Humans of Edubots - Joonas Pesonen

Written by:
Lars Willner
Doctoral student at University of Helsinki, Chief Product Officer at Annie Advisor Ltd, Finland

What's your name, how old are you and where do you come from?

Joonas Pesonen, 32 years old. I live in Espoo, Finland.

What do you do for a living?

I’m both a researcher and an entrepreneur. As a researcher, I am working on a PhD with the topic ”Technology-enhanced self-regulation of learning” at University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences. As an entrepreneur, I am a co-founder of Annie Advisor, a company aiming to decrease the stigma of seeking help and improve students’ sense of belonging with a student support chatbot.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

It’s very important for me that the goal of my job is to have an actual positive impact on human wellbeing. Moreover, I’ve been able to find a perfect balance between theory and practice. One day I might be reading academic papers on students’ help-seeking challenges and the other day seeing how hundreds of students get help while using our chatbot Annie.

Can you remember the first time you met a chatbot?

I think it dates back to when I was a teenager and active in IRC-channels. Some channels had these simple bots reacting to certain expressions. The song ”Boten Anna” by Basshunter was a big hit at the time. Most people thought the lyrics where about a boat, while they actually were about an IRC-bot. Or actually a human that was mistaken for a bot!

How would you describe your current relationship to chatbots?

I really realized the power of chatbots just last year when I begun reading ”Replika” chatbot user experiences. It kind of freaked me out, how personal and meaningful connections people had with their chatbot companions.

How do you believe students will engage with chatbots in the future?

In the short term, I can see two trends. First, ”FAQ” chatbots that students can ask all kinds of practical questions (think Siri for education). Second, proactive chatbots such as Annie that check up on students and offer them services or resources as needed.

In the long term, I can think of a study companion chatbot who becomes personally meaningful to the students and supports them in self-regulating the cognitive, metacognitive, behavioral, motivational, and emotional aspects of their learning. But many technical as well as ethical questions need to be solved before this can become reality.

What are you hoping to get out from the Edubots project?

I’ve so far been lucky to connect with other researchers and practitioners interested in this fascinating topic and I hope to make more new friends!