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The American University of Bahrain (AUBH) is using Alexa across its campus to support students, staff and visitors by enabling them to ask the artificial intelligence assistant for information.
Through Alexa Skill, a conversational application on Amazon’s Alexa platform, university users can access information by asking Alexa questions through an Amazon Echo device and, through a link to a university system, also access coursework, grades and university communications via their smartphones.
In addition to that, Alexa Skills can help students, staff and visitors find their way around the campus and find out what is on offer.
William Hurt, chief operating officer at AUBH, said: “We are committed to our promise to offer an innovative, high-tech experience to our students and faculty, and we are confident that these Alexa Skills will provide them with a unique, customised, and unmatched campus experience.”
The education sector has been forced to adopt technology rapidly as a result of restrictions placed on physical teaching during the pandemic, and the success of tech projects has seen organisations plan to continue to invest post-Covid.
Sameera Alatawi, director of IT at the university, admitted the education sector was slow to adopt the latest digital technologies, but added that the pandemic has changed attitudes.
“Despite being the sector responsible for shaping the workforce of the future, the education sector globally has largely resisted the wave of digital transformation sweeping across our economies,” she said. “Covid-19 obviously changed all of that for the better. At AUBH, we have always been technology-focused and the rollout of the Alexa Skill for our campus is by no means a one-off.”
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Alatawi said educational institutions are likely to begin to work more closely with multinational technology corporations such as Amazon, as well as startups, “to create learning environments that meet students’ – and their future employer’s – needs”.
Bahrain’s education sector is not alone in the Gulf region in accelerating its adoption of technology during Covid-19. According to a recent IDC survey, the pandemic pushed 72% of Gulf educational institutions to bring forward their digital initiative roadmap by at least a year.
“As the situation stabilises into the new normal, most educational institutions in the Gulf intend to operate more like a digital enterprise,” said Jebin George, programme manager for industry solutions and smart cities at IDC.
In the new scenario, ICT will act as a “cognitive companion” in a blended learning environment, he added. “Institutions will rely on digital tools to engage students, manage homework and tests, and carry out digital models of ancillary activities, such as virtual campus tours and virtual campus recruitments.”
Bahrain has invested in the latest digital technologies. It recently completed the roll-out of 5G as part of its strategy to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil and gas. In 2019, Amazon Web Services rolled out its first Middle East datacentre in the region.