In July 2019, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SXSW EDU issued a challenge to the edtech world: Design an Alexa skill to transform education.
We’ve been amazed by the creativity and impact of the ideas that education technology companies submitted for this challenge!
- Audrey Bierly, AWS
Developers across the U.S. presented an expansive range of innovative ideas for using voice technology to address the most pressing problems facing education today. Their solutions for the Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge focused on improving the home to school connection, teacher and administrator productivity, accessibility and student learning.
“Voice technology offers students, educators and parents a more natural way to interact with technology to deepen learning, access critical information and save time,” says AWS Sr. Program Manager, Audrey Bierly. “We’ve been amazed by the creativity and impact of the ideas that education technology companies submitted for this challenge!”
A panel of expert judges assessed the competitors using four equally-weighted criteria: innovation, impact, usability and stickiness factor. Now, six finalists have emerged: Blast Learning, Healthy Teen Network, NuMoola, SayKid, StrongMind and VOGO Voice. The winner of the Judge’s Choice award will receive $50,000 in AWS Promotional Credit to help bring their next big idea to life.
Voting is also open for the People’s Choice award, where recipients will be honored with a prize of $25,000 in AWS Promotional Credit. Individuals can vote until May 15, 2020 and are eligible to win an Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen).
Finalists for the Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge
Research has long demonstrated that parent engagement is a critical component of student academic success, but “for generations, parents have struggled to have effective conversations with their children about their education. The typical approach of ‘Hey Johnny, how was school today?’ often yields one-word or one-sentence answers that abruptly end the conversation,” says Brian Vaio, Product Manager at StrongMind. “We developed a skill that synthesizes key information into a low-effort, high-impact experience that seamlessly boosts parent engagement with their children’s educational progress.”
“Through a quick conversation with the StrongMind skill, parents are given their student’s course activity, learned subject matter, current grades and a recommended place where parental intervention could have the greatest impact. Parents can then easily have focused conversations with their child about the actual school work, rather than asking broad, open-ended questions.” Such targeted conversations may bolster academic outcomes while also strengthening family communication and relationships.
Typically, other products that seek to boost family engagement require parents to login to a portal and sift through tons of data, Vaio explains, but the StrongMind skill “more seamlessly integrates into your daily life than a traditional user interface. This is important for a busy parent trying to find time to be actively engaged with their child’s education. While making a spaghetti dinner for the family, for example, you can in one breath tell Alexa to set a timer for the noodles cooking and, in another breath, ask the StrongMind Alexa skill what your child learned today while stirring the sauce. Now when dinner is served, the parent is ready to have a meaningful conversation without missing a beat!”
StrongMind is continuing to develop more creative solutions to strengthen parent engagement and improve student outcomes.
We developed a skill that synthesizes key information into a low-effort, high-impact experience that seamlessly boosts parent engagement with their children’s educational progress.
- Brian Vaio, StrongMind
StrongMind | Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge finalist
NuMoola uses real money, gamified education and family engagement to teach children about managing money, setting goals and handling budgets. The fun and interactive platform is a safe place where children and key adults in their lives can learn critical personal finance skills about earning, saving, spending, giving and investing.
“Our Alexa skill focuses on family togetherness by encouraging family goal setting and initiating conversations about money management in the home. We’ve developed gamified education using voice technology, which matches each child’s unique learning pace through voice-enabled lessons,” says James Haluszczak, Co-Founder and CEO of NuMoola. Unlike screens or other traditional user interfaces, “voice technology enables conversational learning and the exploration of a child’s imagination. Through voice interaction, children better retain critical information and visualize their own goals as they navigate personal finance.” Kids take control of their education and move through the learning experience at their own pace, based on what interests them.
NuMoola is excited about the vast opportunities possible with voice technology. They plan to integrate the Alexa skill with their new mobile app and AR technology to create immersive learning experiences for the whole family. The company is planning to release a new game under development, NuMoola Sunday Night Trivia, that continues to bring families together to have fun and compete for prizes while learning about financial literacy.
Our Alexa skill focuses on family togetherness by encouraging family goal setting and initiating conversations about money management in the home.
- James Haluszczak, NuMoola
NuMoola | Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge finalist
Designed for K-5 social-emotional learning (SEL), Kids Decisions by VOGO Voice is an interactive, story-based Alexa experience where students learn critical thinking, empathy and decision-making skills by exploring choices and their outcomes.
Guided by friendly narrator Ember the dragon, children explore the strengths and virtues of themes like wisdom, courage, humanity, transcendence, justice and moderation while deepening their problem-solving and collaboration skills.
Students can journey through the many existing pathways that explore character development and responsible decision-making. Parents and teachers can easily get involved with the storytelling by adding to these lessons through an accompanying website.
“The website is a place where the community can participate and make an unlimited amount of content without needing to worry about the technical aspects of building and maintaining an Alexa skill, website and software application,” says Mike Giddens, founder of VOGO Voice. “Providing a resource and platform that can be used by parents and educators empowers them to drive what the skill can do,” he adds.
Easily accessible backend analytics also show which pathways and themes were explored and resonate most. “Voice technology gives us insight into the questions being asked, allowing us to tailor and tune our offerings to better meet the needs of our users,” Giddens explains. VOGO Voice consistently applies these and other metrics to improve the experiences of kids and parents. Next, they’re looking to spread the word about their enterprise platform, which enables developers to get started building Alexa skills faster and more easily.
Voice technology gives us insight into the questions being asked, allowing us to tailor and tune our offerings to better meet the needs of our users.
- Mike Giddens, VOGO Voice
VOGO Voice | Amazon Alexa EdTech Skills Challenge finalist
Stay tuned to learn about the remaining three finalists: Blast Learning, SayKid and Healthy Teen Network.
Vote for your favorite to win the People’s Choice award by May 15, 2020.