Virtual Alexa is moving into the college admissions world

University of Florida
University of Florida campus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For kids navigating the college admissions process, don’t worry about parents, test prep coordinators and guidance counselors: a robot has your back.

The virtual computerized personal assistant with a female voice used by Amazon devices – the Alexa you hear on TV commercials – is moving into the college admissions world, courtesy of testing giant ACT.

Do you want to know when to register for the ACT college entrance exam and how much it will cost? What about what the ACT test measures and how students can get test-prep coaching for the test that can make or break a kid’s chances to get into a top college?

Just ask Alexa.

Her voice will answer myriad questions about the ACT test process, from test dates and locations to test taking tips, according to a press release posted Tuesday by the ACT.

Alexa also will be able to lead students to the ACT Academy, a free, personalized, online test practice program.

The research arm of ACT will launch Alexa’s “cloud-based voice service” later this year, with a demonstration of the new system next week at the International Society for Technology in Education 2019 Conference & Expo in Philadelphia. The ACT tool will be available “in all Alexa-enabled devices including Amazon Echo,” according to ACT.

The testing giant’s announcement comes at a time when Amazon faces lawsuits over allegations that the company has been recording children using Alexa devices without their consent, according to The Seattle Times.

According to the newspaper, “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” says a complaint filed on behalf of a 10-year-old Massachusetts girl in Seattle federal court. A nearly identical suit was filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles on behalf of an 8-year-old boy, the Seattle Times reported.

The Alexa recordings in the lawsuits allegedly violate laws in at least eight states, including Florida, according to the newspaper.

Time will tell on how those lawsuits will play out.

But it’s clear that older students, rather than very young children, would be involved in using Alexa for ACT issues. Students are usually 16 to 18 when they are practicing and taking ACT exams and filling out college applications.

The rival College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance exam, uses the nonprofit Kahn Academy to help students with test preparation.

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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