Chatbots for Education: The huge potential to transform how students learn

Chatbots in Education

Undoubtedly, the biggest advantage chatbots provide to businesses is automated information delivery. Ask (like a human), and you’ll receive information accordingly. Through interaction, even at a rudimentary level, a chatbot can overcome the limits of traditional information sources, much like how one person would relay knowledge to another.

Hence, the idea of using chatbots for education, a knowledge-heavy and information-focused field, becomes a contender for the next natural progression for learning. But how do chatbots work as a medium of information in education? We shall see how exactly educational systems can use a chatbot to enhance individual learning and campus management as a whole.

Where Do Chatbots Fit in the Classroom?

woman teaching class about chatbots for education
Credit by WolfVision GmbH via Flickr

Like business types and their respective operations, classrooms also have a wide variety of (education) levels, formats, and academic subjects. Even individual students have their own methods of learning in accordance with either their actual aptitude or mood in tackling a school activity.

Therefore, chatbots are a natural fit for the classroom, though they are more applicable to some learning applications over others:

  • School system-exclusive messaging – communication services built to include school personnel and enrolled students can easily integrate a chatbot in much the same way as any popular messaging platform. This will be the base for all information that is to be fetched for the rest of the following applications.
  • Basic lectures – Reading textbooks, digital or otherwise, should be sufficient enough to cover lecture materials. However, the pacing and delivery of a chatbot giving a systematic (albeit tone-deaf) lecture could be more easily digestible. Better yet, you get to be the one who designs the questions!
  • Virtual advisor – a bit of a strange application, since we don’t really have any “analog” equivalent that does not involve a school faculty member. This is basically analytics data but is presented conversationally, and includes several action suggestions.
  • Vertical tutoring – this is used to describe how an assistant entity could help fulfill the work and responsibility of a particular instructor (hence the term “vertical”). Performance assessment and determining key points of improvement are the most important factors.

Chatbots and the School System at Large

Okay, so we understand that chatbots are more or less a perfect fit for educational applications. But, despite similar themes of information inquiry and retrieval, the actual implementation is still going to be markedly different. For one thing, we have several considerations when implementing a chatbot for an academic platform:

  • Students are under the protection of data privacy. Apart from specific higher education settings, a chatbot for education would almost always be designed for minors to use and interact with. If you don’t have a proper system for handling the data that the chatbot collects and stores, the government might come knocking on your door. Even if we exclude the observation of privacy laws, organizations with malicious intent may exploit the chatbot’s security flaws in order to gain access to this sensitive data.
  • The chatbot has to be useful immediately. It has to provide benefits that directly improve convenience. Young students are often impatient, and even faculty personnel expect significantly better results than those they already have. Thus, your chatbot needs to have a very efficient workflow, only taking the shortest route to answer curriculum-related queries accurately. Or, at the very least, the response should be eloquent and well-worded enough to deem the information always useful.
  • Universal accessibility is the absolute key for regular student use. This may sound obvious to a multi-faceted business offering various (separated) services, but in schools, chatbot universality is often overlooked because either a consensus is made to just the most popular platform (for example, excluding anything non-Facebook), or the institution mandates the compulsory use of its proprietary messaging platform. Standardization may be important, but making your chatbot available across multiple channels significantly helps its adoption and adaptation rate even further.
  • Any planned chatbot integration must be met with the appropriate faculty restructuring. No, this does not mean teachers are going to be replaced. It simply means that whatever it is that the chatbot is expected to do well should be removed, or at least modified, into a different priority for the faculty staff. In most cases, this usually means shifting from academic guidance to simpler topic counseling in order to better connect with students at a social level. The chatbot then works out the learning applications listed above.

Indirect Advantages of Chatbots for Education

ligtbulb on black board looking like a mental map for students
Credit by Pixabay via Pexels

Chatbots are well known for their automation benefits, cost savings, and business operation efficiency improvements. But even if pursuing a purely data-driven purpose, there are still many abstract advantages that can be exploited by using chatbots in an educational setting:

  • Lesson and progress personalization – the chatbot can improve post-class hours coordination with students by automatically adjusting lessons and exercises according to their (recorded) level of performance. So while the teacher generally addresses the class during a lecture, the chatbot can provide completely unique vertical tutoring assistance for each student for that participating class session.
  • Draws a mental map of students – chatbots need eloquence and a certain level of artificial empathy for interactive immersion. With an effective design, the system, in theory, should be able to draw out a student’s emotional state of mind. While the chatbot can use it to improve its empathic responses, the faculty staff may also do something directly if the situation calls for it.
  • Draws a technical map of the campus chatbots can also provide the simpler function of being a virtual tour guide. For example, it can offer interactive notifications for facility openings or special activity announcements, both of which can be responded to by inquiring about the activity, signing up for the event, asking for attendee statistics, etc
  • Teachers save time organizing anything – normally this refers to the provision of supplementary learning material to students, which the chatbot is now tasked with. But this also includes handling common queries from students about recent lectures, scheduling extracurricular activities through the school messaging platform, or simply consulting individual students about particular academic issues.
  • It opens more avenues for evaluating student progress – instead of just looking at boring graphs and statistics, chatbots can be an active tool in providing suggestions and notable information tidbits when viewing individual student records. This indirect advantage meshes particularly well with the first one (lesson and progress personalization) when viewed on both the teacher’s and student’s sides.

Possible Obstacles for Chatbots in a School Setting

woman looking puzzled at computer indicating looking for explanation
Credit by Yan Krukov via Pexels

Okay, so we have concluded that chatbots are a perfect fit for educational purposes. But, the system itself would not be perfect, since chatbots would still have inherent limitations with regards to a school setting:

  • Extended development – assuming that it will only be for one (relatively small) institution, a significant period of time is needed to hone and optimize the chatbot. A temporary solution for this is to implement the chatbot in layers, with the simpler, most straightforward features first, then integrate with more ambitious interactive elements later on.
  • Overextended user analytics – with the wide variety of subjects and other academic points of use, analyzing the resulting performance statistics of the chatbot can be very time-consuming. This can then slow down the development and roll-out of features that will augment the resulting points of improvement.
  • Cannot survive without very direct applications – students are notoriously “efficient” when it comes to crossing off academic to-do lists. If the chatbot does not have features that considerably improve convenience (an auto-scheduler, for example), or if such a feature is implemented poorly, there is a chance that the chatbot may not even be used at all.
  • Requires specific maintenance – given that “customer service” personnel are basically the faculty department, maintaining chatbot operations (activity checks, information review, optimization) would more or less claim a portion of the primary teaching workforce. Unless… an external department is set up, further adds to the chatbot’s total costs.

Chatbot in Education: Campus Administrative Support

But at the end of the day, regardless of indirect learning advantages or system implementation issues, educational chatbots will always have some form of administrative support as its automation feature. For campuses and classrooms specifically, this means filtering out and assessing information on:

  • Admission and enrollment
  • School fees
  • Campus operations and events
  • Facility access (laboratories, computer rooms, libraries, etc.)
  • Faculty management (authorized access only)
  • And the students themselves (specifically their availability)

Remember, all of this includes the practical, always active 24/7 availability of chatbots. So from this management point alone, the investment is already worth it. Top it with a sufficiently complex, and probably a bit sassy interactive system to “hit ‘em up” with the students, and we can theoretically combine form and function with the best chatbot for education available.

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