Could Speech Recognition Software Help Improve Driving Safety of Your Students?

Marc Andressen, an entrepreneur and investor best known for his Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal titled “Why Software Is Eating The World.” The essay, which was published in 2011, touched on many subjects. However, the primary focus was on the growth that was happening in the software industry. Software has continued its massive growth trajectory, becoming more heavily used in health care, national defense, agriculture, and much more.

One area of software that is growing rapidly and has the ability to not only improve lives, but also make the drive for your students a lot more safe, is voice recognition software in automobiles. Cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs have had a long history of software that runs the engines, controls safety features, entertains passengers, and monitors performance. Usually, it is a basic functionality that is for the most part hidden from the driver’s knowledge. Until now, with speech recognition and Artificial Intelligence software making leaps and bounds in their abilities, major car companies have been integrating with third-party software companies.

Today, two of the largest technology companies, Apple and Google, are integrating their unique platforms into most new automobiles on the road. Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are stripped-down versions of their platforms that everyone uses on their cell-phones. They also include the ability to communicate by way of voice commands. Getting directions, making calls, sending and receiving message, and selecting the right playlist for the commute can all be done hands free. Eighty percent of college students text and drive according to an article at US News & World Report; with ae paradigm shift like this in the way drivers communicate with their automobiles via speech could result in a safer, smarter driving experience for your students (and you).

Apple and Google are not the only companies trying to improve the driving experience with an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes speech. Amazon has recently announced an after market device called Echo Auto. The Echo Auto can be placed on the dashboard of any automobile, providing the car with a speech recognition interface along with access to Amazon’s AI platform, Alexa. Older automobiles built without a speech recognition interface can now easily upgrade simply by connecting the Echo Auto via bluetooth or USB. This means students on a tighter budget can also have a safer driving experience, without spending where money isn’t allocated.

A voice command interface will make the roads a safer place for drivers by removing the need for the driver to take their eyes off the road. Imagine your international students being able to order their favorite coffee drink or make dinner plans on their drive to campus, without ever having to take their hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road. It certainly takes safety up a notch. Having an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes speech inside your car is still a new and strange concept for many people. Regardless, as this technology continues to improve, we can also hope for more safe trips on the road.

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Many Summer Work Travel Programs in Need of More J-1 Participants

j1 summer work and travelThe J-1 visa provides individuals from around the world the opportunity to take part in a cultural work and study exchange. This program is beneficial to participants as it allows them to develop their professional skills and connections, improve their English language skills, and be fully emerged in a new culture. However, the benefit of the J-1 visa program is not just one sided, it also provides individuals inside the US with a host of benefits from added expertise in various fields, exposing and connecting individuals to other cultures, and perhaps the most relevant during this time of year: help with seasonal and temporary jobs through summer work travel programs.

Businesses in various locations in the United States are reporting not having as many J-1 visa workers as in years past for summer temporary work and in turn not able to fill many positions. It’s a problem that reared its head last summer in locations like the Wisconsin Dells, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Glacier National Park, and is back again this year in many locations like Hampton Beach, NH. The owner of Bernie’s Beach Bar, the Goat and Wally’s Pub, Al Fleury, said he applied for 75 J-1 visa students and received only 20. Hampton Beach State Park officials also stated they have seen the number of J-1 visa students drop from an average of 10 to 20 in previous years to only five this year, according to seacoastonline.

Beaches and pools throughout the US are also having a difficult time finding people to fill the 150,000 lifeguard jobs, and companies that typically hire J-1 visa participants have reported their J-1 visa scouts not as successful at filling spots as in years past, according to accuweather. New attempts to fill lifeguard positions include adding flexible hours and higher wages, lowering the minimum age to apply, and trying to recruit retirees that were previously lifeguards.

Despite some businesses seeing a drop in J-1 participant staff, Phil Simon, vice president of CIEE Work and Travel USA, which sponsors J-1 visa students coming to the US, said there is no evidence of a change in visa approval rates this year compared to last year, according to seacoastonline.

