Voice Assistants are Heading to the Dorm Rooms of Universities

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming increasingly popular in U.S. households. A report from January estimated 39 million American adults own one and the rate of adoption is outpacing smartphones and tablets.

Those speakers are also popping up in unexpected places: Hotel rooms, hospitals and now, even college dorms.

Saint Louis University adopting Amazon Alexa

As students move into residence halls at Saint Louis University, they usually find a corner of their desks already taken up by a new roommate, Alexa.

Housed in a SLU-branded Amazon Echo Dot, Alexa is the anthropomorphic personal assistant every 21st-century student needs, hence SLU purchased 2,300 Echo Dots from Amazon to put in students’ dorm rooms.

The devices are preloaded with an Alexa voice app or skill, called “SLU”, which enables students to easily access information about what’s going on on-campus. Alexa can currently answer around 130 campus-related questions, and more questions and answers will be added at students’ request.

The Echo speakers will be operated through Alexa for Business, meaning they won’t be linked to students’ individual Amazon accounts, but run through a central account by the university. Students wondering, ”’What time does the library close tonight?” can ask Alexa rather than call a faculty member or search online.

How does it Help Universities?

Voice assistants can boost efficiency. Online searches to answer common questions are multi-step processes that require students to pull up the SLU homepage on their phones or laptops, search online for the library and then search for the library’s hours can take two to four minutes, easily, while students asking Alexa, can get that response in five seconds.

Interest in voice technology on college campuses is growing. In addition to Saint Louis University and Northeastern University, Arizona State University set up its dorms for engineering students with 1,600 Echo devices.

Students have an expectation of being able to interact via voice, hence voice assistants are a natural fit as students can ask and receive an answer, instead of reminding themselves to get the answer later by either making a phone call and potentially waiting on hold or searching the web.

Handling Privacy Concerns

As for privacy concerns, the questions and answers on Saint Louis University’s skill only cover public information such as sports schedules or the names of upcoming campus speakers.
This system is not tied to individual accounts and does not maintain any personal information for any of their users, so all use currently is anonymous. If students are still uncomfortable having a smart speaker in their room, they can just unplug it.

Besides, students’ personal information is not linked to the Echo Dots, and the SLU skill can only give out publicly available information.

Also, SLU cannot access transcripts of conversations recorded by Alexa and has “no visibility” into the data collected by the Echo devices, apart from the usage analytics that Amazon Web Services provides to administrators, indicating, for example, how popular the SLU skill is with students relative to other skills.

Strategic Benefit to Universities

SLU’s decision to invest in the Alexa devices and develop the SLU skill is part of an institutional strategy to help students feel more connected to the university and get engaged in campus life quickly. This immediate access to information could be game-changing. Voice-activated technology will play an important role in higher ed and help students, faculty members and staff to increase their productivity.

In the future, SLU plans to enable students to access personalized information, such as their GPA or class schedule. Besides, students would be able to find information such as when various school payments are due, or who their academic adviser is and much more.

By implementing voice-controlled technology in universities, they can not only use it to help students find information, but also technology might play a role in teaching and learning, and even student advising, who knows?


If you are a university and want to implement voice assistants in your hostel/dormitory rooms, you can get in touch with us sales@pragmatic-voice.com. Just drop in your requirements and one of our voice experts will get in touch with you shortly to discuss your project.

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