How Voice Technology Can Revolutionize the Classroom

Originally published at: How Voice Technology Can Revolutionize the Classroom - Mycroft


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Voice technologies, including Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods, have been developing at a rapid rate over recent years. However few classrooms are embracing these emerging technologies. This is despite the fact that they are now highly present in commercial and business applications.

The Future of Voice-Powered Education

From making workflows more efficient to increasing classroom engagement, AI-powered voice assistants can do a lot for teachers and students alike in a rapidly evolving educational environment. Much of this is due to the rapid evolution of the key elements that make speech recognition possible: data science and AI. In the age of big data, there are countless new data points for AI to process and use for development.

In fact, given time and the right data, AI can respond to virtually anything. Armed with raw and processed information, there’s a wide range of classroom tasks that AI-enabled systems can take over. This includes answering most student questions, freeing up teachers to focus on more crucial classroom tasks such as personal mentoring.

Mycroft makes this technology readily available and completely customizable, enabling educators to create and develop their own virtual classroom assistants. Our Ezra Education Assistant (EA) is one such program. Not only can the Ezra EA take class attendance, but it can also administer sight word assessment tests. Work is currently being done so that it can complete more classroom tasks independently. The more questions and learning points these virtual assistants are tasked with, the more lingual data they can process. Ezra EA is spearheading where AI-enabled assistants are headed.

With open-source programmable smart devices becoming increasingly more affordable, accessible, and simpler to use, the possibilities of this classroom tech are limitless. Chatterbox for instance is a build-and-program-it-yourself smart speaker that can be used to build voice tech applications from the ground up. It comes with step-by-step instructions on putting together the hardware, along with an intuitive program for users to create no-code applications, voice commands, and different smart functions. More importantly, its user-friendly interface puts young people in the driver’s seat of AI and smart tech development. Just like Mycroft, Chatterbox’s focus on privacy makes it an ideal educational tool other commercial smart speakers on the market.


Other Use Cases for Voice Tech

Of course, we’re more familiar with AI-enabled voice assistants for personal and commercial use. The most well-known AI-powered voice technologies are software like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant. They help the everyday person schedule appointments, control smart apps and devices, and do other basic tasks.

From this technology, more complex voice-enabled business applications like Core Intelligence were developed. Designed to help accountants, Core Intelligence analyzes scores of financial data to intelligently respond to business inquiries. As it can be plugged into accounting software and phone systems, this AI can function as an automated online accounting assistant that can extend the efficiency of financial experts.

The evolution of voice technology is particularly crucial today as tech-inclined financial experts are highly in demand. This is most apparent in how more online financial courses are expanding the field of accounting. As businesses look to hire more accountants, auditors, financial analysts, and managers, over 60,000 new opportunities are awaiting online accounting degree graduates in the next decade. And for each one of these job opportunities, voice technology is bound to be a key element. This illustrates not just the commercial value of voice technologies, but also how they are advancing alongside the digital transformation of both business and education.

By looking at and learning from voice technology’s impact in other sectors, educators and institutions can better understand their limitations, too. From here, we can gain new insights and prepare to work around any challenges we may encounter.


Weighing The Pros and Cons of Voice Tech Innovation

Like any other game-changing technology, voice tech innovations are not without risks and concerns. In the wake of school shootings and other horrific events in academic settings, voice technologies are being used for surveillance purposes. And while there is recognizable potential value in using AI algorithms for analyzing vocal patterns to prevent violent events, the trade-off could be the complete loss of privacy within classrooms.

Anything from names and addresses to personal financial details can be captured by these recordings – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Who then gets to decide who has access to this information, and how sure are we that our sensitive and personal information won’t get into the wrong hands? What will the impact on our children’s normal exploration and development be as they grow up in a world where they are under continuous surveillance and they know it?

It would be an understatement to say that this could make schools a lot less conducive for education. This is one reason why data security continues to be a primary concern for voice technologies in learning settings.

Outside of physical classrooms, however, voice technologies may help students and teachers adjust to the fully digitized ‘new normal’ of online classrooms. One promising development in this direction is voice cloning. While it seems like new technology, voice cloning has actually been around for quite a while, particularly in disability services for alternative and augmentative communication. The problem is that it has also been traditionally extremely expensive and time-consuming. But with new methods utilizing transfer learning, voice cloning is becoming much quicker and cheaper to produce. It also requires far less training data from the target voice compared to before.

This is why voice cloning is increasingly being used to streamline voice modules for online courses. It makes creating voiced learning modules much easier. And for the young students consuming these modules, the presence of a familiar voice may help them adapt to online and increasingly tech-dependent classrooms. Furthermore, these types of advanced voice-enabled technology require less bandwidth compared to video-based learning modules. This means that both voice cloning and AI-enabled voice technologies adjust better to slower Internet speeds – important for rural communities, schools outside major metropolises, and developing nations.

With educational institutes across the globe adapting to online teaching methods due to the pandemic, these technologies have become even more crucial. After decades of trying to break into mainstream education, online learning has become more mainstream thanks to innovations in voice technology. Indeed, distanced education is much more commonplace, even when it comes to higher education training for teachers. Much like today’s top traditional universities, those who receive degrees online are taught to adapt to emerging technologies. These new educators can apply AI-enabled voice and other emerging technologies into the classrooms of the future.

Given the rapid development of AI-enabled voice technology, we can expect its increased adoption in both online and offline learning scenarios. At the same time, we need to understand and address the privacy and security risks involved in tech-driven classrooms. Tech is great as long as it’s respectful of all the humans that it interacts with and affects. Alongside the rapid development of AI, using voice tech in the classroom must be accompanied by privacy-respecting open source solutions. Only then can we ensure that the new technologies we welcome into the classroom can enhance the experience for students and teachers.

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By Alice Taylor

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