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Q&A: How Voice Technology Is Raising the Volume on Student Learning

Julie Daniel Davis, a former Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, has recently focused her attention on voice technology and its potential impact on education, a topic she’s extremely passionate about. As a result, she launched the Voice in Education weekly podcast, which over the course of 90+ episodes to date has explored the numerous benefits of this technology in the classroom. Along the way, she’s been recognized as an Amazon Champion, a Bixby Premier Developer and the podcast was a finalist in the Project Voice Awards.

Julie is a certified educational technology leader (CETL) and education futurist who takes the heart of an educator wherever she goes. She’s having a significant influence on practices that improve personalization in learning, and she has specifically helped districts meaningfully implement technology that supports lifelong 21st century skills. 

In this Q&A, Julie shares the vision behind her Voice in Education podcast, which is available as an Alexa Flash Briefing, and discusses other ways schools can promote digital citizenship, support development of future-ready skills, and enhance student voice.

 

Q: One of your current passions is voice technology and its applications in the classroom, a subject you cover on your Voice in Education weekly podcast. What are a couple of the unique benefits that voice technology can provide to students and teachers?

Julie Daniel Davis: By placing a voice assistant in the classroom, the teacher has access to another authority to relay information to non-readers, to identify word meaning to English language learners, or to help students with social-emotional issues find a way to de-escalate anxiety through personalized interaction with a device. I believe voice technology helps solve niche issues but the real potential benefit I see of voice assistants is classwide access to information that is provided in a communal manner and at a low price point. For only $30-100, voice assistants can connect all students to the outside world. To me, this has the potential of solving equity issues in poorer school systems that do not have the funds to buy student technology.

 

Q: You’ve chosen to optimize your podcast to also be available as an Alexa Flash Briefing. What made you decide to do this? 

JDD: I actually started the podcast as only an Alexa Flash Briefing―that was my goal from the beginning. The first reason would be that I wanted to see if I had the ability to create an Alexa skill after attending the Project Voice conference in 2019. Secondly, I was receiving questions from educators all over the world asking me “How do I add a voice assistant in my classroom safely?” I was working fulltime as a Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation for a preK-12 school district at the time and my hobby for voice was becoming something that was becoming time-consuming. My initial goal was to put out relevant information to interested educators in a way that would allow me to point questions to those podcasts. Thirdly, I believe in the value of the flash briefing. Educators do not have a lot of extra time in their week. Accessing a podcast that is 10 minutes or less feels doable for even the most stressed out person. I’ve piloted the concept of making episodes longer but the results weren’t positive, so I have chosen to create in the space of using that 10 minutes for intentional, productive dialogue.

 

Q: In your education career, you’ve also done a lot of work with digital citizenship and 21st century skills. What are some of the key skills you’ve been focused on most recently and why are they important? 

JDD: I am most interested in student creativity right now. I believe the days of worksheets and cookie cutter projects should be a thing of the past. Allowing students to have voice and choice in the way they share their learning empowers them as learners. There has never been a time in history where students have so many pathways to creativity; with mobile technology, students can create things like podcasts, vlogs, blogs, slideshow presentations, musical recordings, stop motion movies, or green screen productions. All these different opportunities of sharing can be graded by a teacher using a well-crafted rubric! Creativity leads to personalized learning and personalized learning leads to lifelong learners. 

I wouldn’t be true to who I am as an educator if I didn’t also mention that digital citizenship has never been more important than during pandemic times. Educators have been asking students to spend much larger portions of their lives on devices as they have worked from home due to COVID. It’s my opinion that educators need to be intentional in speaking into the tenets of digital citizenship by embedding the concepts into current lessons. I also believe educators should be creating pathways for students to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of digital citizenship through real-world examples that lead to conversations that push students to think critically about the concept in a way that impacts them specifically. 

 

Q: As far as promoting student voice in the classroom, and connecting lessons to tangible 21st century skills such as the 4Cs, podcasting has become a popular way to do so. You of course have a podcast to communicate with educators, and you recently had Audrey O’Clair from Soundtrap on your show to discuss podcasting in the classroom. What is your perspective on the benefits of podcasting to promote learning? 

JDD: Much like I mentioned in the previous question, podcasting allows students to be creative. As someone who has been an educator for a long time, I have seen shy students, who don’t say three words over the course of a semester, eloquently explain their learning via a Google Doc during an exam. We also speak three times faster than we type. For some students that percentage is even higher because of learning disabilities. By allowing students to voice their thoughts and learning, teachers might find they are truly beginning to see what struggling students actually know. Podcasts have the ability to tap into critical thinking feedback so easily! I think the beauty of the podcast is that it allows students to be a global communicator. All of a sudden students have the whole world as their oyster and it often increases their desire to put forth “good work.” 

 

Q: You also have a reputation as an education futurist. Looking ahead at the next few years, what are some of the changes you’re expecting to see in edtech? 

JDD: I think we will see voice technology become embedded in the platforms that are currently being used. Voice interface will be an aid to those needing assistive technology but it will also be an efficiency that all students will see the benefit of using. Due to COVID learning, I think we will see more changes to platforms created as a result of perceived needs during this time. Think about how much Google Meet changed to meet the needs of education. It will be interesting to see what other changes will become part of the “package” of platforms that we currently use. I also believe that it is more important than ever for interoperability between platforms. An application-programming interface (API) is going to be expected by educators as they desire to tap into using data to personalize student learning so that education can become more proactive, persistent, and individually productive. 

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