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Just in time for back to school: Updates from Alexa on campus

Colleges and universities around the world are creating new Amazon Alexa skills to enhance the student experience on campus. From quiz skills built by professors that help students study to multi-lingual skills that give students access to learning content in their native language, Alexa is helping universities create new and exciting learning environments.

Read what five schools from around the world are doing with Alexa skills this school year.

Alexa makes her debut on campuses around the world

This September, CEU Cardenal Herrera University (part of the CEU Educational group) in Spain launched Ask CEU, a bilingual, chatbot-enabled Alexa skill. With over 7,000 students – many of whom are from non-Spanish speaking countries – CEU wanted to make it easier to stay engaged on campus and access learning content. The Ask CEU skill allows students to get learning content from their Blackboard account, schedule appointments, and hear campus information and updates in either English or Spanish. CEU hopes that giving students the ability to choose their language to get updates on their grades, book a conference room at the library, or schedule a session with a tutor will help them become more engaged and productive. To support this initiative, the university is deploying one Amazon Echo Dot for each student (around 7,500) and one Echo Show per building in common areas, making it easy for students to use Alexa anywhere. CEU built their skill after gathering feedback from students and assembling a multidisciplinary team from across the university that included faculty, members of the Student Services team, and the IT department. In less than four months, CEU built their Alexa skill using Amazon Web Services (AWS) services including AWS LambdaAmazon Lex, and Amazon DynamoDB.

The University of Texas (UT) at Dallas launched a pilot program this August with Echo Dots in residence halls and new Alexa skills aimed at connecting students to campus information, services, and events. The project began in the spring of 2019 when UT Dallas asked students, “What do you want from Alexa?” After collecting feedback, the university scoped and designed their pilot, which includes 154 Echo Dots in the Residence Hall South. UT Dallas also built three new Alexa skills that students can use on their new Echo Dots, including: Ask UT Dallas, which can answer 170 frequently asked questions about the university; UT Dallas Services, which gives students information about things like campus dining options, parking availability, and the status of Office of Information Technology (OIT)  services; and the UT Dallas News Center that provides Alexa Flash Briefings on the latest news from the university. In addition to these skills, UT Dallas also rolled out Alexa for Business, which allows faculty and staff to use Alexa to start and end meetings, find and book conference rooms, and more – saving faculty time and allowing them to be more productive. UT Dallas is using this pilot to collect feedback from students on how they can improve their Alexa skills and identify what functionality they would like to see built next.

A familiar voice with new capabilities for 2019

Over the summer, Lancaster University in the United Kingdom added new capabilities to its chatbot-enabled Alexa skill to support learning. First introduced in March 2019, Lancaster’s skill, Ask L.U., helps students get answers to questions about campus life, access library services, and request disability services. The latest version allows students to ask Alexa to play the audio from a past lecture and check if they have any new feedback from their professors. Ask L.U. was designed and built by Lancaster University’s Information Systems Services (ISS) using AWS voice, security, and serverless technologies, including Amazon Lex. Since launch, Ask L.U. is becoming an integral part of students’ academic and social life. Lancaster University will continue to develop plans to expand the way they are using Alexa and chatbots on campus.

This fall, Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts launched a new pilot program to help professors build quizzes and practice exams that students can access via Alexa. Now, students can use Alexa quizzes to review material and prepare for upcoming exams, whether they are in their dorm room or on the subway. This latest pilot builds on the work Emerson started last year with the release of three campus-wide Alexa skills and the integration of voice strategy into their center for entrepreneurship and innovation, Emerson Launch. Student founders in Emerson Launch are challenged to think about how voice will impact their product design and are given resources to help plan for a future where voice user interfaces are as common as touch. Emerson plans to continue to innovate with Alexa by working with students and faculty to develop new experiences that improve learning, increase access to information, and get students thinking about the future of technology.

At Saint Louis University (SLU), the Alexa skill Ask SLU is getting a revamp this October. The new version of Ask SLU offers students greater functionality and multi-modal access via a chatbot. SLU started with Alexa last fall when they released their first skill and placed an Echo Dot in each of their student residence hall rooms and on-campus student apartments. For the 2019-2020 school year, SLU reworked their Alexa skill using the open-source QnA Bot project. Now, students can access information using their voice with Alexa, the chatbot in a website browser, or SMS text messaging. The new version will help Ask SLU to answer more student questions and allow students to choose to get answers in whatever way is most convenient for them.

These are just a few stories of how universities are using Alexa to enhance student living and learning. Learn more about Alexa for higher education.