When I interviewed Julie Davis, director of instructional technology and innovation for Chattanooga Christian School, it was before the tornado damage in Nashville on March 3, 2020 and before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began to limit social gatherings of large groups. It was certainly before schools began to close down for the year.
However, after reflecting on this interview, I feel like posting it is the right thing to do, because now, more than ever, if educators can figure out how to use Alexa to enhance learning, it will keep education going in the right direction for when we can be face-to-face with one other, and for when we can’t be. Here is the full interview with Julie Davis as I had intended to post it prior to the events of March 2020.
Julie Davis is the director of instructional technology and innovation at Chattanooga Christian school. She is an educator working with teachers, students, parents and developers. She’s a former accountant so she understands business. She’s an Alexa champion and she’s been pulled in by Samsung’s Bixby to also be their version of a Bixby champion. I am so honored that she is going to present at the Nashville Voice Conference 2020. Julie is the host of Voice in Education podcast and Alexa flash briefing.
I recently spoke to Julie about how she uses voice technology to support learning in schools around her area.
Paul: You’re working with teachers, students, administrators, parents, and even developers. So you have all these different stakeholders and you’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge. What does voice mean to you?
Julie: So, when I say voice at this point in time, what I’m talking about is the voice assistance. So an Alexa, a Google assistant, Samsung’s Bixby. And putting those devices in a classroom and what it allows for the classroom is to have a connectivity but not lose that community feel in the classroom. So I can ask Alexa – What does ubiquitous mean? And I don’t have to look down and type it in and look at dictionary.com and then read it back. I can just look over at the device, I can ask the device and I haven’t lost my students in the classroom. So that is, one of the efficiencies that it brings to the classroom, because it is communal in nature.
Paul: When did you first start identifying voice? Because I love what you said, you’re looking for technology not to lead, but technology to support and make learning and teaching more efficient and effective, similar to how data driven design is trying to help businesses be more efficient and effective voice happens to be that technology for us. When did you first identify voice as a technology that can support everyone’s goals?
Julie: I started doing this, looking at it as a possibility in a classroom actually four years ago. I bought my very first one of those very tall, original Alexa. I don’t even remember what it was called at this point. When it first came out, it just did seem like a novelty. But for an educator or for anyone in an a technology role, you have to look at the pros and cons. And in my mind, I had my formal former accountant before I became an educator. So I see this T chart in my head all the time of debits and credits and one side I’m looking at what are the benefits of this? And on the other side, I’m looking at what are the detriments of this. And I believe wholeheartedly that we’re in an era where the benefits are beginning to outweigh the detriments. And because they’re so immersed in the world that we’re in to ignore it seems dangerous to me because if we continue to ignore it, then it’s going to become something a) we didn’t really want it to become as educators and b), it becomes something that we have to adapt to.
Paul: When you ask it for a definition like the word ubiquitous, that would be in my mind a first party type of functionality that Amazon has already built in. Talk to us about the third party functionality, like app developers like us at Data Driven Design. What can we add to voice assistance to make something more customized or specialized to a particular learning environment? So maybe break down the difference between the first party capabilities and then the third party capabilities.
Julie: So your first party capabilities are those things that Amazon has built into that device or Google or whoever it is has built into that device and it’s going to be more just functionality type things. What is the weather? What’s the closest restaurant? Where’s this, where’s that? And what that means is, I didn’t have to put an additional skill or capsule or action onto those devices in order to know that. And all those three words that I mentioned, they’re actually just many programs and those many programs are written by people like Data Driven Design, who create these skills that actually allow you as a business or as a school to dig a little deeper to create things.
So in the classroom I actually took study guides and I created those study guides as a skill that wasn’t something that was out there in the world. It was actually related immediately to a sheet of paper that I got from a teacher and that was created. So it became something that was beneficial to our school. So the difference to me is creating that opportunity that allows, for true personalization and if you’re in a business to be recognized and inside that voice realm.
Paul: How familiar do you believe that just the average business person is with the fact that you can create your own voice app for Alexa or for Google assistant and actually make it accessible to everybody so that you can capture that audience when they’re searching for phrases related to your business?
Julie: I would say as emerging as this technology is, the discoverability for most businesses of even realizing that this is a new paradigm is even less so I think. Businesses have no clue as a whole. I think we’re beginning to see some of the larger businesses, speak into this space. You’ve got people like NPR, you’ve got Holland, American Airlines and things like that that are really starting to see that this is a space that can really benefit. You’ve got the healthcare industry that is seeing the beginnings of it. You’ve got the financial districts that are beginning to see the beginnings of it. But we’re really truly just on the cusp of, businesses beginning to understand that.
Paul: I am completely excited and honored that you’re going to be part of the Nashville voice conference for a few different reasons. I think it’s super cool that you’re a pioneer in the voice space. Can you tell us your story related to project voice related to being an Alexa champion?
Julie: My feeling is I don’t really see myself as a developer. But I did develop a podcast called Voice and Education. And due to that podcast I was selected by Amazon to be a Alexa champion. There are 64 Alexa champions in the world and I am one of them. And I’ll be honest, the very first thing I said when they asked me, I was like, are you sure? Because I don’t know that I have the skillset that you’re really looking for. And let me just say that for both Amazon and Bixby, their answer was yes, because we believe the content that you are putting out is worthy and needed. I see myself as being pulled into this industry as for my content, not necessarily for my skill designs because if you look at my skill designs, they’re not the best. But what I bring to them is the ability for people to see, a) anyone can do this because I don’t have a background in any of this and b) that content matters. And so I think that’s why the Alexa champion, I was chosen for that. And then last week, Bixby contacted me and they have a Bixby developer or premier developer program. And so their desire was to pull me into that program as well.
Paul: it’s amazing that you’ve done what you’ve done. I really appreciate you coming and being a part of the things that we have going on with Data Driven Design, like the Nashville Voice Conference. So tell us why people should come to the Nashville voice conference and why you’re excited to present on August 7th, 2020?
Julie: One of the things that you also may not know about me but were also my husband and I are also small business owners. We own three businesses here in Chattanooga, Tennessee and I believe that and we have not actually even started trying to figure out how to best use voice for, these businesses. And so I think to be a part of that, to step your foot into it early is going to benefit people. I’m excited that you’re reaching out to businesses and just making it known. Because I think that’s a lot of it, is there just needs to be a concept of what’s out there and what can I do with this and where is this going to go? And I think that’s the important thing for all the people attending and potential people attending. Don’t count. Don’t look at voice for what it is right now. Look at voice for what it’s going to be, in my opinion, even just a year from now. And to ignore that, I think could be, problematic for you because you’re not going to be proactive. You’re going to have to be reactive. So to choose to be proactive in this, I think is exciting to be a part of that with you, to help businesses see how to be proactive in this.
Paul: Thank you so much, Julie. This is awesome. I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Julie: Thank you.