Classroom environments remain challenging for faculty to set up quickly and in ways that are conducive to today’s media-savvy students, especially when classrooms are outfitted with myriad technologies such as smart podiums, black boxes, ethernet cables, tablets, untethered teaching software, dimmable lights, projectors, screens, VGA cables, HDMI cables, and computers that can take a long time to boot up. The options available can be confusing and eat up precious time when students could instead be learning from the instructor, causing frustration for faculty and students alike. Today consumers can approach their homes and ask Amazon Alexa to open the garage door, turn on the lights, turn up the heat, and turn on the TV, etc. with a few simple commands. The process for faculty walking into a classroom and setting up their technology for teaching should be just as quick and easy.
This project sought to equip today’s classrooms with the same smart capabilities so classrooms can be set up in advance and easily modified real-time (e.g., turning off the lights, turning up the volume). Classroom customization abilities were linked to the class schedule so that the classroom would be automatically ready for the instructor upon entry into the classroom.
The project used Amazon Alexa as it offers one of the most advanced conversational interfaces due to its early entrance in the field and continued investment in both hardware (Amazon Echo, Spot, Dot, Buttons) and software (Amazon Lex and the entire suite of cloud tools). Most recently, on April 21, 2018, Amazon released Alexa Blueprints, a new way to create one’s own customized Alexa skills or responses, without needing to know how to code. Blueprints make it possible to customize the questions asked and answers provided to fit any environment. The software’s ability to dramatically enhance the classroom experience makes it worth exploring.
Deone Zell, Cal State Northbridge