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Alexa Flash Briefings Give Students Bite-Sized Course Content

A blue book with white headphones "plugged into it" and the headphones hooked over the book.

College students could soon be getting their course content as they brush their teeth, cook dinner, or drive to work. As smart speakers become more common in people's homes, Tiffany Hunt, an associate lecturer in the special education department at the University of Wyoming, is studying how they can be used to improve college student's learning.

"I have young children myself, and a full time job and all the responsibilities of being an adult. And so I know how hard it is sometimes for our students to be in these classes and have these responsibilities tacked on to all their other responsibilities," said Hunt. "So I'm always thinking, 'How can I conveniently get this material to them?'"

The answer came in five little words: "Alexa, play my flash briefing."

Hunt got the idea to include Alexa flash briefings in her courses when she was working with a colleague developing Alexa Skills for parents and teachers. After receiving a grant, she started including Flash Briefings in her special education law course last semester and gathering feedback from students.

Briefings can be a maximum of ten minutes long, and Hunt uses the time to answer student submitted questions, reiterate important points from lectures, and cover case studies.

"The other piece that I'm really trying to look at and fashion is to make this more personalized as well," said Hunt. "So not only making it convenient for my students, but also allowing them to be drivers of the curriculum."

But what about students who don't have an Alexa device? Hunt thought of that too.

"I do understand that not everyone wants an Alexa in their home; they do have some trepidation with the fact that the device is almost always listening to you. I think we could argue that our phones are always listening to us as well. But I think we've accepted that a little bit more than Alexa," she said. "So for those that don't necessarily want a device of their own, you can download the Alexa app onto your phone, so then it just becomes an app. Especially for the study, I want to see how they interact with this and is this a beneficial mode for delivery of instruction?"

She even created a dummy Amazon account in case students didn't have and didn't want one, something she says teachers could easily implement in the future.

This is the second year of Hunt's study and she's been getting good feedback from her students. By next semester, she hopes to start expanding, partnering with professors in different departments to bring flash briefings to their classes. She's already had someone interested from the Zoology department.

"I was so excited because when would I ever get to work with someone from zoology? I mean, special education? Like, that doesn't even happen," she said. "That's content that I have no idea about and yet, this is a way that we can actually start collaborating across the university"

Hunt added that flash briefings are available to everyone with an Alexa device or the Alexa app. That means people who are interested in the topic but aren't part of the class can still tune in and learn about it.

"Potentially, we're supporting other individuals in special education that are trying to learn things about the law and any other pieces that you would be talking about," Hunt said.

She also wants to make sure that using flash briefings isn't just another technology for students to have to deal with.

"There's a lot of technology out there that can benefit our students, and really progress what we think of as quality teaching. But then I also think there's a lot of technology out there that is almost just noise," she said. "And so that's part of really understanding what actually enhances instruction and what detracts from it."

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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