Artificial Intelligence

Saint Louis U Students Rooming with Alexa

Saint Louis University-branded Echo Dot

Photo: Saint Louis University

Later this week Saint Louis University will open up for move-in, when students begin occupying their dorm rooms and apartments. They'll be greeted by Amazon Alexa-enabled devices primed and ready to answer questions about the university and the campus experience.

The university conducted a pilot last spring that tested several different kinds of voice assistants, and the Amazon Alexa platform was the hands-down favorite. The broader deployment will distribute 2,300 Echo Dots, all programmed with speech recognition and voice assistants that enable students to find out how late the library is open for the day or where the registrar's office is located, among other information.

The university said this is the first such initiative in the country to bring the devices into every student residence hall room and student apartment on campus at no cost to the students.

The project is being undertaken in partnership with Alexa for Business, a division of Amazon that sets up Alexa for use in all kinds of organizations, for such activities as helping people find available meeting rooms, turn on conference equipment and hand in help tickets.

The Echo Dot in the Saint Louis experiment will be able to answer around 100 questions specific to the university. Alexa will be ready to provide information on:

  • Sporting events;
  • Concerts;
  • Campus speakers;
  • Student events and organizations;
  • Service and mission opportunities; and
  • Other aspects of student life.

Music will also be available through iHeartRadio and TuneIn. And the device can also be used as a Bluetooth speaker for other music streaming providers, such as Spotify and Apple Music.

Content was developed by N-Powered, a company that specializes in programming voice and artificial intelligence for higher education, and is expected to be expanded for "new skills" as the project continues. The system is being hosted on Amazon Web Services, and Alexa for Business is handling management of the devices and enrollment of new users.

"I think it's really innovative," said Katlyn Martin, president of the university's Student Government Association. "By interacting with technology in a cool way, our students will have another resource to find things to do on campus, to meet other people and to take advantage of the holistic Jesuit education that Saint Louis University offers."

"What is most exciting to me is the enhanced connectivity to the campus community these devices will provide," added Kent Porterfield, vice president for student development. "The more connected and engaged students are, the more they learn and benefit from their SLU experience."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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