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How Chatbots Could Support Students and Enhance Remote Learning

Researchers at Technical University of Kosice have developed three chatbots designed to assist students completing degrees in electronics, multimedia communications, and computer networks.

By Ingrid Fadelli
May 19, 2020

Chatbots (or conversational agents) can have a variety of potential uses, for instance delivering basic customer service, providing information about a service, or assisting professionals in workplace settings. In recent years, some researchers have also been developing conversational agents that could assist teachers or students in education settings.

Some studies suggest that younger generations can have a shorter attention span, thus they may find reading long texts particularly challenging or tedious. This is thought to be due to their high exposure to short texts (e.g., online comments, instant messages, or chats), as well as to more visual content (e.g., videos or images).

If effectively developed and implemented, chatbots could potentially guide students in their learning, for instance by pointing them to the right course material on a particular topic or providing simple study notes that they can focus on. This could create a more interactive learning experience, helping students to learn faster and more effectively.

With this in mind, researchers at Technical University of Kosice, in Slovakia, have recently developed several different chatbots that could support students throughout their higher education. The researchers tested these chatbots on students attending courses related to electronics, multimedia communications, and computer networks at the university.

Chatbots to help students pursuing degrees in electronics and multimedia communications

KEMTbot, the first chatbot developed by the researchers at Technical University of Kosice, is a simple bot that can be accessed on the Department of Electronics and Multimedia Telecommunications web page. This chatbot can offer basic information about the staff working at the university, as well as general information sourced online.

“Another one of our chatbot concepts is a chatbot which can help students to learn Structured Query Language (SQL),” Stanislav Ondáš, one of the researchers who carried out the recent chatbot study, told discover.bot. “Students can follow topics (about database systems and SQL), which are offered by the chatbot, or they can ask the chatbot how to write SQL SELECTs. This can be especially useful when you want to learn the syntax of concrete queries.” Ondáš and his colleagues also designed a chatbot that can support students as they complete exercises related to the subject of databases.

Finally, they devised an Amazon Alexa skill that allows students to receive answers to their questions about their course simply by asking voice assistant Alexa via their Amazon Echo devices. Currently, the Alexa skill only covers a limited amount of questions that students might ask, yet these could be increased in the future.

“One of the key advantages of our chatbots is that you can learn by listening instead of reading, which can help students to remember new knowledge better,” Ondáš explained. “Listening also helps when you are too tired to sit at the computer. The next important advantage is that our chatbots, particularly KEMTbot, can reduce the need of a long and exhaustive search for information, as a student can simply ask the chatbot.”

Student reactions to these education chatbots

So far, Ondáš and his colleagues evaluated their chatbots by collecting subjective feedback from students who had used them both to study and to source information. Most of the students they surveyed said that the chatbots were useful and also made their learning experience more engaging.

“Students reported to us that they really like this way of learning and that they were able to use their time better, particularly when they were too tired to study,” Ondáš said. “In fact, one of our chatbots allows students to listen to study materials from Amazon Alexa through the special skill we developed.”

Future plans and possibilities

So far, the researchers have primarily developed chatbots that can support students in their learning. However, they feel that chatbots could also help faculty and other staff at the university.

“Chatbots can support both students and teachers,” Ondáš said. “Student learning can be enhanced through chatbots, because they can provide them with coaching and interactivity, which can increase their motivation. Nonetheless, chatbots can also assist teachers by answering some of the students’ most frequent questions without a teacher’s involvement.”

In light of the current COVID-19 crisis and with such a large portion of the global population now in lockdown, chatbots could prove particularly useful for reducing teachers’ workload and simplifying remote learning. In fact, without the possibility of asking teachers questions during or at the end of lectures or seminars, students could benefit from having a virtual assistant that can quickly answer their queries or provide basic information about their course material at any time of the day.

“I think that in the future, chatbots will be teacher assistants and will take over a lot of a teacher’s work, while also allowing students to only focus their attention on new information, helping them to search for information faster and in innovative ways,” Ondáš said. “In our next studies, we plan to focus on designing new chatbots that can assist teachers and faculty staff in the simplest way possible.”

References:

How chatbots can be involved in the education process. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9040095

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