Many suggest the “drop” in the J-1 summer work and travel program participants is simply a shift of state or job interest and certain states and positions may feel a hit more than others.

The J-1 visa program allows about 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries to participate each year. View the most recent information on the number of J-1 visa participants by state and program.

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Implementing WhatsApp into your Recruitment and Communications Strategy

recruiting international students with whatsappAs WhatsApp grows in popularity around the globe it’s continuing to climb its way into recruitment strategies and communication plans at US colleges and universities. If you’re exploring new ways to refresh your international student recruitment or communication plan for the upcoming year, adding WhatsApp into the mix might be one area worth exploring.

WhatsApp is the second largest messaging app in the world with more than 1 billion people in more than 180 countries using it. Since calls and messaging are free through WhatsApp it’s an economical way for international students and scholars to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

Along with personal use on WhatsApp the opportunity for businesses to use it as a helpful tool is also growing. For example, more than 80% of small businesses in India and Brazil already use WhatsApp to communicate with customers.

How would you implement WhatsApp into your plan? Create a WhatsApp business account.

Auto-Reply and Templates: With a business account you’re able to create a business profile that allows students to view information on your school and communicate with you directly. To help battle the time difference and potential delay in response time, WhatsApp has features like automated replies and reply templates.

Labels: WhatsApp also allows you to list your contacts or chats with labels- if you want to organize your contacts by labeling them according to where they are in the enrollment funnel or based upon what type of student they are (prospect, current, alumni, etc.), it’s certainly possible. Labels allow you to send the right type of message to each of your contacts, keeping your communications customized and not spammy.

Language Support: WhatsApp supports 60 different languages meaning the ability to reach students in a variety of languages is possible (as long as your office also has the language support available).

If you’re on the fence about implementing WhatsApp into your recruitment and communications strategy keep in mind that since business accounts are free you can always test it out without the risk of wasting funds, and keep tabs on the statistics they provide to see how successful it is for your institution.

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Google Makes Strides with Speech Recognition AI

artificial intelligenceOne area of artificial intelligence (AI) that is making massive technological advancements is Touchless Speech Recognition AI. While most people had their first introduction to Touchless AI back in 2011 when Apple added Siri to its iOS5 mobile operating system, in 2018 it has rapidly become more user friendly and distributed onto more devices such as automobiles, websites, watches, and just about any system that would benefit from having a natural language user interface.

One of the most popular types of devices using Speech Recognition AI is the smart speaker. The most popular smart speaker, Google Home, was first released in the United States in November 2016. The device offers a large array of features including: playing music, news updates, and controlling a home thermostat all by using voice commands that interface with Google Assistant, an Artificial Intelligence system that recognizes natural language patterns.

The Google Assistant technology is continually making strides that put it ahead of other Touchless AI technologies. At the 2018 Google I/O, a developer festival that was held in May, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, introduced Google Duplex, an AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks via phone conversations. On stage, Sundar Pichai goes on to demonstrate a jaw dropping conversation between Google’s Assistant and a human over the scheduling of a hair appointment that will have you believing in the singularity. The Google Assistant was able to have an incredibly human-like conversion with an actual person. It had the ability to pick up human nuances and even drop into conversation its own human nuances such as “mmhmm” and “aahh.”

Sundar Pichai continued to show the crowd of amazed developers and news journalists another example of a real world situation that Google’s touchless artificial intelligence technology handles swimmingly. The Google device, following a voice command to book a reservation at a local restaurant, calls a popular eatery to reserve a spot for four guests. The restaurant employee misunderstands the question about the reservation and side rails the conversation. Even after the conversation goes off topic, the AI was able to understand the conversation and give a human response to questions that didn’t relate to the original task of the call.

With all the advances in Speech Recognition AI, it might become increasingly harder to distinguish between man or machine the next time you have a conversation on the phone. On the bright side, Artificial Intelligence in the future might be able to take the sting out of talking with the in-laws.

Watch the actual demo and let us know what you think.

