Author: Bala Iyer and Kristen Getchell
A note to readers: Bala Iyer passed away before this article went to print. His co-author would like to dedicate this piece to him. As dean of faculty, Bala inspired a culture of innovation and excellence in the classroom, and he will be greatly missed by the Babson community.
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ver since reading the article about how Professor Ashok Goel
used bots to enhance the student experience for his computer science class, we have been wondering how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used in education. At our business school, we do not use this technology to manage our every day interactions, but, as part of a strategic reflection on the possibility of AI in our classes, we have begun to brainstorm about the promise that AI holds. Like companies, educational institutions are investing in improving the digital experience of students by using technology to create, manage, deliver, and optimize student experience anytime, anywhere. We believe there are ways to use AI to improve effectiveness and efficiency in the classroom.
The idea is to build a trusted relationship with students across touch points. In particular, we have been focusing our discussions on the use of chatbots—software and computer programs that mimic human conversation using artificial intelligence to perform tasks for humans. We are not advocating using chatbots to completely replace the student-teacher relationship. Instead, we argue that chatbots can help shift some of the student-teacher interactions to AI while providing more time for a focus on content.
The following are ways that we see possibility for AI enhancing the students experience in and out of the classroom:
- Build student acuity with AI. Our personal and professional worlds are incorporating more and more AI features. Our students may find themselves working with automated technologies as soon as they leave campus. Engaging with AI during their studies gives students an opportunity to build comfort with these technologies and even be inspired to find value in AI in their professional lives. Further, they will be more accustomed to understanding the limitations of AI and will be able to identify AI when they are interacting with it and negotiate the experience with more fluidity.
- Address the FAQs. Early in the semester, students have questions about the location of the class, syllabus material, or even the time for exams. Wouldn't it be great if they simply ask a bot and get answers to them? Data collected by the bots would also help instructors understand the major concerns that students have before taking a class and during the initial days of a course and allow instructors to gather data on these interactions to revise their approach to better address the needs of their student audience.
- Leverage LMS systems. Incorporating chatbots with a learning-management system like Blackboard or Canvas would allow these places of instruction to become more interactive. Using bots within an LMS system would drive students to the LMS and provide a convenient guide once they are there. Often, we find LMS systems are merely used as a repository for course content. Using bots in conjunction with an LMS system would enhance the usability of the LMS and provide opportunities for student engagement.
- Manage content. Bots can help students manage tasks within a course by notifying students of upcoming deadlines and missed assignments. During the course, bots can monitor key learning metrics, test for understanding of learning goals, and redirect the learner to the content where they can look for answers. Further, chatbots can continue to support student learning by identifying fresh content on the same topic or directing them to material from previous courses.
- Automate and personalize support tasks. Chatbots can answer questions from students 24/7 and even take on personalities that are more appropriate to student contexts. Since chatbots can learn student habits and preferences, over time, a bot can be highly trained to suit a particular student. It can almost be his or her agent, fixing meeting times with faculty that are convenient, assembling relevant materials for a test, registering for classes, and scheduling advising sessions. After the chatbot has been used by the students for three to four years, it has a good idea of what a given student likes to read. Thus, students can leave college with a highly trained personal agent that will continue to provide relevant information to them (as opposed to training a new chatbot from scratch). Since all the training data related to a chatbot can be shared on the cloud, independent of a college’s telecommunications network, students can continue to access their bot even after they leave the college. In the future, we can imagine chatbots sharing data just like web browsers share users’ browsing data.
- Administer autonomous pre-courses. With AI bot technology, colleges can consider offering autonomous courses to help prepare students for college content. If there are concerns about student preparedness, colleges can encourage students to enroll in summer autonomous courses to reinforce certain concepts important for their degree courses. These courses will run based on student engagement and adapt to learning styles and prior knowledge. In addition, administration of tests and courseware will be tuned to student requirements and needs.
- Support Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) and institutional research. With the ability to collect and archive data about student needs, preferences, and habits, bots can help teacher-scholars and institutional researchers answer questions about administrative processes and pedagogical practices that can be used to improve the learning experience of students.
In all cases, AI should be used ethically and transparently to augment the student learning experiences. While some of these suggestions are far from being implemented widely today, instructors should consider the possibility that AI holds for their own classroom.
Before his passing, Bala Iyer was the dean of faculty and a professor of technology and operations management at Babson College.
Kristen Getchell is director of rhetoric and visiting associate professor of rhetoric at Babson College. She tweets @kmgetch.