India is one of the youngest countries with an average age of 29 yrs with 37.1% lying in the 0-19 yrs bracket. It will be a disaster if it doesn't manage its young generation properly. Lack of useful information and hence motivation combined with overworked teachers on unnecessary and lengthy paperwork every day instead of on teaching is further fuelling this downfall. I wanted to do something to avoid this disaster and using Alexas in the classroom seemed like an effective and economical way of doing that.
What it does
In rural India, no one talks in English including teachers in an English medium school, and this can greatly affect a student's ability to listen, understand, and talk anything in English later. The main problem we are trying to solve here is to improve the communication skills of students by having someone(Alexa) to talk in English with them in their classroom.
Abhyas Teacher Assistant tackles this problem by providing spoken modules like a conversation with a friend or a doctor. Assistant also helps with reading out lessons with proper pronunciation, speeches related to motivation, concentration, and academic guidance, and getting the time table details.
We are further planning to support taking attendance, oral tests, school-wide announcements, ringing class bells among other things.
How I built it
Abhyas Teacher Assistant is built using Alexa Conversations in Alexa skills kit for node.js, Amazon developer console, Alexa hosted code with AWS S3 for saving persistence, and DynamoDB for storing and retrieving classroom, student details.
Challenges I ran into
With Alexa Conversations still in beta and improving. I came across several challenges related to building dialogues, managing the delegation of Dialogue management between Alexa Conversations and Interaction Model. With the help of the Amazon Alexa team on Slack, Twitch live streams, documentation, and the community, I successfully sailed through the above challenges.
What I learned
A lot. Being worked in the NLP area, I am in awe of what the Alexa team has accomplished until now. Still, a long way to go but, Alexa conversations are like building another Alexa from the ground up and I respect that. I learned new tech, had fun trying to decipher how AC works and meeting and helping new people in Slack channel, etc.
What's next for Abhyas
After running some demos in rural schools before the pandemic and getting positive reviews from teachers, students, and their parents, we are in talks with the local government in India for launching the project as a pilot to some more schools and take it from there. Whatever we might win in this challenge will go into further improving the project. Thank you for this opportunity.