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Google Trends Shows US Recruitment Problem, and Canada’s Gain

Canada’s success in recruiting international students over the past few years, and the corresponding struggles in the US, have been well documented and much discussed.  There’s also been a lot of speculation and study of the reasons for the divergent paths of the two countries. Canada helps its case with a relatively low cost of living, welcoming and safe environment and ability to work during and after school, ultimately providing a path to permanent residency. The government adopted a formal International Education Strategy four years ago that set out a clear plan to recruit international students, with a goal to reach 450,000 international students by 2022.

In the US, the Administration’s anti-immigration, nationalist and protectionist policies set the opposite tone. H1B visas, some J categories and OPT have all come under attack, add in the travel ban, border wall, regular school shootings, and some of President Trump’s inflammatory tweets and you can quickly understand how the US looks less welcoming and has helped spike Canada’s growth.

Recent reports add data to back up these discussions. The Canadian Bureau of International Education reported in March that the total number of international students in Canada spiked 20% in 2017 to 495,525, blowing past the 2022 goal five years early. Meanwhile, the US State Department released the annual non-immigrant visa report in March, which showed a continued steep decline in F1 visas issued, from 644,233 in 2015, to 471,728 in 2016, to 393,573 in 2017 – a staggering quarter of a million less F1 visas issued in 2017 from two years earlier!

These reports are critical to show us what has actually happened, but they’re all after the fact. The IIE Open Doors Report, released in November of each year and relied upon as a primary bell-weather of the state of international education in the US, is actually over a year old by the time its released – reporting in November on the previous school year. What about evidence of what will happen to international student numbers, before it happens?  That’s where Google Trends come into play.

Google Trends is a publicly available tool showing the popularity of particular searches on Google. You can look at what’s currently trending, or you can look as far back as 2004 for historical data.  In this case, running just two quick comparisons is telling. Here’s the chart showing the number of students worldwide searching the terms “study in Canada” vs. “study in the USA” over the past 2 years:

You can dig as deep as you want within this tool – here’s a similar chart on the prevalence of the same two search terms but this time looking only at students within India, not worldwide, showing a similar divergence:

Potential international students are exploring their options in their desired country months or years before they actually arrive and can be counted in CBIE, State Department or Open Doors numbers. Like the recent QS Applicant Survey 2018, which surveys students on the factors they’re using to make decisions about their international education,  Google Trends helps us look at the top of the funnel, well before any government can track and report on those students. This is interesting to see and think about – but we should remember that the predictive value of Google search terms is uncertain. Many things can happen between the time a student searches Google and the time they arrive on campus. However, these simple charts do lend insight into what’s ahead – if these Google Trends data are accurate future predictors, we’ll see more progress for Canada, and less international students for the USA.

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EIC Completes Building a School in Guatemala

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a joint total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 6: Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions: happiness, anticipation, excitement, joy, love and sadness were all there. The school and play ground were finally complete and it was time to celebrate and officially open the school at the dedication ceremony. As we pulled up to the school, the gravel road that’s normally lined with grass on either side was now wedged between two rows of cars. The entire community had been preparing for and waiting for us to join the ceremony. A tarp covered the space in front of the school where we spent the past week mixing concrete, and the shovels, buckets and wheel barrows had been replaced by small wooden chairs, a sounds system and beautiful banners for the event.

Once we were all seated the celebration started with beautiful thank you messages from members of the community, children, and the vice Mayor. By grade, the children then performed songs and dances and even brought members of the crowd up to join for a dance. Traditional and modern music alike filled the air as the children performed their meticulously orchestrated routines. After the performances it was time to cut the ribbon into the playground of the new school. The Vice Mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiche and Natalie from School the World did the honors and cut the shiny blue ribbon. There was a sea of applause and a mad rush through the fence gate as it swung open. Children ran to the monkey bars and began swinging right away, a smaller blue ribbon tied off the slide prompting a line to form halfway around the playground. After the slide ribbon was cut, a steady line of both children and volunteers made their way through and down the metal piece of equipment. All of the volunteers, school staff and leaders of the community eventually filtered into one side of the new school and were treated to a lunch of soda, grapes, apples, and tamales made by women in the community.

