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Chatbot AbilitiesJuly 4, 2017Written by Alex Debecker

A Chatbot for Education: Next Level Learning

chatbot for educa

As industry leaders, we are frequently confronted with a wide array of different chatbot ideas.

Every now and then, we get the chance to discuss a chatbot for education. It's rare -- though getting more frequent, since the number of universities using chatbots has significantly increased -- but we do love the idea of bringing education to the next level thanks to artificial intelligence and always on 'teacher bots'.

What can chatbots do for education? What has been done and what is the future holding for AI in a learning setting?

In this article, I am going to go over a recent case study, a few thoughts from world leaders, and some of my own feedback on what could be done to augment education with chatbots.

The register has been taken. Settle down, class. Let's get started.

guide to chatbots in universities

Case study: Introducing a chatbot for education to Georgia Tech

We have been working on an extremely exciting project which should see the light in September later this year. Combining AI, education, and health for universities around the UK is a rewarding challenge.

Unfortunately, as with most of the work we do, we are to keep quiet about it until the actual release. So, instead, we will cover a great public case study about AI in education.

In Georgia Tech, Ashok Goel's computer science students were introduced to Jill Watson, a helpful TA. Unbeknownst to the students, Jill was actually a fully AI-driven chatbot deployed specifically to help them on the online forum the students use to ask questions about the course.

Though most of Goel's students were actually graduate-level in artificial intelligence, none spotted the robot amongst them during the entire 4-month course.

Closed door training and introducing the chatbot

Goel obviously knew what he was doing when introducing his educational chatbot to the class. He didn't just deploy his chatbot into the wild and hoped for the best.

Instead, he trained his bot behind closed doors by submitting it the students' questions and tweaking its answers. Once the bot's answers became more accurate and reliable, only then did Goel release the chatbot to his students.

This teaches us the importance of training a chatbot behind closed doors. Though closed doors training will not bring your chatbot to perfection (only real interactions will eventually bring you closer to perfection), it is incredibly important to go through that step first to weed out the obvious errors.

What was the actual impact of Jill Watson in this class? Unfortunately, this case study doesn't tell us that. I'd love to know if it actually saved the teacher's time or some answer accuracy rating. For now, we'll have to stick with the fact that it was a pretty awesome case study nonetheless!

Chatbots in education? Bill says yes

Turns out we are not the only ones excited about the idea of chatbots helping people learn around the world.

Bill Gates recently shared his excitement with The Verge. The reason for his excitement? He sees chatbots as a go-to knowledgeable 'person' you can speak to whenever you are stuck.

Although you may find all the information you need to learn about a topic on a website, this information remains static and impossible to interact with. Gates sees chatbots as an opportunity to interact with the material, ask questions, express frustration and, eventually, understand.

Gates said, "You know, part of the reason I’m so willing to tackle new subjects is that for each of those subjects, if I get utterly confused, I know somebody I can send an email to, and they’ll straighten me out."

Though 75% of people have yet to interact with a chatbot, we can easily imagine the power of having access to a knowledgeable 'person' you can interact with on any topic, from anywhere in the world, for free through messaging apps.

That is, I hope, the future of education through chatbots.

How can chatbots help education?

An Alex article would not be complete without a few ideas thrown around, so here we go.

Save time

One of the things chatbots do best is save us humans time. Automating the boring allows us to focus on what we do best. This is true for sales, this is true for HR, and this is true for education. Ashok Goel's TA chatbot wasn't built to trick his students. It was built to save him and his other human TAs time by not having to answer boring old 'when is the paper due' type of questions.

Your university pal

I don't know if you remember this but going to uni the first time is really scary. I distinctly recall not knowing anyone, being thrown in an auditorium of 3,000 students, and facing a massive campus full of confusing buildings.

A university pal chatbot can be there for you at the very start. Where is the student union? Where is auditorium 25B? Who should I talk to about a leak in my student housing?

In fact, Cornell is using a similar chatbot idea to welcome their students this fall (Editor's note, Mar 8, 2019: it looks like Cornell took their chatbot down).

Learning 3.0

When I was at university, I remember my teachers constantly telling us to read additional books. These books weren't on the curriculum but would be great resources to help us along.

I see chatbots as an amazing additional resource for students. How would you put an automated AI-driven chatbot to good use? Easy! On-demand quizzes about the topic you're teaching. It's a perfect opportunity to train for the final exam, get notes on the questions you've failed, and positive reinforcement on the ones you've aces -- all automated, without using the teacher's precious time.

I hope this all inspired you to do some learning. Did it? Fantastic.

Learn about chatbots.

Learn about consumer sentiment towards chatbots.

Learn how universities are leveraging chatbots.