Finalist Skill Improvement Period Updates 18/10/20
- We welcome Professor Learnaloud to the team, who will run you through your study plan.
- Listen to hear more about the audio improvements we've made in preparation for the finals
- Improved experience with Alexa Conversations so you can change your study plan easier.
- Implemented APL for Audio to provide a richer sound experience with new sound effects and voices.
- Implemented Reminders API to create a reminder schedule unique to your study plan.
- Increased the number of questions available by 50%.
- We're working with Amazon to address a bug with the Conversations experience
Our submission is team effort by two companies Rabbit & Pork (John Campbell & Jamie Poole) and The Audio Tailors (Josiah Smithson)
Our inspiration for this skill came from the many children around the world that have been missing out on key time in school. Over the next year many children are having to catch up with their studies and some retake exams. We wanted to create a skill that would enable them to prepare for exams in a non screen environment and in a fun way.
We want to also at the same time bring a rich audio experience to the user, something they might be familiar with when playing other games.
What it does
Learning Out Loud has two elements. First using Alexa Conversations we gain vital information from the player to customise the playing experience. We ask them what year they are in, what subjects they are studying and when their exams will take place.
This then allows us to calculate what type of questions to ask from the database of questions we have.
We then move into the quiz mode where the user is asked 10 questions a round. Each question will be related to the subjects they are studying and adjusted to their year (harder questions for those older).
Each question is multiple choice, the player can answer by either saying A, B, C or D or say the answer just read to them. As the user progresses we keep a track of their score. In future plays of the same subject we’ll give them feedback on what their previous highest score was.
At the end of the round, the user is given their score and then can take another subject or more questions from the same subject.
How we built it
We had a number of ideas at the start of the project, including some different to Learning Out Loud. We had a video meeting session where team members gave their ideas. Each idea had to meet the following criteria a) could we use Alexa Conversations in the idea? b) could this be a voice first experience? c) could the skill help in the current pandemic in some way? d) would we be able to use rich audio in the experience? e) has this exact idea been done before?
After deliberation we decided that Learning Out Loud was the best option moving forward. We felt that the customisation nature was something new not seen before.
Testing the conversation tool
With the idea Jamie tested the new Alexa Conversations to see how it would work alongside our existing knowledge of Alexa Skills. This made sure we were confident the skill would be able to take advantage of the new Alexa Conversations
Happy path scripts
John created a number of happy path scripts (see images below), these included a first time user, returning user, correct answers, repeat requests and incorrect answers to see how the conversation flowed. Annotations added marked out dynamic slots, language changes for singular and plurals and most importantly where rich audio could be added
Briefing The Audio Tailors team for audio
We know from previous experience that skills are much more engaging and memorable with rich audio. Jamie and John sent a brief over to Josiah to create the 13 pieces of audio to be included in the skill.
We decided we needed the following pieces of audio;
- Opening and exiting of the skill
- Calculation sound for after the Alexa conversation
- Intro to the round for different subjects (Maths, English, Science, Geography, History)
- Correct, pass, incorrect and countdown to answer
- End of round
The Audio Tailors
Listen to the Audio Story of Learning Out Loud https://soundcloud.com/josiah-smithson-603020330/the-audio-story-of-learning-out-loud
All of the sounds that needed creating had specific purposes to fulfill. We knew that “Learning Out Loud’s” efficacy would rely on a smooth and fun user experience so we took the time to find the most relevant and recognizable sounds to ensure the intention and purpose of each sound would be absolutely clear to the user. As specialists in Audio Branding we were not only eager to use sound to better the overall efficacy of “Learning Out Loud” but to also highlight the incredible opportunity that is being presented to companies via Alexa Skills. It was clear to us that an Alexa Skill is not only a means to provide a service or experience but rather a revolutionary new brand asset whereby sound can be strategically utilised to achieve a brands goals. So we set out to demonstrate that intelligently used sound could be used to connect more emotionally with users, create positive association and embed powerful audio queues that could significantly boost brand recall in a number of far reaching alternative contexts.
To achieve this we first needed an audio signature to serve as an sound logo for the skill. Instead of using a melody or specific instrument we decided that the basis of the audio signature should be a rhythmic pattern. By using a rhythm we were able to remain open and flexible for future unknowns giving us a larger scope for audible adaptability later on down the line. “Learning Out Loud” is a skill for young people looking to learn whilst having fun - so we chose a rhythm which was progressive and motivational in nature. We also used the same amount of beats in the rhythm as there are syllables in the Skills name (Learning Out, Loud - 1-2-3, 4). When the name of the skill is spoken in time with this rhythm, the memorability of the name drastically increases. This was a priority as the user's ability to successfully open the skill would depend on their ability to remember its name. We will also be able to synthesize our visual logo with our sound logo via animation later on down the line. This will also greatly improve brand recall / memorability of the Skills name.
