Almost two years ago now, one of my students loaned my classroom his brand new Amazon Echo (a voice-activated internet-connected speaker). At first, aside from playing music, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. However, my students loved it, and when the student took his Amazon Echo back home several months later, I bought an Echo Dot for my classroom. It was just $49, and it works even better than the original stand-alone cylinder now that I have connected it to speakers in my classroom. Since the June 2015 launch of the Echo, the number of Skills (apps) for Alexa (the name the device answers to) have grown significantly. Here are ten that are particularly useful in the humanities classroom:
1. “Alexa, inspire me.” For setting the tone at the start of a class, there are a plethora of Echo skills for inspirational quotes. The first time I tried this command, Alexa answered with a 45 second recording from Steve Jobs’ 2005 superb Stanford commencement speech with inspirational music in the background.
2. “Alexa, ask Mindfulness for a minute meditation.” This enabled skill began with an instruction to close your eyes and listen carefully to the music for one minute (with an option for longer). The ambient music was accompanied by the sound of waves. There are all kinds of opportunities for mindfulness in the classroom, and again there are a large number of Skills available that provide sounds of thunder, waves etc. including prompts for mindful breathing.
3. “Alexa, set the timer for X minutes.” This one is obvious, but it is also the easiest and quickest way to set a timer for any and all classroom activities.
4. “Alexa, ask WebMD what is tuberculosis?” I wouldn’t recommend this Skill for actual diagnoses, but it is useful when discussing the physical and mental health issues of fictional or historical characters.
5. “Alexa, what is 237 times 17?” Alexa can quickly provide straightforward mathematical calculations which is particularly useful in math-compromised environments.
6. “Alexa, news.” This command will prompt Alexa to provide flash news briefings from a wide variety of respected news sources including NPR, BBC, Fox News, and CNBC.
7. “Alexa, when did India gain its independence?” Alexa can provide quick geographic and historical facts including dates, distances, and climates.
8. “Alexa, what is the current weather in Brisbane, Australia?” Additionally, Alexa has knowledge of current conditions all around the world (including, of course, your own).
9. “Alexa, tell me a joke.” The Echo has many fun applications including jokes (in all kinds of categories) and a wide variety of voice-based games.
10. “Alexa, play Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.” While my students like to play more modern/popular music between classes, the Echo can play almost any music during class either to enhance the humanities curriculum or just for a pleasant background ambience.
I currently use the Echo on a daily basis and am excited to discover even more uses for it: please add a comment if you have used it in your classroom!