According to Education Week, there have been at least 124,000 K-12 U.S. school closures that have forced around 55.1 million students to stay home. Within a matter of weeks, parents that normally take on oversight roles in their child’s education have expanded their responsibility to active coordinators. Whether it’s taking the form of online distance learning provided by the school or home-created lessons, around 63% of parents are involved in their child’s educational activities. This has created new stressors and challenges in the home as parents adjust to create a new, highly tech-dependent educational environment which has been described as terrifying and overwhelming. In fact, 42% of parents worry that their children’s education will take a hit due to COVID-19 and the augmented learning methodologies that are being implemented.
Education has struggled to fully adopt technology as there have been numerous pushbacks on the role of digital devices in the classroom. In the wake of this pandemic, educators have been thrust into using this heavily-debated technology to stay connected with their students. Just a month before school closures were announced en masse, New Mexico sued Google and claimed they were tracking student’s online behavior outside of educational purposes. When schools began to close in March, educators turned to Zoom to hold online lessons. Security concerns began to mount as uninvited parties entered digital meetings and data was potentially being intercepted, resulting in school systems beginning to ban the software. As more educators are rushing to piece together solutions, they’re also balancing the need to stay compliant with data collection acts, such as FERPA and COPPA, that make these issues so relevant and difficult to navigate.
Another component to the resistance of technology in education has been the asymmetry of student device equity that exists throughout the U.S. school system. In a sudden shutdown such as this, many schools are being stressed by their lack of digital infrastructure and are forced to expedite device distribution plans. Even if every student in America gained access to a computer, around 15% of households with school-aged children lack a high-speed internet connection. A combination of these factors has caused what is being called the “homework gap”to crack open and falter, leaving many students unable to advance their education.
Although it would appear that technology and education are at odds with one another, this could lay the foundation for an industry-wide digital transformation. With the uncertainty of how long stay-at-home orders will last and to what degree our lives will return to “normal” after they are lifted, there has never been a more optimal time for a new behavior to be shaped. As tech seeps its way into education out of necessity, it will soon harden into a mold for how learning can be enhanced in the future. As we’re living in a period that experts are calling a digital “stress test”because of how heavily we must rely on technology, it’s becoming increasingly apparent what educators, parents and students alike require from digital products: directness, participation and enrichment. Voice happens to be a fastball in delivering against each of these needs.
Kids are spending about 50% more time in front of screens due to coronavirus, and while technology is necessary to carry out most distance education plans, many parents are questioning if there is an option that will keep children free of distractions during their schoolwork. As adorably demonstrated by a 6-year old asking Alexa what 5 minus 3 is for an assignment, voice has the power to quickly zero in on an answer without a flood of extraneous information. While there are certainly tradeoffs to a crafty child instantaneously getting the answer to a math problem, many students are not receiving the same amount of support they had in the classroom. Offering guided homework help via voice could benefit both educators and parents that have increasingly fragmented workloads and are struggling to provide undivided attentionwhile a child is able to focus on the task at hand.
Collaborative learning requires a balance of give and take, something many educators may be struggling to encourage through remote learning environments. Although we often don’t notice because it’s so intuitive, voice inherently appeals to our sense of contribution—we ask and the voice assistant crafts an appropriate response (or vice versa). Companies like Bamboo Learning, one of the leading providers of educational voice experiences, have seen increases in usage over March and April, which suggests that participation may have the potential to be fostered without the involvement of another active party. While voice is not a substitute for human instruction, it has the ability to maintain the flow of interaction in learning and prop up interpersonal soft skills at a time when in-person teaching is not an option.
Students often group their senses into different modalities to help them learn. It has been found that auditory learners, which make up around 30% of the population, tend to benefit most from traditional teaching methods like lecturing, which may be falling away during online distance programs. Using voice for audio distribution can reintroduce ancillary sound into a student’s day to fortify instruction and provide moments of delight. A parent in Bloomington, Minnesota observed this as her daughter’s teacher began leaving audio comments on her assignments, noting “just hearing the teacher’s voice got her excited.” By creating more robust, audio-enriched learning experiences, educators have a better chance at catering to all learning modalities and increasing retention of information.
This moment in time is education’s reflection point as it attempts to merge physical learning with the online world. Voice has the power to ease the remote divide as online education continues to grow, and it can even provide a creative outlet for ambitious students like Aariv Modi as they hone their development skills for a more technologically advanced future. There is no doubt that this pandemic is forcing a fortifying tech layer to be built throughout education, and voice will make it even stronger by bringing materials to life, promoting connection and providing a little slice of normal.
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