To create the Sound Logo we used the relevant sounds of a school bell ringing, a computer generated powering up sound and the scratching of a pen to assert the signature rhythm. This Sound Logo is then fortified in the minds of the user via repetition across many of the other audio chimes we created which play throughout the skill. The signature rhythm is played with a variety of alternate instruments that correlate to the purpose of each individual chime e.g. Maths - Punching Calculator, Science - Clinking test tubes, History - An age of Empires inspired piece with old drums etc etc. It was very important to us that before the users first session was over that the “Learning Out Loud” audio signature/logo would be firmly embedded within the users mind. The more the skill is used the more ingrained it will become.
Development started after the happy path scripts were complete. The skill is built with the Alexa Skills Kit SDK for Node.js, S3 bucket storage for the audio files, Dynamo DB for saving users previous scores and questions
We wanted to be able to add in future questions once deployed and also be able for students to say the answer, e.g. “The san andreas fault” as well as “B”. To do this we used the dynamic entities feature which would allow us to add in new answers slots without the need to update the language model each time.
We were able to test by sharing access to all members of the team and along with close family and friends with the target audience. We asked people to record the audio for the session and then send it back to allow us to fix any errors. Once amends were created we were able to submit to live.
We wanted to give the skill an eye catching icon which would include and educational reference, be easy to recognise and importantly fit well with the format of Alexa skill icons.
We were able to work with Hana Skarratt who created several versions of the skill icon along with a bigger logo.
Challenges we ran into
There were a number of challenges we ran into with this project. First of all as the Skill has to live for the US we needed to adjust the Alexa Conversations element to take the years of US high schools (9th freshman, 10th sophomore, 11th junior, 12th senior ) rather than UK highschools which (year 7, 8, 9, 10 11).
Using the UK it would have been easier as the players would say “year 7”, where as with the US we needed to handle “9th grade” or “freshman year”.
The Audio Tailors
With no visual aid to queue cognition the greatest challenge we faced was finding sounds for the school subjects. The subject sounds had to be instantly recognisable and easily identifiable. Due to Geography being such a broad subject with its three main branches (human, physical, environmental) it proved to be the most challenging piece to conceptualise. After some trial and error playing around with the multiple sounds of maps opening, globes spinning, volcanoes erupting and a whole range of atmospheric sounds all the way from the jungle to the sea, we were finally able to combine all three branches into one coherent sound that could be readily associated with the subject. The sound of human footsteps (human) on loose earth (physical) in the rain (environmental) followed by the sound of falling rocks in a landslide (physical) in the rhythm of “Learning Out Louds” audio signature.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We were proud to be able to work together as a team for the first time putting together a very neatly packaged skill which has the room for plenty of enhancements in the future.
It was great to be able to use Alexa Conversations and APL for audio for the first time, the majority of our projects are UK based so we wouldn’t have been able to use these features.
The Audio Tailors
We were proud to be able to work together with John and Jamie, two immensely talented and competent people in this exciting new field. We were also incredibly proud to be involved in the creation of something that will benefit so many young people affected negatively by Covid-19. We believe in this project and hope that it will provide them with a helpful tool to aid in securing their academic futures during this pandemic.
What we learned
Adding in audio to the skill made a huge impact on the skill, it makes it much more engaging for the user which should result in increased playing time and a higher return rate.
We learned the ins and outs of Alexa conversations and now have a great understanding of how it can be used in future skills.
What's next for Learning Out Loud
There are a number of areas that we know we can expand on to make this Learning Out Loud even more engaging and increase adoption.
1. Account linking - link up with schools existing software systems so feedback can be given to teachers, which students are using the Skill, questions that students are struggling on, which subjects are students performing well in. we would look to add account linking with popular platforms such as smarttech, Schoology, Edmodo
2. ML / AI generated questions. -educes the need for the teachers to add in questions which is time consuming but feeding a tool with raw text which then creates questions for us
3. Leaderboard systems - allowing users to compete for the top places overall and per subject
3. Reminders API - allowing users to set a reminder to play the game according to when their exam is, e.g. weekly, and then daily nearer to their exam date.