With full bellies we returned to the playground and soccer field where the children had also already returned. After another hour of playing and taking pictures it was time for us to head to Antigua for the evening. The sharing of goodbye and adios sparked many tears for the children and quickly spread to the volunteers and a few parents. There was a steady stream of hugs, some children coming back for three or four rounds. Final pictures were taken, and we loaded into our vans. We waved goodbye and headed back down the gravel road that had become so familiar to us during the week, for the very last time.

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EIC Nears the End of Their Journey

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a joint total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 5: This was our last day working on the school and we only had half the day to get as much work done as possible. Our time was spent on the final coat of paint both inside and outside of the school, and finishing pouring the concrete on the playground. Members of the community mixed the concrete and poured it into buckets- from there we organized an assembly line to get the concrete from the mixing area into the fenced-in play area. All 21 volunteers had a job in line, and together we got the job done.

Knowing that our time together was dwindling, the children went around to each of us during breaks asking for our signature and home base location to be written with their notebook. We all signed, making accompanying pictures or notes. During recess we kept the students busy with hopscotch, soccer and learning to make flowers from pipe cleaners. Not knowing how to play hopscotch or make designs from pipe cleaners, Dana and Annemarie lead the pack by showing them what to do and having each child who wanted to follow. They caught on right away and filled their time jumping from one chalk number to the next and crafting beautiful flowers and other small designs.

Those who chose to play soccer were very familiar with the sport and ran down to the field right away. Not yet having official soccer goals, we marked either side of the “goal” with short sticks and let the game begin. As we continued to play we had many other students join in and it became more fun with each goal.

That day we ate lunch on the way to a local market where we bartered for beautiful hand-crafted goods like blankets, purses, bracelets, hammocks and jackets. The market was swarming with people and there was no shortage of local goods to take home to friends and family. After we all had full bags and empty wallets we headed back to our hotel to prepare for a delicious and engaging dinner with the mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiche.

Day five was a success and it’s with bittersweet anticipation we wait for the dedication ceremony. Check back on our blog and social media to see how we will celebrate the new school with the community.

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Educational Institutions Get Creative Around Limiting Cell Phone Use

There’s no question that the use of smart phones is wide spread throughout educational institutions in the US. A visit to any college or university campus provides insight into the fact that domestic and international students alike enjoy smartphone screen time. Fifty-four percent of college age students said that they use cell phones during class to text friends and browse social media, according to a Student Pulse survey by Top Hat. Although smartphones are convenient, especially for an international student trying to navigate their way around a new country while staying in touch with back home, many schools are starting to act when it comes to limiting cell phone use among students- and they’re finding some creative ways.

One such way is by offering students a reward for surrendering their phones during class. In a recent article by FacultyFocus it discusses how one college professor proposed to his students that if they were to bring their phones to the front of the class for the entire session they would receive extra credit. The professor was shocked when every student took him up on his offer, without even knowing how much extra credit they would receive.

In other locations, like at Hill Circuit Street charter school in Boston, they have started “locking-up” cell phones during school hours, according to a recent article from NPR. Each student receives a pouch they place their cell phone in at the beginning of each day. Students are not able to unlock their phones until the school day is complete. The school has reported seeing great results in this method including students being more engaged inside the classroom and social with each other. Although many students are finding it difficult to adjust to not having their phones during school hours, others like senior Yalena Terrero Martinez, are able to see the benefit of the new rule.

“Oh my gosh, all my friends would be like on their phones during lunch, and I was just sitting there staring out the window, waiting for a conversation to spark up,” Martinez says. “But now, like, we talk a lot more.”

Although excessive cell phone use on campuses does not have a one size fits all solution, many schools are getting creative and testing the waters to find a solution that works at their institution.

Is your institution doing anything to encourage students to put down their phone and start a conversation with friends?

