Get Schooled by AI: Use Cases of Chatbots for Education

June 3, 2020
12:00 am

Chatbots for education, specifically, could be deployed over messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp), custom school apps (when available), or the school’s website.

From there, they can be accessed by students, parents, teachers, and school staff for various reasons. 

“Can you tell me the answers to tomorrow’s chemistry test?”

Well, wouldn’t students like a chatbot that could answer this question?

Don’t worry, chatbots aren’t cheaters. But, they can greatly enhance classroom education and educate the general public (think about chatbots that help you learn a foreign language on your mobile, e.g. Duolingo bots).

Chatbots come in handy

Although we tend to think of education as an industry that isn’t too tech-savvy, technology has made its way in schools. According to research, education is one of the five top industries benefiting from chatbots right now.

Consider the case of a college professor who developed a chatbot to assist students before, during and outside of his class. The chatbot provided feedback on presentations, access to a bibliography and examples used during lessons and information and notifications about classes.

In 2019, he released the results of a poll of 700+ of his students about their experience with Ed the chatbot. Ninety-nine percent said they were satisfied with it and 63 percent said they would like to see chatbots integrated into all of their classes.

Similar, although much more successful and publicized, is the story of Jill Watson, an AI assistant developed by Ashok Goel to help him manage the overflow of student questions that he and his teaching assistants found difficult to handle. After Jill was trained and introduced to students in 2016, she could pass for an actual human for the whole semester until her identity was revealed. 

The benefits of chatbots for education

Chatbots can be used in a variety of ways, but the benefits are roughly the same across use cases. These benefits include:

  • Accurate information. Instead of information being exchanged (and often distorted) via word of mouth, students can get accurate answers from the school itself.
  • Timely communication. In general, 64 percent of internet users think 24-hour service is the best feature of chatbots. For schools, most of which don’t operate 24/7, chatbots are a way for students and parents to get answers instantly whatever the time. 
  • Serving multiple students simultaneously. The chatbot can answer questions from many students at once without each student having to wait in line at the administrator’s or teacher’s office. Also, unlike humans, chatbots have endless patience and don’t mind how many times the same student asks the same question.
  • Personalized outreach. Schools send important messages to students about issues like enrollment processes, payment reminders etc. As Timothy Renick, senior vice president for student success at Georgia State said in an article in NYT: “Mass outreach is not responsive to individual problems.” A chatbot allows you to personalize your message to each student while sending mass notifications.

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Wondering more specifically about what chatbots can do for educational institutions?

Six common use cases of chatbots for education

1. Provide students with access to information 

Students, especially at certain times of the year such as beginning and end of semesters, have lots of questions about their lesson plans, classes, schedules, and school guidelines. When a teacher has dozens of students to teach, it’s time-consuming to answer these same questions one by one. 

Chatbots for education can be programmed by a school (or an individual teacher by uploading material related to their course) to answer questions like:

  • Who’s teaching Economics 101?
  • What time does chemistry class start?
  • Can I see the exercise from the math class?
  • What was the essay we analyzed in literature class yesterday?
  • How are history tests graded?

Also, new students can rely on the school chatbot to help them settle into their new school. These students can use the chatbot to find their way around classes and facilities and sign up for activities that may interest them.

Chatbots can also send reminders when needed to help students keep up with their classes (e.g. “You’ve got a history test today!”)

Michelle, one of chatbots for education used by University of the People
Screenshot of Michelle, the chatbot of UoPeople

2. Provide administrative support 

Whether in high schools or higher ed, chatbots for education are programmed to answer common questions and help students (or prospective students) with administrative topics, such as:

FunctionHow chatbots helpExampleCollege admissions and enrollmentAnswer questions about documents or deadlines, and give instructions. When is the deadline to enroll in this class?Campus tours and eventsHave the complete event schedule of each school available, and answer questions of prospective students.Can I take a campus tour?Fees and financial aid programsAnswer basic questions about types of financial aid (e.g. grants, scholarships, loans) and provide standard fees info.How can I get a scholarship?Student health servicesProvide instructions on health matters (e.g. how to dispose of chemicals after chemistry class) and advise during tough situations like the 2020 pandemic.Should I wear a mask in class because of COVID-19?News about school operations and changesAnswer questions about school operations (e.g. closing times).What time does the library close?Information and availability of facilities (e.g. gyms, study rooms)Be connected to a facility information and booking system and answer questions on availability.Is study room F available now?

The 24/7 benefit we mentioned above is very important in these cases as well, perhaps more. 

Also, imagine the usefulness of chatbots in times of crises, when parents and students have loads of questions that can overwhelm school employees. Such is the case of the 2020 pandemic when schools may slowly reopen and many parents are concerned about the dangers. As students get back to the classroom, questions about health and safety measures, school hours, and protective gear are likely to rise in numbers.

