How bots improve the student experience

April 5th, 2019

It’s no secret that technology is changing both how students learn and educators teach. But as schools and universities around the world start using bots for everything from answering course-related student questions to simplifying class registrations and handling tutorial schedule, the question many are asking is this: Do bots really benefit the student experience?

While long-term studies still need to be conducted, early research into bots and student engagement is positive. One study found 89 percent of students thought using bots for practicing tests was a good idea, while 72 percent said bots would help them engage more in course material.

Our client feedback supports the research findings, too. After Cloud Collective deployed a chatbot named Question Bot in Microsoft Teams for a UNSW course, the class had the highest engagement rate in its school. When the lecturer asked for user feedback at the end of the semester, 100 percent of students said that either the bot was helpful, or they had not used it. There was no negative feedback.

So, how exactly do bots improve the student experience? Here are three key ways, based on Cloud Collective’s recent Microsoft Teams chatbot project at UNSW.

1. Bots support collaborative work

Learning is becoming an increasingly collaborative experience, thanks in large part to the internet. For today’s students who have grown up collaborating using online technologies, there is now “a greater emphasis on collaborative rather than individual inquiry” than ever before.

Bots support collaboration by promoting peer answering and learning. For example, when UNSW’s Question Bot is @mentioned by a student in a Microsoft Teams channel conversation, the app drops an actionable card to identify the correct response among all replies in the thread. Students have the opportunity to help each other find the right answer, rather than relying solely on their lecturer or tutor.

Similarly, Question Bot directs questions to users who have provided answers to similar questions in the past. This makes learning more efficient and further reinforces a culture of collaboration.

2. Bots help students find answers quickly

Imagine that you’re an engineering student with an assignment due at 11am. Now imagine it’s 2am that same morning, and you need clarification about one of the assignment’s tasks.

While you could email your lecturer or tutor, you might not hear back until after the assignment is due – and with hundreds of students in the course, they might miss your email entirely.

Sounds stressful, right? Bots like UNSW’s Question Bot eliminate hassles like this in three ways:

  1. Suggest answers – Question Bot learns from previous questions and answers to dynamically construct its own knowledge database. As a result, it can suggest answers to users much faster than a lecturer or tutor can respond.
  2. Track answered and unanswered questions – When Question Bot can’t help with an answer, it automatically lets staff know which questions have been answered, and which still need a response. Students can be confident that their questions will be answered, instead of getting lost in a lecturer’s inbox.
  3. QR codes – In courses that require students to show their working out, such as engineering, bots can help identify errors much faster. UNSW, for example, added QR codes to the classes’ workbooks. When students upload pictures of their working out to Teams, Question Bot can then read the QR code and cross-reference the question with its own knowledge base to provide an answer quickly.

3. Bots simplify studying and exam preparation

There’s no denying that exam preparation can be difficult. With an entire semester of material to review, where should students direct their efforts? How do they know that they understand the key concepts correctly?

At UNSW, Question Bot keeps track of answered questions by course topic. This makes it easy for students to review material related to specific topics and be confident that they are getting the right answers.

Are you ready to deploy bots at your university?

When it comes to improving the student experience, there’s a strong case to be made for deploying bots. From promoting collaboration to helping students learn faster, bots afford countless benefits for students and teachers alike. To find out more about bots in education, register to our upcoming Q Bot webinar.

This is the final post in our three-part bots in education blog series. To read the two previous posts, click on the links below: