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The term ‘chatbot’ may not be a universally recognized term yet, but that has not stopped chatbots from embedding themselves in our digital worlds.  Anyone who has a digital voice assistant in their home or classroom has a chatbot, and many of the websites we access regularly use text-based chatbots for at least part of the interaction.

In the classroom, chatbots can be used for simple tasks like checking the weather or playing background music.  As artificial intelligence continues to make inroads in education, the potential uses for chatbots in education grow.

Personalized Education 

There are two ways to think about the role of chatbots in personalizing education.  The first is that students come to the classroom with a variety of skills, interests and prior experiences, which means they need tutors that can tailor lectures and explanations to them and their needs.  This is where chatbots come in. One example of such a chatbot is a project between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook and a public school that uses bots that can adapt lectures based on students’ areas of weakness.

Another way of thinking about the use of chatbots in personalizing education is that learning also takes place outside of the classroom.  Chatbots can be a way to provide support for learners to help them achieve goals such as pass an external standardized exam or improve their use of English in the workplace.

In addition to tailoring content to learners’ needs, chatbots can also use AI to analyze data from students and provide feedback for teachers.  Surveys on teacher performance given through chatbots allow for greater flexibility and interaction because students can explain their answers to multiple choice or ranking questions, which the chatbot can then follow up on to get even more specific information.

Increased Engagement 

Nowadays we are accustomed to receiving an instant response to queries.  Students have the expectations from their schools and teachers. However, it can be difficult for a teacher to respond to 50 or 60 students about the details of an assignment or for a school district to attend to the doubts about an upcoming event from parents.  Chatbots can help to provide instantaneous information about many topics.

One perfect example of this is college admissions.  The summer melt is a term that universities apply to the large percentage of admitted students who do not show up for classes in the fall.  Many of these students are first-generation college students who have little support at home to navigate the college admissions maze.  Chatbots have been shown to keep students engaged in the process by sending reminding, answering questions and pointing students in the right direction.

This example can be transferred to the classroom setting when we think about the repetitive tasks that teachers have to do, such as answering the same question over and over again about an upcoming assignment.  Bots can be used to answer students’ questions about a project or deadline as well as keep track of student absences. By giving teachers a virtual teaching assistant, they are freed up to engage more deeply with their students.

What has been your experience of using chatbots in education?  Have you used one in your classroom? What purposes do you think they serve best?

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