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Friday, June 14, 2019

Alexa in the classroom? Amazon’s voice assistant leads kids’ story time | Business - Los Angeles Times

The group of kids, aged 7 to 12, sat around a table, trying to follow along with the reading assignment. It was after lunch. Energy was high, attention spans short, reports Matt Day, Technology reporter at Bloomberg News.

A child holds his Amazon Echo Dot. Amazon met with skepticism from some privacy advocates and members of Congress last year when it introduced its first kid-oriented voice assistant, along with brightly colored models of its Echo Dot speaker designed for children. 
Photo: Mike Stewart / AP
Nobody held books, though. And a teacher wasn’t reading. Inc.’s Alexa was conducting story time, queuing up professional narrators to read the story aloud, quizzing the kids in its robot voice and offering hints when someone flubbed an answer to questions about “Davy Duck’s Grumpy Day.

Voice software has colonized smartphones, car dashboards and the living room. If the technology follows the trail blazed by tablet and cloud computing, the next frontier may be the classroom.

That’s why Irina Fine convened the group of primary school students to test the latest iteration of the educational voice software built by her start-up, Bamboo Learning Inc. “There is a preference for voice with the younger generation,” Fine says. “It’s hard to imagine for it not to be everywhere.”...

Boosters of voice technology will also have to make their case to educators, some of whom are already reeling from heated debates about whether the use of gadgets in the classroom is helping kids learn or simply diverting resources from school district budgets to the likes of Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google...

In the last year, Bamboo launched three Alexa skills, as Amazon calls voice apps. They’re short lessons and quizzes on music theory, math and reading. All are designed to work with Amazon devices such as the Echo Show and Fire TV Cube, which let Alexa make use of visual aids, in addition to voice-only gadgets. A fourth skill went live on Wednesday: a storybook program in partnership with Highlights for Children, the 73-year-old children’s magazine.