Realizing the potential of chatbots in higher education

Written by:
Lars Willner

What is EDUBOTS all about?

Edubots is a so-called Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance, with consortium members from 6 European countries. The aim is to document and develop best practice use of chatbots in Higher Education. We have a couple of big hairy goals, that the partners are working hard to achieve. We welcome all universities in Europe to participate in the project activities and make use of the research, free learning resources and free tools that we will make available.

As consortium leaders, me and my team at Differ are extremely happy to have so many great partners across Europe, to realize the potential of chatbots in higher education: Leeds University (UK), Granada University (Spain), Zagreb University (Croatia), RISE (Cyprus), Differ.Chat (aka Edtech Foundry AS - Norway) and Hubert Labs AB (Sweden)

  1. Document best practises for the use of chatbots in higher education.
  2. Proven up to 50 % lower dropout rates.
  3. Allow 5.000 HE educators participating in an open knowledge sharing community (cMOOC) with a potential reach of 500.000 students.

How can chatbots help increase educational attainment across Europe?

In this blog post, we would like to give you a bit of background to why we believe this project is of importance. Let me start by giving you some European high-level context:

In the perspective of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the ambition to have at least 40% of the 30-34 year-olds holding a tertiary education qualification by 2020, the issue of increasing educational attainment is gaining importance in the national and international debates on higher education. Reducing dropout and increasing completion are regarded as prime strategies to achieve higher attainment levels. A key concern is that too many students in Europe drop out before obtaining a higher education diploma or degree. This is a problem across the EU, as success in higher education is vital for jobs, social justice and economic growth, ref rethinking education.

Given the socio-economical potential of increasing educational attainment, what is the specific challenges we are intending to address in the Edubots project?

1) Digital generation meet old-fashion education

Students entering the university during the last few years are considered to be the “digital generation” and are a generation strongly dependant on digital computing technologies. They are ready to use technologies in any aspect of their everyday life.

At the same time, the study process in universities remains “old-fashioned”, which could decrease students’ motivation and involvement in learning. Yet, a student-centred approach with a clear focus on the promotion of students’ self-regulation, reflection, autonomy, and responsibility through the use of formative assessment and timely feedback is widely accepted as an integral part of the learning process. However, in cases of large student groups, formative assessment is hard to implement and feedback from educators’ is typically delayed and in the worst case, is not provided at all.

2) Chatbots in education fails to live up to its potential

Chatbots are predicted to fundamentally change the way humans interact with service providers, by replacing apps, websites and slower channels, such as phone and email. Chatbots are conversational user interfaces, where customers interact with digital services through text or voice dialogue. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots can identify customer intent and provide relevant answers to customer requests. The global chatbot market is estimated to grow from $0,1 B in 2015 to $1 B in 2024; a 30% compound annual growth rate.

By automating dialogue, the value-added potential for chatbots in higher education is immense. However, current chatbots often fail this purpose. Use-cases are weak and chatbots are not seen as creating the promised engaging and useful experiences. One reason for this failure, is the lack of knowledge on how to use and implement in higher education. There exists no best practise or wide-spread case studies.

3) Educators need training

The unsolved needs are

i) Get started

  • Training to get started
  • Customisation needed for a new institution

ii) Bot interactions

  • When should the bot reach out to students?
  • How should the chatbot create a safe place for the students?
  • How to facilitate formative assessment and feedback loops

iii) Pedagogical support

  • Bot tone of voice
  • Which chatbot activities gives value
  • How chatbots do scaffolding for numerous concurrent learners

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