Sep 10 2021

Chatbots Allow Educators to Delegate Repetitive Tasks and Focus on Teaching

AI-enabled chatbots are taking on the roles of tutor, college adviser and school administration assistant.

The chatbot revolution isn’t coming — it’s already here. It’s been five years since an AI-enabled chatbot called Jill Watson fooled many students in an artificial intelligence class at Georgia Tech into thinking they’d been interacting with a human teaching assistant all semester. Considered the world’s first intelligent chatbot and powered by IBM Watson technology, Jill Watson took between 1,000 to 1,500 hours to build.

Today, more educational institutions have embraced chatbots, the engaging tech tool commonly used by many businesses to provide cost-efficient customer support. Wherever it’s been deployed, conversational AI –– powered by natural language processing and machine learning — allows schools to better connect with students and saves teachers and staff time on repetitive tasks. One example: The Let’s Talk! Assistant, an AI chatbot from K12 Insight, has helped school districts like those in Joliet, Ill., and Fort Wayne, Ind., to stay in constant communication with parents and students by accepting feedback and answering questions 24/7.

Chatbot Serves as Virtual College Adviser

Colleges have had success with chatbots for a few years, but high school students can now benefit from the first nationally accessible (and free) AI college adviser chatbot, Oli. The tool is the result of a partnership between Common App and Mainstay (formerly AdmitHub). Oli stands ready to help students around the clock with a wide range of tasks, such as selecting the right school, completing college and scholarship applications and understanding financial aid forms. It responds to questions via text and also sends users deadline reminders, updates and resources several times a week. When extra help is required, Oli connects students with a trained college adviser from College Advising Corps.

RELATED: Counselors take an online approach to helping high school students with college decisions.

AI-Powered Tutoring On Demand

While education leaders and policymakers have been pushing tutoring as a solution to the crisis of COVID-19 learning disruption, supporting every student in need with a human tutor isn’t feasible nor affordable. Researcher Neil Heffernan, a computer science professor and director of the Learning Sciences and Technologies graduate program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is working on technology to support human tutors.

These AI-powered tutor chatbots would democratize private tutoring, something that’s not available to many students. Heffernan believes that on-demand, AI-driven tutor chatbots are an important addition to the learning experience and will easily integrate across a school’s system existing technology.

“To me, AI is just a set of simple tools that we can use, in this case, to figure out some problems that teachers and kids are persistently having,” says Heffernan. “The real magic is giving human tutors and teachers a little bit of information on what’s going on so they can be more efficient.”

The Chatbot Future Is Now

AI-enabled chatbots are likely coming soon to a school near you to help with class scheduling, tutoring, college applications, collecting feedback and a lot more.

“Teachers shouldn’t be scared,” Heffernan says. “Like many things in AI, the chatbots are going to slowly come in and, I hope, actually help kids when humans are not available.”

KEEP READING: Schools can use artificial intelligence to keep students engaged in online learning.

Photography by Gorodenkoff; Weedezign /Getty Images

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