After purchasing a number of Amazon Echo Plus devices over the Christmas period, i thought Amazon’s Alexa would be super helpful in my classroom, however, i needed to be able to have some control via a development environment for developing some classroom focused skills.  Alexa Skills are simply a different name for what we know and understand as App’s on a handheld device, such as an iPhone.  After a bit of research i came across the Amazon developer portal, which i then registered for.  For those with a development background then you may want to dig deeper into the Amazon tool set for writing more complex skills, i shall write an article around that shortly over the next few weeks so make sure you check back on a regular basis for that article.

There is a key point to remember at this point.  If you want beta access to your skill on your physical device for testing purposes then you need to take note of the following.  When registering for an Amazon developer account you should use the email address associated with your Alexa account.  Otherwise you will encounter problems when trying to install the Skill onto your chosen device.

Now for those who are not familiar with teaching programming/coding or simply for those who do not know how or want to write code, then i have a little goldmine of a website recommendation for you.  Get yourself over to  Storyline is a web-based tool with a visual user Interface (UI) which allows you to create skills, such as, Flash briefings, games/trivia or customised skills via a drag, drop and edit block interface.  I was able to create an informational skill as a test for the school that i work at.  This was achieved with relative ease and in minimal time.

The skill provides information such as term times, school facts, such as, who is the principal of the school, when was the school formed etc.  The skill also provides contact information, providing telephone contact details or an email address for the school. However, the intention is to create a custom skill that can select a random student’s first name from a spreadsheet list and then the student is required to answer the next question in class.  Furthermore, my next skill will focus around getting student data, such as Alexa tell me student A’s attendance, their predicted grade and their current holistic grade. I will provide an article around that use of data in the future, so be sure to check back frequently.

An example layout of a Alexa skill being developed with Storyline.
An example layout of a Alexa skill being developed with Storyline.

Once you have a skill created you can then start to test it, by using the play button which is found at the top of the screen.  Once you are happy that your skill is complete and ready for testing you can deploy your skill to the Amazon developer portal and test your skill on an Amazon Echo device.  Once your happy you can then fill out the required details over at your custom skills page (inside your Amazon developer account) and release your skill to the general public.  Unlike the Apple app store, (which app’s cost anywhere upwards from 0.99p) the vast majority of skills are free to install and use.

Vasili and the storyline team offer awesome first class technical support and general skill development advice via their Facebook page, you can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.  Prefer Twitter? Follow them on Twitter by clicking here.

If you need any guidance from a teaching perspective, or would like to share a skill idea then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at TeacherTech via the contact us form.

The Team @ TeacherTech

You can discuss this article over at the Teacher Tech Facebook page, click here to request access.

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