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Beyond the News

An innovation incentive at ASU

University Business, November 2017
ESL ASSIST—Computer science student Yihan Liu,  who is from China, signs out an Amazon Dot Echo from his Arizona State residence hall. He plans to use the device to improve his English. (Charlie Leight/ASU Now).
ESL ASSIST—Computer science student Yihan Liu, who is from China, signs out an Amazon Dot Echo from his Arizona State residence hall. He plans to use the device to improve his English. (Charlie Leight/ASU Now).

Some Arizona State engineering students have an additional roommate this year, and her name is Alexa.

The university has partnered with Amazon to offer free Echo Dot smart speakers to about 1,600 students, most of whom live in the new Tooker House residential hall for Fulton Schools of Engineering students.

But it’s not just a flashy giveaway, says Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “The Echo Dot is a puzzle piece that’s part of a much larger picture of staying on the leading edge with a tech-enabled residence hall,” Squires says. “We will benefit in ways we haven’t anticipated, by how students use the Echo Dots to improve Tooker House.”

Alexa’s voice-control software lets users ask the Echo Dot questions for internet searches or give commands to play music or send messages. Arizona State is developing its own “skill”—Alexa’s version of an app—that will give users information about campus activities.

Squires expects that students will learn the coding required to develop their own “skills” that could, for instance, alert them to posts on course message boards or notify them of a professor’s office hours.

“Voice-enabled is a growing part of how people work with technology,” Squires says. “This is about preparing better engineers and giving them an edge.”

Administrators, faculty and students also are exploring ways voice-enabled technology can be integrated into the curriculum, says Octavio Heredia, the university’s director of global outreach and extended education.

Students in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program are expected to begin including voice-enabled technology in the solutions they develop for problems faced by local schools, nonprofits and charities. Other engineering students will develop voice-enabled websites and apps.

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