I see future teachers asking Alexa to deliver a mini-lesson on quadratic equations while they pull up virtual interactives in the air. In this future educational space that looks like something out of Minority Report, I think Amazon could be a major player. As for now though it’s hard to see where Amazon Inspire or any of Amazon Education’s other offerings fit. I was part of Amazon Inspire’s initial invitation-only offering, but I have struggled to see its purpose.
Right now the site still exists in beta mode as it has for about a year. It was meant to be a repository for lesson plans that teachers around the globe could exchange. There are already a lot of sites that have been doing that like Teachers Pay Teachers, but maybe the behemoth that is Amazon could centralize that and offer something new and free.
There have been some stumbles along the way though. As the New York Times noted, they had issues with copyright infringement. Even apart from that though, the idea that teachers should freely give away their intellectual property for the use and profit of a vast corporate entity might strike a wrong chord with teachers. The site went live recently without the controversial lesson sharing feature. Now though that function is back and they have a plan in place to combat the plagiarism as any submitted resources will go through a review process before being okayed.
As for now, even though there are thousands of resources available, it’s hard to tell what’s worth the time as few have been rated. There are some decent resources on the site like those from the Maryland Department of Education, but it’s a lot to wade through with limited reward. That’s normally the strength of Amazon. It’s why I know that those dining chairs aren’t worth it because they only have 2 stars and someone commented that they were made of wood colored styrofoam.
On the positive side, Amazon Web Services rule for cloud storage across educational institutions and Amazon Catalyst provides research funding for students and faculty. Amazon has a Learning Management Store that links materials to popular LMS systems like Canvas or Blackboard. And let’s not forget the easy shopping for school supplies that can be done using Amazon School Lists.
Amazon’s most significant contributions to instruction though have to be through Whispercast and TenMarks. Whispercast helps to distribute ebooks across a variety of devices. TenMarks is a company owned by Amazon that provides a research-driven and award winning math program that gives leveled assignments and assessments. They now just launched a writing program as well with fun interactive tools that use digital assistants (think a better version of Clippy), text messaging, and visual photo responses.
So while Amazon Inspire has yet to live up to its name, Amazon continues to hold an important place in the educational technology landscape.