“Hey Alexa” is now a common phrase that can be heard throughout the dorms in Cal State Fullerton.
Students who live in CSUF housing received an email during break that informed them of an early holiday present: a second-generation Amazon Echo with Alexa.
The school purchased approximately 200 Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Echo devices for the dorms. The Amazon Echo Dot cost the information technology department’s general budget $47 a unit for a grand total of around $9,400, according to Joe Luzzi, senior director for Enterprise and Applications at CSUF, who oversaw enforcement of the system.
The Amazon Echo is a smart speaker with Alexa, Amazon’s intelligent voice assistant that can receive voice commands. Amazon Echos are now in the common room for each floor of the first-year dorms. The rest of housing received a smaller version, the Amazon Echo Dot, to share in their dorms.
Alexa can sync up with someone’s personal Amazon account as well as other apps for listening to music and making phone calls. It’s also capable of home automation, linking up with thermostats, lights and home security.
Alexa started showing up in college campuses last academic year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Colleges, including CSUF, see Alexa as a way to provide answers to questions students may have about the campus after hours.
CSUF had already created its own intelligent assistant to answer student questions called iTuffy, which has been integrated on the Amazon Echos. The iFullerton app was awarded a Digital Edge 50 award in March.
Last academic year, CSUF launched its iFullerton app for Android and iOS. Students can use the app to register for classes while they’re away from the computer, as well as ask iTuffy questions through text or voice search.
IT worked with a contractor to program the devices over the course of about six months.
“The common room is a place for people to get together — you can just ask (Alexa) questions or get things answered or play music,” said Casey Wathen, a first-year theater student.
She said she is already familiar with Alexa because her sister uses it to plan and make grocery lists.
Carlos Jimenez, a first-year graduate student studying sociology, said his roommate likes to have Alexa keep time for him while he’s cooking food.
“Well the thing about Alexa,” said Eric Rodriguez, a third-year business major, “It’s not a complete gadget on its own.”
Rodriguez said he uses Alexa at home to control lights, play music, call his girlfriend and to control the lights on his Christmas tree with his voice. To do this, he said he purchased a smart outlet that links to his device. It cost $49.99 for a three pack on Amazon.
Going forward, the IT department is hoping to add features to the device in the future such as class schedules.
“There are so many other things that we could do with this to benefit the student, and I think getting some feedback after its been out in the wild, the students will really help us to shape the direction that we go,” Luzzi said.
However, there have been privacy concerns related to voice-activated devices such as Alexa in the past. According to Amazon’s terms of service, Alexa only shares voice data when users say the activation word (“hey Alexa,” or some other predetermined activation word).
Students are free to disconnect the devices if they are still concerned about their privacy.