Chatbots for Learning Have A Massive Impact on Students and Schools
Chatbots for Learning Have A Massive Impact on Students and Schools
COVID kicked many schools and colleges rudely into the cloud era, helping keep lessons and courses going via remote video-teaching and Office or Google Docs-based tutorials, while using chatbots for Q&As and housekeeping tasks. With an uncertain future ahead of colleges, schools and universities, more chatbots and tools will be needed to cope with major changes to learning strategies and pedagogy.
While politicians might want pupils and students back behind their desks. The reality of COVID means that from the smallest primary or grade school to local colleges up to the mighty Cambridge and Harvard Universities, many will be going remote come the new school year (with Harvard still charging around $50,000 per student for the extreme privilege).
Cloud Tools to the Rescue of Learning
While some schools practically abandoned their pupils during and beyond the lockdown due to poor leadership and knowledge of technology. Others made great efforts to master and promote digital learning, coaching and guidance while encouraging engagement through a range of technologies.
- Zoom became the hero of the hour, offering low-obstacle video calling for lessons (up to 40 minutes long for the free version) with screen-sharing for pupils of all ages.
- Virtual college admission tools help prospects find and explore their potential future colleges without having to physically visit them.
- Chatbots helped provide the latest safety advice during the crisis and can handle large numbers of queries about courses or opening times. They also help with regular tasks time-keeping and other issues.
- Playing a major role, mental health bots helped pupils navigate the troubled emotional waters of COVID.
While many of these tools were ready to go out of the box, products like chatbots need a little development work or training to get them up to standard. Some schools and colleges have been ahead of the curve, using chatbots in education for years to help with onboarding, registration, facilities and so on.
Chatbots Now A Key Learning Tool for Schools
Even during the crisis, in the short term, no-code and low-code bots like those built on the SnatchBot platform (PDF) allowed faculty to create help and support bots for staff and pupils in a matter of hours or days, rather than the endless wait for IT approval, budget and resources.
With a little planning and use of logic, these chatbots help with regular student tasks. beyond the crisis and during normal use, and as students get used to bots in other areas of life (retail, customer support and civil services) they will expect bots to be just as much a part of their learning experience as smartphone apps and laptops.
If you need help on building a bot, this EU funded guide (PDF) provides a step-by-step tutorial on the processes, but playing with our platform – acclaimed for its ease of use, with no coding needed – usually gives enough insight and allows anyone to build their first bot in a few hours and a useful tool for a school in a day or two.
Already, there are chatbots that can deliver exams or tests, that can collate and deliver the results to a teacher or lecturer. Using AI, these bots will be able to spot duplicate work, identify people who are struggling with concepts or language, and flag them for appropriate support.
And, into the future, college bots could handle the whole student/admin/faculty relationship for remote pupils or those on large campuses or in popular courses where one-to-one time becomes scarce.
Developers might be concerned about the use of AI, and pupils may worry about bots knowing too much about them. But with appropriate security and privacy rules, and practical advice and awareness (PDF), everyone will learn about the benefits (and limitations) of bots and AI. Understanding the jargon and how bots work will demystify the technology behind them, such as:
“when bots use Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (NLP) for their conversations with users. Actually, NLP consist of two parts: Natural language processing (NLU) and Natural language generating (NLG). According to (Tutorialspoint, 2019), NLU consists of mapping natural language user input into useful representations and analyzing different language aspects, whereas NLG consists from obtaining appropriate content from the formed knowledge base and choosing appropriate words which form a meaningful sentence and mentions.”
As such, these tools and bots for academic systems (PDF) can help with lifelong learning, become economical teaching assistants and provide invaluable student support, all at remarkably low-cost compared to traditional solutions.
And as AI becomes commonplace in all types of cloud service, bot AI will help deliver more useful information to the student, and insights to faculty that can help them improve results and give help where it is needed most.
One example use case is course evaluation chatbots that will help improve the content and quality of subjects, “using conversational agents (CAs). CAs are software programs which communicate with users through natural language interaction interfaces. Compared to traditional quantitative course evaluations, CAs are able to reach students on their everyday devices and build up a human-like interaction with them. CAs are able to adapt their answers to students’ utterances and can therefore build up a meaningful dialogue with the students almost like a qualitative lecturer-student interview. Backing on social response theory [10–12] this form of human-computer interaction might encourage students to provide a higher quality of answers for lecturers to improve their courses.”
As mentioned, many bots are already operational in schools, and across the wider world of business and careers, delivering results and benefits. For example, as this NISOD Innovation Abstracts piece shows (PDF), productivity bots can collaborate with students and administration to bridge systems or process siloes, and can help:
• Reduce error rates from 29.7% to 2.0%
• Cut processing times by 78%
• Double the number of accounts processed
• Average Handling Time (AHT) decrease by 28% for policy compliance verification
The benefits will vary, but as with most cloud technology, it scales well to larger numbers of users and, even as pupils go back to colleges and enjoy the traditional fun and learning on campus, there will still be a growing need for bots that deliver help and support, especially if COVID or future impacts linger.
Chatbots Are Flexible Tools for All Schools and A Lifeline to Some
Flexibility will be key, as Cambridge noted when it announced remote study until Summer 2021, saying “Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”
And digital tools like chatbots will deliver that flexibility as conversations can be updated in minutes to provide new information, or can add new features like in-chat videos or imagery to support lessons, or to highlight changes in campus rules, access, social distancing or more common changes.
With many students considering their options, such as deferring, heading straight to work or looking at a safer place to study, colleges can use chatbots to help with retention strategies vital as many colleges face funding cuts or falling numbers. Smart bots also help with the biggest challenge when it comes to retention, “it is not a homogenous problem; there is ‘no one size fits all.’ Therefore, the goal for us is to constantly increase our intelligence so that we can increasingly personalize our interactions and suggestions.”
The Big Picture in Education for Chatbots
Schools and colleges aim to open in some form in September. Most pupils and students will be looking forward to going after missing their friends for many months, seeing their education impacted and knowing that the world is moving on without them.
Technology has helped, and will continue to limit the damage of a lost mini-generation, but the push is on to make these technologies standardised and to push them to all. In the UK, the government recently announced a further 18 schools and colleges were handed up to £150,000 each to become “edtech demonstrators”. They have made good use of technology before and during the crisis, and the programme “aims to help education providers who are ‘using technology effectively’ to share their expertise. The providers are awarded between £70,000 and £150,000 in grant funding, with the scheme running until the end of March next year.”
One of those hotbeds of innovation, via Jenny Leach, Exeter College Assistant Principal, noted, “We felt it important to use our expertise in online learning to try and help any schools or colleges who might not be using online learning to its full potential, Exeter College has long been an advocate of advancing digital learning opportunities, and is one of just a handful of colleges in the country to be a ‘Microsoft Showcase College’, which recognises the College’s commitment to engage in innovative online teaching and learning for staff and students.”
Getting the learning success stories out there will help others learn where to go and what to adopt, and in colleges there are plenty of smart students who will see what is being done and can help with suggestions, or perhaps even develop the next big thing in bots or collaboration that could become an industry-standard tool and stock exchange unicorn in the years to come.