Why Garnet Valley is investing in Artificial Intelligence, Augmented, Virtual, & Mixed Reality

For most of our students, it is hard to imagine communicating without email or text message. The number of ways our students learn, share, and communicate has grown exponentially in the last few years. Each generation has sought to make the transfer of information faster and more efficient than the generation before them but the world today is changing at a faster and more immediate pace than at any time in our history. New technologies like Amazon’s Alexa, Merge Cubes, and Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program will be the next generation’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The nature of voice technology allows for screen-free interactions and gives students much needed life-skills practice in the areas of forming questions and focused listening. Augmented and Virtual Reality enables students to learn by doing, which increases student engagement and helps with retention and enhances learning outcomes.

AI-powered, voice-controlled Digital Assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have made their way into millions of living rooms in the last few years but are just now being leveraged in some classrooms. A steady supply of misinformation and misunderstanding in the news media has made already indecisive school leaders turn their backs on what may be the most cost-effective classroom technology of the last half-century.

A digital assistant can transform the classroom with real-time answers and built-in skills. A cohort of 31 Garnet Valley teachers has started leveraging Amazon’s Alexa as a learning aid for lessons and student activities. Our district's recent partnership with wife and husband team, Dr. Aparna Ramanathan and Deepak Ramanathan and their Alexa Skill called askMyClass has provided a bridge into this new educational frontier. Aparna Ramanathan is a medical doctor with over 11 years of international clinical experience and a passion for family health and well being. Deepak Ramanathan is an engineer and marketing executive in the technology industry, having worked for over 20 years at IBM, Google and most recently, Twitter.

Dr. Aparna Ramanathan initially developed the Amazon skill tool to help young children with Emotional Regulation Skills but has since expanded the tool to also help teachers with other classroom needs. Their mission is to give teachers the convenience of voice technology to support their productivity and maximize learning for students in a new and engaging way.

Amazon’s Alexa and the askMyClass skill allows our elementary school teachers to give students opportunities to solve problems, manage emotions, and communicate. It also allows our teachers to use the technology to set predetermined brain breaks, countdown clocks, randomizers, and review ELA and Math standards.

Augmented and Virtual learning is also beginning to see its way into our classrooms. Virtual field trips, virtual college tours, and simulations are most popular, but in time our students will be using AR, VR, and MR (mixed reality) to create their own virtual worlds to build and explore. CoSpacesEDU, Figment AR, Merge Cubes, and Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program all promote more profound learning outcomes, increase student engagement, and allow for more authentic student learning.

We hope technology-rich classrooms will allow our student’s innate skills of creativity and innovation to shine bright and be the catalyst they need to become leaders for the generations to come.