Is it safe to use voice assistant technology in the classroom?
Do voice assistant technology devices violate kids' privacy and safety? Source: Shutterstock

As voice-assisted technology devices like the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home make their way into more classrooms, parents and educators are starting to question how safe they are for children.

Since they use Artificial Intelligence (AI), a relatively new technology, it’s hard to gauge just how these devices impact kids in the long run.

The fact it’s a new and growing technology also means it’s somewhat of a grey area when it comes to security regulations.

For non-educational consumers, there have been numerous reports of these voice assistants giving out confidential information or randomly “talking”, causing worry over what exactly they are listening to and how they are interpreting the information.

And since they work best by gathering data about us, how do we know where the data is going and who has access to it?

These are the issues educators should keep in mind when using voice assisted technology in the classroom.

Although Amazon has come up with a specific edition targeted for children, called the Echo Dot Kids, one parent wrote a review on how it isn’t perfect – it apparently played erotica when her four-year-old son asked it to play ‘bedtime thunderstorm’.

But this doesn’t mean they have no place in the classroom, as many teachers have found the tool to be beneficial when teaching kids, including those with special needs.

The jury is still out over whether it’s ethical or truly safe to introduce voice-assistant devices in the classroom, so there are certainly precautions to take.

There are privacy and security factors to consider to make sure they’re being used safely in K-12 environments.

Here’s what educators can and should do to address safety concerns with voice-assisted technology.

Seek parental consent

According to FerpaSherpa, “Consumer voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, when used in classrooms, risk being not compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), federal legislation that protects the privacy of children under the age of 13.

“If an app, tool or device is not designed for classrooms, could be used for a “commercial purpose”–for example, in the case of a voice assistant, could collect data for advertisements or be used to buy a product– and will collect data from children under the age of 13, educators must get parental consent before using it.”

Even in countries where there is no such legislation, it would be wise for educators to seek parental permission before using them in schools so parents and guardians are informed, preparing them for any questions their child may ask about these new ‘friends’ in the classroom.

Do your research

Schools planning to introduce these devices should also conduct research over the technology and how it can be best used for educational purposes.

The District Administration advises, “Research the device you’re purchasing, the available apps or “skills,” and the technology company’s latest statements about education and privacy, as these statements change quickly as Amazon and Google realize the size of the education market.”

Determine the purpose

What are the goals a particular school wants to meet with technology? It’s important to be clear on just how a school plans to use it.

FerpaSherpa advises schools to consider how a voice-assistant device will enhance teaching and learning.

“Also consider the novel contributions a particular technology may make to your teaching. Why do you want to use a voice assistant in the classroom and how will you use it? How can the voice assistant promote deeper learning and critical thinking?

“How will you use the voice assistant to educate students (and parents) about issues like privacy and digital citizenship? Many of the proposed uses I’ve read about seem more focused on convenience and classroom management than meaningful pedagogy.”

Schools should also be sure the devices are being used for educational purposes only, and not for personal use by teachers or students.

Train teachers 

It’s imperative that teachers know how to use these devices properly, including mastering privacy settings, checking the communication/audio history, and how to use them safely.

They must also be shown how to introduce them to children and answer their questions on the new technology.

Just like with any new course material or technology, teachers should master it first and know how to use it appropriately before granting access to students.

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