Does Alexa Belong in Your Classroom?

For Prime Day July 11-12, Amazon is offering this super cute Echo Dot device in the shape of an owl. There’s also a dragon, and the price is awesome. So is this a good opportunity to introduce Alexa into your classroom?

Using Alexa in the classroom

Think of all the things Alexa can do in your classroom!

  • Control the lights and plugged-in appliances.
  • Set timers and alarms.
  • Set up reminders for classroom routines.
  • Randomly set partners.
  • Provide translations.
  • Read stories.
  • Play music.
  • Play educational games like The Queen’s Mathematician.
  • Check facts.
  • Give the weather report, including the current temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit.
  • Check spellings.
  • Define words.
  • Answer questions.
  • Drop in on other classrooms.

That’s just a start. Alexa is certainly useful in a classroom.

The issues

Amazon has paid millions on a settlement of a lawsuit over children’s privacy. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 is the law Amazon violated by keeping recordings of children’s voices and using them to improve the product.

Children’s language and voices are different from those of adults and teens. In order to get better at understanding and communicating with kids, Alexa needs to practice with kids’ language. There’s nothing creepy about that.

But Amazon allegedly continued to use transcripts of children whose parents had asked for their data to be deleted. Amazon was also accused of allowing workers to see video collected by their Ring application. Amazon spokeswoman Parmita Choudhury said in a statement, “Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy, and to provide customers with control over their experience. While we disagree with the FTC’s claims regarding both Alexa and Ring, and deny violating the law, these settlements put these matters behind us.”

The FTC’s response was clear: “Claims from businesses that data must be indefinitely retained to improve algorithms do not override legal bans on indefinite retention of data.”

Another lawsuit charged that, while Alexa only listens and records conversations when activated by a “wake word” such as “Alexa,” “echo,” or “computer,” Alexa can easily misinterpret or mishear words. Most Alexa users have probably experienced this at home. In such cases, Alexa can record conversations.

And while Amazon says that Alexa’s recordings are primarily used to help the device respond appropriately to commands and requests, some recordings and transcripts ae used for training and development.

The decision

So on the one hand, Alexa is useful in the classroom but on the other hand, there is some concern that the device might violate kids’ privacy.

If you choose to use Alexa in the classroom, you can go to your Alexa privacy settings after class and delete all the recordings. This is a quick and easy task you can take up as a habit. Amazon does warn that doing this will interfere with Alexa’s machine learning and may “degrade your experience.” However, it will solve most privacy concerns.

You might also alert parents that you use Alexa in your classroom and ask for permission to do so.

Choose the kids’ version of Echo Dot and use the parental controls. You can de-activate voice purchases, filter music, and otherwise restrict content.


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