In Amazon’s latest push into education, the tech giant is encouraging colleges to experiment with its Echo smart speakers and add the devices to their curricula.
The company is working with Arizona State University, for instance, where it gave 1,600 Echo Dots to engineering students living in a new dorm called Tooker House.
“ASU’s main motivation was to develop an opportunity for its engineering students to gain skills in voice technology, an emerging field,” says John German, an ASU spokesperson. The engineering school at ASU has added "a little bit" of voice technology to the curriculum of three existing courses this semester, German said. However, the students who received the Echo Dots will "not at all" be required to take these courses. The dots are "literally a gift," German says.
The Amazon Alexa team “met frequently” with the university, and “offered advice,” says John Rome, ASU’s deputy chief information officer.
The company also recently set up the Amazon Alexa Fund Fellowship, which so far includes four colleges—Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University. The year-long program will give selected students “funding, access to Alexa devices, and mentoring from an Alexa Science team member to develop an undergraduate or graduate curriculum around one or more of these disciplines,” according to a company blog post.
And the company is also running a research competition for universities called the Alexa Prize, in which it will dole out $2.5-million in prizes to teams developing new ideas in conversational artificial intelligence.
Amazon officials imagine a world where their devices are woven into student life, used for things like “ordering transportation and setting homework reminders,” says an Amazon spokesperson, who asked not to be named.
Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger for eLiterate, says he believes Amazon is “playing the long game” with its Echo strategy, just as many big tech companies do in education.