- Teachers are using voice-enabled smart speakers in their classrooms to familiarize students with the digital tools while also weaving the device into educational lessons, District Administration reports.
- To address concerns about the speaker potentially always listening, one 5th-grade teacher in Massachusetts unplugs the speaker when it’s not in use, and a student is assigned to plug the device in when it’s needed.
- While some schools and districts have been concerned about privacy issues around the devices, such as what it records when it's turned on, others are piloting their use and are being taught to check what the device is recording so they know what's being collected.
Voice-enabled speakers are slowly finding their way from homes into schools. Some teachers are bringing these digital assistants into classrooms, having children ask simple questions of them or to even play games. One science teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, even found the devices helped her with classroom management.
But concerns about how these devices work are also on the rise. Smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple all react to hearing specific words, including the device's name. But to hear those cues, they must be listening to know when they're spoken aloud.
The companies that make these devices, which include Amazon's Echo and Google's Home, say that anything said aloud, before those wake-up cue words are spoken, is not recorded. Yet there was at least one reported case when a smart speaker made recordings even while its owners were not aware.
Most people seem to use smart speakers for playing music, according to a 2018 study from Oath, (now called Verizon Media), "Understanding the Long-Term Use of Smart Speaker Assistants." That doesn’t mean the devices can’t have a role in education, though today their use appears to be as more of a fun toy rather than a useful educational tool.
While bringing in new tech and devices is a good way for students to be introduced to tools that will shape their lives in the future, educators need to let parents know if these devices are being used in their child’s classroom. Administrators must also make sure the devices follow the rules on collecting data as laid out in the Children's Internet Protection Act, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).