Communication and entertainment trends change at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for educational methods and practices. Thirty years ago, when students wanted a break from study, they would listen to music on cassette players. Alternatively, they would use landline telephones and pagers to arrange dates.
Today, they are communicating through messenger apps and video calls. Their favourite music is being streamed from distant servers, directly to their smart device. Unfortunately, in many public schools in the United States and internationally, printed textbooks, and lecturing to large groups of students are the only available teaching methods.
Education is much less pragmatic and tech-obsessed than the corporate market. It is a strict and heavily regulated system. Although many groundbreaking technologies were patented by universities, educational institutions are not good at using their own inventions for improving the learning process.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the development of artificial intelligence and natural language procession happened when Georgetown University and IBM joined their forces and presented the first demonstration of machine translation.
Today, there are many similar partnerships between corporations and educational institutions that try to make the institutional learning transparent and more efficient. In 2016, Bill Gates has announced that the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation will invest more than $240 million dollars in a tech project. It personalizes institutional learning. Facebook has also followed the Bill Gates’s example and joined the world-famous Summit Learning project.
Students who attend the same class have different skills, interests, and abilities. That is why they need personal tutors, who can provide one-on-one lectures. Unfortunately, even some of the most expensive schools and colleges in the world are not able to provide this type of service. That is why chatbots are the most logical and affordable alternative for personal learning.
The project that involves Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, Facebook and Summit public school, uses bots for basic lecturing. The idea is that chatbots can serve as the virtual advisers, who will adapt their work and curriculum to the students' abilities. This way, the students can follow their own learning pace.
In the Summit Learning project, chatbots serve as vertical tutors. They engage in a dialogue with each student and determine the areas where they are falling behind. Then, chatbots use this data to compose an entirely personalized learning program that focuses on troubling subjects. Their job is also to follow the students’ advancement from the first to the last lesson, check their assumptions, and guide them through the curriculum.
When we talk about educational chatbots, this is probably the biggest concern of teachers and trade union organizations. The answer is no, chatbots won't take anyone’s job. The truth is that they will take over the repetitive tasks and make a teacher’s work more meaningful.
Today, many teachers are solely focused on memorizing lessons and grading tests. By taking over these tasks, chatbots will allow teachers to concentrate on establishing a stronger relationship with students. They will have the opportunity to provide them with personal guidance and enhance the curriculum with their own research interests. This way, teachers will also be able to provide better-quality mentorship. Consequently, this will be especially helpful for students with learning disabilities.
Ashok Goel, a computer science professor at Georgia Tech, is one of the first teachers to simplify his work in this way, with the help of artificial intelligence. He built a chatbot using the IBM’s Watson platform and named it Jill Watson. The bot answers students' questions on an online forum and provides technical information about courses and lectures.
Students believed that Jill is was one of the assistants, and they hadn't noticed any difference before the final exam when the professor told them they were talking to a machine. The reactions were positive. Students praised Jill's abilities, and some of them even wanted to nominate her for the prestigious Teaching Assistant award.
The Summit Learning project and Jill Watson are ideal examples how chatbots can bring constructive change to the learning process and make it more efficient. There are also dozens of simpler bots and Artificial Intelligence apps, used in various schools and colleges.
These programs have one or a few functionalities that tackle specific problems. This article on Chatbots Magazine, written by the creators of Hubert, has pointed out six ways how Artificial Intelligence and chatbots can improve education, and we will list the three most important ones.