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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EIC Meets the Community of Patzalam Choacaman

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 2: Through the mountains and one curve after the next we made our way from Antigua to the community of Patzalam Choacaman. Although we were tired from the four-hour drive and holding onto our seats at each hairpin turn, that feeling quickly faded as we all piled out of our caravan. In front of a backdrop of green mountains was the community of Patzalam Choacaman with handmade signs, balloons and eager smiles. Children, parents, siblings, the school principal, community leaders, and both the current and former mayor all gathered for our arrival to provide us with a warm welcome.

The children sang a beautiful song they had meticulously rehearsed, then grabbed a volunteer’s hand and walked us down the mountain to a grassy knoll. As we were lead into the open space we were greeted by celebratory firecrackers and received words of thanks from community members, parents and children. The entire community was thankful for our presence and we, as volunteers, were eager to both get to know the community and start helping them with the task at hand.

After an afternoon of playing games like duck, duck, goose, and a grand finale of piñata candy and popsicles, we moved on to the work site and started to get our hands dirty. Pick axes, shovels and buckets were the tools of the day as we dug holes and trenches. The work day was short, but progress could already be seen on the horizon.

Keep updated through our blog as we put in full days of work on the school this week.

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Envisage International Lands 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 combined total of 21 volunteers. Read on to hear our story unfold as a school is built.

Day 1: We made it to Guatemala! Yesterday each member of the 2018 School the World Envisage International team arrived in Guatemala City, and after smooth flights we were received at the airport by Natalie and Anna from School the World who prepared us for the two-hour drive into Antigua with plenty of snacks. After what seemed like a 15-minute drive we arrived for an evening of exploration.

As we navigated our way through the cobblestoned streets of Antigua we were greeted by a plethora of kind smiles from locals, and vendors with colorful and tasty goods. As the sun started to set we met up with the volunteers from Flywire and IvyWise for dinner. Delicious local cuisine and great company was just the start of the evening. Having arrived on a Sunday during Lenten we were able to witness a truly spectacular procession from a bird’s eye view in our restaurant of the evening. The open balcony door replaced smells of rice, beans and chicken with ceremonial incense. Atop a sea of purple cucuruchos sat intricately adorned floats all in celebration of Lenten. It was a unique opportunity to watch this beautiful tradition before starting a week of hard work.

As the procession wound down so did we. We retired for the evening to prepare for our journey into Santa Cruz del Quiche the next morning to finally meet the community of Patzalam Choacaman. Keep updated on our journey this week through our blog as the real work begins and we start putting hammer to nail to build a school.

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Envisage International Partnered with School the World to Increase Accessibility of Education in Guatemala

Envisage International Partnered with School the World to Increase Accessibility of Education in GuatemalaOn March 4th eight volunteers from Envisage International will head to Guatemala to build a school and playground in the small community of Choacaman Patzalam. Envisage has partnered with IvyWise, the world’s leading educational consultancy, and Flywire, the premier provider of international payment, on this initiative through School the World (STW). There will be 21 total volunteers that head to Guatemala for one week to construct a school and playground in one of the country’s poorest communities.

“Together our three companies will fund and build a school in Guatemala, but School the World is an incredible organization that does so much more than just build schools.” says Keith Clausen, President of Envisage International. “By enlisting community and government support, training teachers and parents, building playgrounds and libraries and committing to each of their communities for at least 5 years, the School the World model ensures that education in those communities will be forever changed.”

School the World is a nonprofit organization with the goal to provide access for quality education to those living in the rural villages of Central America. STW first broke ground in Guatemala in 2009 and has since built 53 schools and 30 playgrounds, trained more than 255 teachers and enrolled nearly 6,400 students in Honduras and Guatemala combined.

Get Involved

Each volunteer has committed to fund-raising half of the cost of their participation, with the companies contributing the other half plus the necessary fixed amount to cover the hard costs of school construction. The overall fundraising goal is $105,000. If you would like to read more on how Envisage International partnered with School the World to increase accessibility of education in Guatemala, or to help support our initiative you can learn more on our fundraising page.

You can also follow the adventures of the 2018 EIC Guatemala team using the hashtags #EICSchoolTheWorld2018 and #EnviFlyWiseSTW.

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