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EIC Gets a Personal Home Tour on Day Four of Their School the World Trip

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a combined total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 4: Each morning on the drive to the school everyone is productive in their own way: applying sunscreen, snacking on fruit, or organizing their work bag for the day. However, the most productive of the bunch during those 30 minutes has been Ramez. Every day Ramez jumps into the passenger seat of the van with a pen and paper and learns as many Spanish words as possible as he speaks with our driver, Otto. Now in the fourth day he’s able to carry full conversations with the children and other members of the community.

As we arrive at the school on day four the Spanish lesson for Ramez stops and we all head down the hill to the school site. The children of Patzalam, Choacaman have perfected the skill of giving a warm welcome- that morning each female volunteer was met with a hand-made flower headband constructed from paper and paint. We took it as an opportunity to speak and take pictures with the children before our work projects were assigned and started working away.

Bright blue paint joined the already pale-yellow walls and as we painted we were divided into groups to tour a home within the community. Each group had a unique experience during the visits, but the consensus was that it was a humbling experience.

During one tour we started in the kitchen where we helped make tortillas and place them on the wood burning stove. Some had more luck than others as we threw the dough from one hand to the other, mixing just enough water in to keep it from sticking to our hands, and hoping to get it thin enough without tearing. The thinner the tortilla, the better the cook.

We then moved to the bedroom which housed clothes, shoes, daily necessities and multiple beds made of wood and blankets. A wooden ladder propped up against a small crawl space in the ceiling lead us to the attic where corn covered the floor to dry. Outside the bedroom a small hall lead us to a room that housed what appeared to be a large fireplace with a wooden bench and metal bucket inside. The host family explained it was a bathing and birthing room. Behind the house was a covered open-air room where they washed dishes and did other daily tasks. Horses, cows and chickens completed the breathtaking view of the mountainous countryside that was their back yard. Each of the volunteers had an eye-opening experience seeing what daily home life was like in Patzalam Choacaman.

The rest of the day was filled with soccer at recess, followed by mixing more concrete and painting the school both inside and out. We raced against the clock to get as much done as possible before waving adios to the children as we drove away down the gravel road. Day four was complete and we looked forward to returning for day five.

Make sure you keep updated as we work to complete the school. Visit our blog daily or find us on social media via #EICSchoolTheWorld2018 and #EnviFlyWiseSTW.

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EIC Makes Progress in Guatemala on Day Three

Envisage International is spending one week in Guatemala building an elementary school in the community of Patzalam Choacaman through School the World. We’ve partnered with IvyWise and Flywire for a combined total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 3: As soon as we arrived at the community yesterday morning our vans were swarmed by the excited children in the community- they were thrilled by our return. They greeted us with big smiles as they read each of our names from our new nametags. We were just as excited to see them and we all walked down the hill to the school site together, some of us hand in hand.

As the children started school we put on our gloves and got to work. It was our first full day of labor and progress was already being made! Most of the day was spent mixing concrete, and after hours of shoveling, mixing, and carrying buckets full of the grey sludge, half of the school had a floor.

Everyone put in many hours of hard work, but also had plenty of time to play with the children. During their recess we handed out small toys like bubbles, jump ropes, Frisbees and soccer balls and we all played the entire time until they were called back into class. Throughout the day we received numerous gifts from the children like small notes, drawings and hand-made yarn bracelets that they each tied onto our wrists.

At lunch we took a break to enjoy sandwiches and chips that we packed earlier in the day then jumped right back into work and started painting. We each grabbed rollers and brushes and coated the concrete brick walls with a pale-yellow paint. After two coats the walls seemed eager for children to fill the room.

Exhausted, covered in concreate and paint, and feeling accomplished, we headed home for the evening and made a well-deserved stop for ice cream along the way.

Keep updated on our progress each day as we share with you through our blog and on social media. Track our journey on Facebook and Twitter by searching #EICSchoolTheWorld2018 and #EnviFlyWiseSTW.

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