May 11, 2022
Heather Hirsch, a UW master’s student in special education from Buford, demonstrates how she uses Amazon Alexa skills to access a voice interface to answer quiz questions and navigate through course content. (UW Photo)
A University of Wyoming lecturer and a graduate student recently published a new Amazon Alexa skill designed specifically to support the professional development of educators to better understand dyslexia.
Tiffany Hunt, an associate lecturer in the UW School of Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy and Design (CLAD), and Andey Robins, a graduate student from Laramie in the UW Department of Computer Science, are using Amazon Alexa skills to create succinct and targeted professional Development that is widely accessible for not only Wyoming educators, but K-12 education nationwide.
The two, along with their colleagues Richard Carter, an assistant professor in CLAD, and Dana Robertson, an associate professor of reading and literacy in the School of Education at Virginia Tech University, recently published their Alexa skill, Dyslexia Awareness, on Amazon. The skill provides research-based and expert-vetted content that helps educators better understand and support children by exploring the fundamentals of dyslexia and other reading challenges. Dyslexia Awareness offers an innovative way for pre-service and in-service educators to engage in professional development through elevated online instruction.
The ability to develop the Amazon Alexa skill was initiated by a generous endowment from Ann Pickard and Dan Smith to the UW College of Education Literacy Research Center and Clinic.
Dyslexia Awareness not only impacts K-12 educators, but the skill also can inspire parents, educational administrators, caregivers and others to develop an understanding of dyslexia and reading challenges. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.
“It is our hope that the Dyslexia Awareness skill will improve educators’ understanding of dyslexia and reading challenges both in Wyoming and across the country,” Hunt says. “Although we recognize that this skill serves only as a foundational underpinning of dyslexia, we hope that it encourages educational professionals and family members to seek additional resources and support specific to this topic.”
By participating in this skill, individuals will develop a foundational understanding of dyslexia. The skill provides an overview of instructional practices and accommodations that may be used to support struggling readers. The knowledge gained through this skill also allows educators and parents to better recognize signs of dyslexia and understand why identifying reading disabilities is so important.
The skill is intended to expand educational tools for individuals to learn on the go. With the ability to listen and engage with course content through Amazon technology, Dyslexia Awareness and future Alexa skills allow for course content to be widely accessible and free to those interested in expanding their knowledge on corresponding topics.
Since these skills can be accessed on many digital devices, learners are not required to visually engage with the content, enabling them to learn while driving, cooking, exercising or traveling.
“This unique modality increases the accessibility of professional development and creates a space where participants direct their learning to fit the delivery of content into their personal schedules,” Hunt says.
After finishing the skill, individuals receive a certificate of completion, which may be stacked with subsequent completed skills and submitted to the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board for reliance credit. Educators not in Wyoming are encouraged to contact their state licensing agencies to determine if this professional development may count toward relicensure requirements.
This project is in response to changes in technology and education that enable learning to take place anywhere at any time. A corresponding skill is under review and will be published soon, while a third skill in this series is currently under development. These two additional skills are designed to expand and further develop participants’ understanding of dsyslexia and reading challenges.