Apple, or some other off-brand that pops up, we need to make sure that good thinking precedes it and lays the foundation for why we are doing what we do and how we do it. Since I’m guessing that voice assistants aren’t going away, it would behoove us to be part of the conversation that helps develop this technology to be valuable to education. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, consider having open meetings to discuss uses of AI devices, their connection to the curriculum, and how they can be incorporated in meaningful ways. If we don’t encourage students to evaluate the information they receive based on its credibility, authorship, or accuracy, then we have shortchanged our students and only provided a newer, trendy way of mindlessly copying/pasting information.
When I was an Instructional Technology Director, I was frequently frustrated by the technical side of the house. It seemed like they just wanted to say no to everything. Once I realized that was an asset and their perspective was really to provide as safe of an environment as possible, it became easier for me to change my communication from, “This is what I think we should do.” to “This is what I think we should allow our teachers and students to do. How can we do that in a way that is safe?” If you are in a campus or district and find yourself in a similar situation of being surrounded by those that don’t want to change (no matter what the change is), consider approaching them from this perspective.
Share Your Expertise
Are you already using voice assistants in your office or classroom (even secretly)? Let us know what you see as the pros and cons of the technology. What would be your recommendation to a teacher wanting to jump in and run with it? What advice would you give that would hopefully be useful not just for this technology but for future technology yet to be conceived? Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not really about the device.
If you are a technology director (or a technology director wannabe), we’ll be starting a new cohort in September with our Technology/IT Director Certification where you will find helpful live webinars and online courses to keep you current and help you stay ahead of the curve. Let us know if you are interested or if you have any questions.