Voice-Activated Digital Assistant: An Application for Teacher Professional Development and Technology Integration


Voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant has emerged as powerful platforms on smart devices, enabling users to interact with an artificial intelligence conversationally through voice. In the 21st century classroom, technology integration has become a central issue for teachers, who face many demands at work on a daily basis.  This often leads young teachers to leave the profession because of lack of communication and support. The aim of this project is to explore the affordances of voice-activated assistants in supporting teachers to design lessons that implement technologies in the classroom.  In particular, a voice-based application called nAdviser, where teachers interact with Amy to learn more about web services such as Plickers, PlayPosit, Google Forms, Kahoot!, and so on. Our efforts will lead to novel insights into the quality of voice-based teacher experience with automated digital assistants such as nAdviser.

Student Role

Students eligible to apply to work on this project will work alongside an interdisciplinary team from the fields of education, computer science, and psychology. Therefore, a background in programming is not a requirement. Furthermore, prior experiences in educational settings or usability testing labs are valued. The role of the student will be to assist team members in designing the voice experience and interface. In this role, the student will perform the following tasks:

  1. Design the voice experience, including the voice commands, intents, and responses
  2. Create a phrase-mapping list to accommodate variation in the ways users express their requests
  3. Design the personality of the digital assistant through the choice of wording and tone
  4. Detail a conversation flow that allows the agent to respond to the user and drive the conversation towards an intended goal, anticipating exceptions (user does not provide complete information) and errors (voice app does not understand or cannot do what the user is asking)
  5. Conduct research on the web to improve the functionality of the app and increase its capabilities
  6. Conduct semi-structured interviews with instructional technology specialists to understand user needs that are more convenient through a voice app
  7. Conduct usability testing with convenience sample of participants to validate and refine the voice application, playing the role of the voice-driven device and responding to the user
  8. Test the voice-activated app upon release to different platforms, including the web client demo, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Skype, Slack, Amazon Alexa, and Microsoft Cortana


Students will participate in several mentoring activities to develop skills and knowledge in regards to voice user experience and interface design as well as some best practices to maximize usability. Furthermore, students will familiarize themselves with educators and best practices in technology integration in the classroom. In doing so, students will broaden their own professional network, acquiring resources and meeting with leaders in the IT training and usability testing industry. These experiences lend themselves to careers as digital media specialists in school districts, instructor trainers, product design and evaluation specialists, and social media specialists in the IT sector.

Eric Poitras
Assistant Professor

Educational Psychology
College of Education

To acquire the relevant skills and knowledge, the mentoring activities consists of the following:

  1. Weekly in person meetings with the principal investigator
  2. Work sessions, both individual and collaborative, where feedback is provided on the products
  3. Assigned readings and tutorial videos on voice-activated digital assistant authoring and design
  4. Training session from Jared Covili, Senior Technical Trainer at Utah Education Network, on the different resources related to educational technologies made available from the UEN
  5. Interview with Dr. Robert Zheng, Associate Professor at University of Utah, on multimedia design principles and user interface design
  6. Interview with Dr. Nathan Hall, Associate Professor at McGill University and Editor of @AcademicSay, on the use of social media for outreach and usability testing
  7. Supervised usability testing sessions using different types of devices
  8. Produce a video of a functioning Amazon Alexa Skill in preparation to a submission to the Amazon Alexa Skills Challenge on Devpost