And regardless of the pandemic, questions like “Is the school closed tomorrow?” in cases a blizzard hits or some other cause can be quickly and effectively answered by a helpful bot.

3. Offer proactive reminders and assistance

The chatbot doesn’t just have to be the recipient of questions – schools can use it to proactively send reminders, news, or messages. These could be “Be careful, some construction is happening near the main entrance” or “The school hasn’t received your financial aid application.”

This could be invaluable help with the so-called summer melt – the motivation of students who’ve been admitted to college waning over the summer. 

By using the chatbot Pounce to send personalized reminders and walk students through school processes, Georgia State University was able to reduce summer melt by 19 percent in the first year of implementation and increase the percentage of students completing pre-enrollment processes like submitting immunizations and transcripts or moving faster through the FAFSA verification process (federal student aid).

Pounce, Georgia State University's chatbot

Pounce chatbot, of Georgia State University

4. Act as personal tutors

AI chatbots for education can assess the learning style and abilities of students who use them. This way they can tailor lessons to each student to help them learn more easily. Chatbots for education can be used:

  • In the classroom. The chatbot could provide explanations and support according to each student’s needs.
  • Out of the classroom. The chatbot can help students study and review material with learning methods, like the spaced repetition technique.

A great benefit to this chatbot use is promoting inclusiveness in education. Not every student learns the same way, and many have learning disabilities requiring one-on-one lessons and extra care. A chatbot tailors learning and lectures by analyzing each student’s needs and subjects or courses that give them the most trouble.

This can help ease each student’s difficulties and help them learn at the pace they’re comfortable with.

5. Engage students

Let’s face it, some parts of learning are boring. Regardless of subject matter, the act of reading and memorizing can sometimes lull even the most dedicated students. Also, modern students of every age are used to getting quick answers over a variety of mediums, including video and search engines.

Chatbots for education provide instant answers and can help create more engaging studying experiences. Bots can use decision trees to guide students within a series of questions and answers to understand each topic better. See, for example, the Quizbot named Frosty the Penguin, developed by a research team at Stanford that found this bot was more effective in helping students learn than flashcards:

If you’ve got interactive content, such as video tutorials, chatbots can tap into your library and provide relevant content to help students study. Not to mention, some chatbots can facilitate learning, e.g. by playing music for concentration by integrating with music apps like Spotify.

And, especially when access to schools is limited (like in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic or another natural disaster), interacting with a chatbot may be a better way of learning for students than just having to read textbooks alone.

6. Help teachers teach

A chatbot is a powerful virtual assistant for teachers, too. It can handle part of repetitive or administrative tasks on its own, and also help teachers create more detailed learning plans and materials. More specifically, teacher can use chatbots for education to:

  • Provide details about lessons or assignments. Instead of having to answer repetitive questions from students about deadlines, exercises, and lessons, teachers can employ chatbots to ensure students have the information they need.
  • Score tests. Multiple choice tests can be deployed, answered, and scored via chatbots. In the future, chatbots may be able to score open-ended exercises (like essays), too, if machine learning algorithms can be applied properly in chatbots for schools.
  • Get feedback. Chatbots can be used as survey tools for teachers’ performance. Teachers can then get anonymous scores from students on lessons or presentations along with more detailed feedback that chatbots collect.
  • Track student attendance. Not just for administrative purposes, but also because teachers can then send additional material to students who missed classes or encourage them to ask questions about the lecture via the chatbot.
Hubert, a chatbot for gathering feedback
Example of Hubert, a bot that gathers feedback from students for teachers

What to consider when implementing chatbots for education

To implement a chatbot, choose a well-designed software to create the chatbot. There are companies that specialize in chatbots for schools, but you can also go for companies that offer chatbots in various industries. Whatever the case, make sure you consider these factors:

  • Data privacy. Especially when your students are minors, you need to be extra careful about how the chatbot handles and stores data. The same goes for states or countries where privacy laws like GDPR protect the citizens of any age.
  • Chatbot scripts. Chatbots can only be successful if their scripts help them actually understand student questions and provide well-worded answers.
  • Mediums. Chatbots can be deployed in various apps, but make sure this doesn’t exclude a large percentage of students who may not use these apps (e.g. not everyone uses WeChat, Facebook or Viber). Making your bot available in multiple channels is often the way to go.

Lastly, if you’re a school administrator, you might need to deal with concerns from teachers on chatbots for education. Because of the power of AI tech, many people (in many industries) are afraid they might be replaced. But, chatbots certainly cannot replace teachers.

Instead, bots can take up some of the arduous administrative work from teachers’ hands to free up their time for the more meaningful aspects of their profession: building trust relationships with students and shaping their futures as educated citizens.


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