Could Cortana in education help students and teachers?

Cortana logo

Cortana is the intelligent voice-activated assistant on a Windows Phone – described as ‘your personal assistant in your phone’ – and it provides a new way of interacting with other people and your phone. I’ve been using Cortana on my phone for a while now, using the Developer Preview of Windows 8.1 and over time I’ve discovered some great things it can do for me (I most often use it to send an SMS as I’m leaving the office, remind me about something when I arrive somewhere, and to check information in my calendar).

wp_ss_20140908_0001I’ve got used now to pressing my phone’s search button, and hearing a short tone along with the “Listening…” message pop up – and then talking to my phone as though it was a real person.

wp_ss_20140908_0002Some of the things I’ve found Cortana does are:

  • Activating your phone – like calling somebody in your contacts
  • Sending text/SMS messages
  • Adding meetings to your calendar, or re-arranging what’s in there
  • Setting reminders that occur at a particular time, or place (like “Remind me to buy milk when I get to the supermarket”)
  • Setting alarms
  • Adding notes to your OneNote file
  • Asking travel questions, like What’s traffic like on the way to school today?


What about using Cortana in education?

So that got me thinking – how could Cortana in education help improve things for students and teachers? After I discovered that I could ask Cortana “When is my next dentist appointment”, and it would tell me the time and date, it got me thinking about how useful it would be to ask questions like:

When/what/where is my next lesson?

When is my next science lesson?

When is my next essay due?

And every single one of those questions it worked for! As long as I had things noted in my calendar, which could be either my personal or work calendar, it would find it and let me know, whether it’s tomorrow or in six months’ time! What a help for a time-poor or disorganised student. And a teacher could set a reminder like “Remind me to talk about the Ice Age next time I meet Year 7 Geography

Using Cortana to make it easier to use apps

wp_ss_20140908_0003But what I’ve discovered more recently is the way that I can use Cortana with apps – like asking Cortana to make a Skype call (“Call Sarah on Skype”), or joining a conference call (“Lync join next meeting”).
Cortana isn’t just for Microsoft-written applications, as developers can use the Cortana APIs to allow users to interact with their app through Cortana. Some of the examples from third-party developers that I’ve found on my phone are:

  • – Send a tweet through different Twitter clients. I’ve tried it with Twitter’s native app as well as Rowi
  • – Read my LinkedIn groups and inbox
  • – Listen to radio, and even the local Air Traffic Control through LiveATC
  • – Search Wikipedia, and get the first part of a Wikipedia article read to you!

What about using Cortana with a Learning Management System?
Or a Student Management System? Or your Lecture Capture System?…

So if it can do all of those things, I think there are some very cool scenarios that Cortana could enable to make life easier for students and teachers. Here’s some examples that I think would be really cool to build. How about being able to say things like:

  • Download my assignment notes from the LMS
  • Ask for an extension for my essay deadline
  • Send a homework text to the students who aren’t in class today
  • Send a text to the parents of students absent today
  • What lessons do I have today
  • Tell me how long my child used Mathletics this week
  • Show me the students who haven’t used Mathletics this week
  • Record this lecture
  • Send a reminder to all students who haven’t yet handed in their homework assignment

To do some of the tasks above, there will need to be some work done by software developers, to connect Cortana to their apps. And if that’s done, then there’s some great ways that the apps will be able to simplify life for teachers, students and parents. And it can all be started from pressing the same Search button on their phone.

What next?

Developers – there’s some great resources on how to use Cortana with your apps. Start with the Channel 9 video  What developers need to know about the Cortana APIs, and then have a read of the article “Responding to speech interactions” which guides you through the process of setting up your app to accept recognised commands from Cortana.

Teachers and Students – what are the scenarios that you’d like developers to add to their apps? Let me know via the comments box, and I’ll share them as I meet with developers. There are probably some cool things Cortana can already do, but I bet you can find a dozen other things that you’d like to see done to make your life easier as a student, teacher or parent. What are your thoughts?