S.O.B. – Stop Fighting Assistive Devices

In installment three of Student of the Business, it’s time to concede Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are here to stay. These assistive devices have transformed humans’ interactions with machines, unlike any other. Human interaction with mobile technologies has changed the cultural landscape across virtually every country and culture on the planet. But those technologies require an active exchange between humans and machines. We unlock and hammer away with our thumbs. We carry our life in the aluminum case surrounding the chip that sends cellular data around the world. 

But assistive device interaction is more passive. Only the voice is needed to trigger a keyword that prompts the device to act simply by a command. Apple and Amazon have carved out space in many homes, on watches, and on mobile devices. Yet, in 2021, this technology has virtually zero prominences in classrooms. We must address privacy issues with assistive devices. Still, we have an opportunity to give students a space to dive deeper into their learning only by understanding the appropriate way to ask questions of a device and then make way for them to follow their curiosities. 

With guidance from the teacher, we have the possibility of supplying students with another “teacher” in the classroom. The strength of these technologies in 2021 is providing access to an unlimited amount of “metadata,” data that does not require complex reasoning algorithms. Best suited for encyclopedia-style requests, these technologies can add differentiated learning opportunities for teachers to augment their teaching practices.

Finally, these tools can open and close programs, dictate speech-to-text for those students who have learning difficulties, and read back books and webpages for the visually impaired. As a profession, teachers are some of the most risk-averse individuals in risk-taking in the classroom. That is very much understandable when the stakes are so high in student performance, but the reward may very well be worth the risk of learning how to use these tools in the classroom. The harsh reality is that students will use these tools independently, and these companies will push forward with their use. Therefore, we need to stop ignoring the juggernaut that is Assistive Devices.

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