What We Learned At The AWS Summit: Using Machine Learning in EdTech

The machines are taking over!

AWS Summit 2018

Machine Learning is no longer the subject of a dystopian sci-fi movie, it’s now our reality. As we saw at the AWS Summit in New York City, Machine Learning (ML) is the talk of the tech industry, especially when it comes to big data. Amazon unveiled a new component to its natural language processing (NLP) service -- Amazon Comprehend Syntax Identification -- that interprets text-based data’s nouns and adjectives and extracts insights from it. This service can be connected to social media and other text based services (i.e. blogs, comments, emails, etc.) By using it, companies could extract valuable insights from customers by analyzing keywords, understanding customers’ sentiments, personalizing content, and categorizing content.

While this hasn’t expanded to edtech use cases just yet, we predict this type of technology could bring exciting changes to the classroom. In the same way that innovative educators took to Twitter to connect and teach digital literacy in the classroom, we believe it’s only a matter of time for Machine Learning insights to be invaluable to districts and educators.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

For edtech innovators looking for the next challenge, here are some ways Amazon Comprehend could potentially be developed to be used by educators and parents:

1. Nipping cyberbullying in the bud before it get outs of hand.

Social media has made us more connected than ever. However, the dark side of this hyperconnectivity has led to bullying outside of school hours. According to DoSomething.org, only 1 in 10 victims report cyberbullying to a parent or trusted adult, yet 70% of teenagers frequently see bullying online. Since social media is saturated with an endless feed of content, a lot of this harmful activity can slip under the radar.

By using Amazon’s services that can mass-analyze adjectives and sentiment, there could potentially be a way for parents or guardians to quickly flag negative comments, nipping cyberbullying in the bud.

2. Districts may efficiently interpret qualitative data from schools and parents.

For a student to have a well-rounded education, there’s constant back-and-forth from parents, from teachers, from administrators, from the district...and so on. Qualitative data like this is often the hardest to analyze and sift through, especially navigating the already-complex space of education. We believe, with a service such as Amazon Comprehend, administrators could efficiently go through text-based feedback and better understand the needs of the schools, parents, teachers, and students.

3. Teaching digital literacy in the age of fake news

Fake news is currently the top headline of, well, the news. How can an educator effectively teach students digital literacy, when even some adults can’t even tell the difference? According to the keynote from the AWS Summit, developers can build their own models within Amazon Comprehend. If digital literacy is, in fact, a lesson plan within an educator’s curriculum, this could be used to help students understand how there are certain keywords or sentiments that should alert them to dig deeper into a headline and ask questions about the reliability of its sources.

Even outside of education, this could be helpful for everyone to analyze their social media feeds and see just how truthful the content really is.

Machine Learning in education is truly an exciting opportunity to explore. Of course, there are always concerns for privacy and efficacy of the results it may produce. These concerns are valid, but there is no doubt that the machines are about to take an even bigger role (and give educators and parents some much needed help)! Like any new technology, there will be a lot of trial and error, but that is exactly why edtech innovators love what they do.


Where do you see Machine Learning in edtech? We’d love to hear your ideas and help you with your edtech needs. Message us or give us a shout on Twitter @_ProjectEd!

The Rise of Voice Command Technology In EdTech

Over the years, voice-command technology has made its way into our homes and part of our daily routines. From asking mundane questions such as the weather for the day to late night philosophy pondering (“Alexa, are we in the Matrix?”), the instantaneous responses have no doubt made our lives easier and more efficient. Now, this type of technology is making its way into classrooms and districts.

At ISTE 2018, Frontline Education demoed its pilot program for educators, who need instant access to district data. As we all know well and clear by now, teachers are constantly bombarded with data, while they are often performing superhuman balancing acts. Partnering with AWS and utilizing Amazon Echo, Frontline Education wants to provide “on-demand access to critical data and actionable insights” in real-time to education leaders and ease the burden of daily operations.

This is only the beginning of what voice-command technology could do in edtech. In fact, Northeastern University plans on providing all 18,000 of their students with an Amazon Echo, after a successful pilot program. Students can instantly access valuable information, such as what events are happening on campus or access to their bursar accounts.

But instead of just having another trendy piece of tech in the classroom, where could these devices really elevate teaching and learning?

Students with learning disabilities can now be on the same page for learning and success.

With the influx of technology use in the classroom, it can be difficult with students with learning disabilities to keep up. However, with the use of voice-command technology, it may just level the playing field a bit more for students with learning disabilities. For example, a student with motor disabilities may use speech dictation within the classroom instead of typing or writing. Furthermore, a student with dyslexia may use voice enabled technology to assist them with reading aloud and quickly fix any grammar errors. 

Speech dictation is not uncommon in special education -- in fact, its usage is regularly recommended by Dyslexia Association.  Speech recognition technology is quickly becoming more advanced, especially with products such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, which can be integrated into existing classroom tools (i.e., Chromebooks, Google Docs) already used in the classroom.

An all-in-one package: Individual evaluation, real-time data, and student participation.

While there are a multitude of apps that promise language fluency, we all know the best way to learn a new language is with consistent practice and immersion within the native community. That can be difficult for students who don’t have the privilege to travel often or who don’t have access to a community of native speakers. While keeping up with regularly classroom time with a foreign language teacher, voice command technology and voice recognition in the future could be integrated into the curriculum so that the device can eventually evaluate the students’ pronunciation or grammar.

This doesn’t have to be foreign languages either -- students can also be individually evaluated in an array of subjects, where the teacher can collect real-time data and understand a student’s unique needs. Edtech educators, such as Kenneth Eastwood, have already started imagining a classroom 5 to 10 years from now, where students would wear individual headsets or microphones when verbal responses need to be recorded and evaluated during test-taking or for general classroom participation. 

While this could be an exciting new development for edtech, many educators and edtech leaders alike are wary about what this could mean for  students’ privacy.

After all, the privacy issues for voice command tech in the home are still up for debate, and there may be more than just a few bugs that need to be tweaked...

Twitter Alexa Laugh

But as this type of technology progresses and becomes more refined, it may be inevitable for voice command technology to be integrated into the classroom setting. In fact, some teachers have already taken it into their own hands to pilot it within their own classrooms.

Interested in how new technology could affect your classroom or edtech product? Feel free to send us a message

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