What are Virtual Assistants?


As voice recognition and gesture-based technologies advance and more recently, converge, we are quickly moving away from the notion of interacting with our devices via a pointer and keyboard. Virtual assistants are a credible extension of work being done with natural user interfaces (NUIs), and the first examples are already in the marketplace. The concept builds on developments in interfaces across the spectrum of engineering, computer science, and biometrics. The Apple iPhone’s Siri and Android's Jellybean are recent mobile-based examples, and allow users to control all the functions of the phone, participate in lifelike conversations with the virtual assistant, and more. A new class of smart televisions are among the first devices to make comprehensive use of the idea. While crude versions of virtual assistants have been around for some time, we have yet to achieve the level of interactivity seen in Apple's classic video, Knowledge Navigator. Virtual assistants of that caliber and their applications for learning are clearly in the long-term horizon, but the potential of the technology to add substance to informal modes of learning is compelling.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • add your response here
  • Help students access resources, help with homework, scheduling and time management, keep on task, extra curricular schedule, tracking a students informal and non-formal learning activities, engage student.- jmorrison jmorrison Apr 13, 2016
  • Helping students link tools together with information is vital to their learning process.- alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016
  • Current culture is... you ask your phone. Students have smart phones and that is even trickling down to younger grades. Virtual assistants can help potentially with keeping students on task, timing them, tracking behaviors, encouraging students. What my friends fitness app does is shocking, it specifically builds in reminders and tools to not just track her physical activity but tells her what to do to reach her goals. This can be a game changer if the virtual assistants are able to access information from an LMS or other sources of student data. Setting goals and the assistant providing suggestions on how to get there. Web 3.0 moves past interacting with the computer to the computer interacting with you. Virtual assistants can predict what a student may be interested in and help to provide learning tools that fit in with the students needs and schedule. - mrskeeler mrskeeler May 1, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Amazon's Echo is a good example of how this technology could be of use in learning. If you connect "Alexa" to the right information systems, she can answer questions or probe the questioner to ask a different question that she can respond to. From spelling bee challenges to defining words to basic inquiries on facts or history.... the line between a virtual assistant and a virtual tutor that is the interesting issue. The virtual tutor who can meet a student precisely where that student is in her learning trajectory has more potential for really accelerating learning. - maria maria Apr 22, 2016
  • We are leaving out the whole classification of online tools that help keep us organized or provide information to voice enabled pieces. I see IFTTT.com being a huge part of being in the virtual assistant space, as I can automate tasks, assign work, collect work, provide information, collect information all via a connected ecosystem of tools. These types of tools are assistants, but not in the classical "voice" arena. - alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016
  • Android jellybean? Update the operating system probably. Refer to "Ok Google" instead of the operating system maybe. - mrskeeler mrskeeler May 1, 2016
  • Chatbots - adrian_lim adrian_lim May 1, 2016 This new software can now hold conversations...even with students. We are on the verge of a new virtual assistance–Mr or Ms Bot. Currently, the chatbot usually 'respond' rather than 'mould' the conversation. However, this formula is about to change. Definitely, a topic to follow. Here is one recent article: http://www.techinsider.io/bill-gates-on-chatbots-in-education-2016-4 [Editor's Note: Added here from RQ2.]

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

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  • Students can create their own personal "ecosystem" of their best tools and processes that can then "access" the school systems to collect and submit information and work.- alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • www.ifttt.com - alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016
  • With the number of students with smart devices it just takes a teacher to say "yes" use what you got. Smart devices know "you" so allowing students to use them opens a lot of possibilities. For example Android just released "goals" for calendar. Having students set short term goals is hugely valuable in reaching longer term ones. - mrskeeler mrskeeler May 1, 2016
  • add your response here

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