Bolton College used IBM Watson to build a virtual assistant that enhances teaching, learning and information access
By Aftab Hussain and Dean Baggaley | 3 minute read | August 18, 2017
- Bolton College in the United Kingdom used Watson Conversation service to build “Ada,” a virtual assistant that enhances teaching, learning and assessment
- Machine learning allows the college to deliver timely, personalized and contextualized learning and assessment materials
- Ada has transformed the way that Bolton College engages with its students and teachers. The chatbot can already respond to over 2,000 questions across multiple domains.
- With the implementation of a chatbot, Bolton College is shaping how students learn, along with saving money for the institution.
Bolton College is one of the leading vocational learning providers in the North West of England, which specializes in delivering training – locally, regionally and nationally – to school leavers, adults and employers. The college employs over 550 industry-expert staff members who teach over 14,500 students across a range of centers around Bolton. The college’s “Learning Technology Team” has a proven reputation for the use of learning analytics, machine learning and adaptive learning to support students as they progress with their studies.
The desire to understand, manage and use structured and unstructured data to improve the outcomes of all its students is one of the main reasons why Bolton College adopted IBM’s Cognitive Platform and Watson Conversation Service. Within the context of personal learning environments, machine learning agents can be used to observe the behavior of students, teachers and support teams, extracting meaning and knowledge from these interactions before directing or combining their activities to satisfy their needs.
AI-powered assistant enhances teaching, learning and :
Digital assistants can be designed and deployed to enhance a range of services that are used by students, teachers and support teams across colleges and universities. Bolton College’s “Learning Technology Team” recently launched a digital assistant called Ada which went live in April this year. With the help of Watson Conversation Service, Ada has been taught to respond to a wide range of student inquiries across multiple domains. The college’s Learning Technology Lead, Aftab Hussain, says that Watson Conversation Service “is representative of a new generation of cognitive technologies that help us simplify student-facing services. It transforms the way students get information and insights that support them with their studies.”
“Working with the API to create the service was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career. Leveraging the tools available in Watson, the services that can be generated to assist students is limited only by your imagination.”
— Dean Baggaley, Lead Systems Developer, Bolton College
With the support of Watson Conversation Service, Ada is able to respond to student questions across these three broad categories:
- General inquiries from students about the college (for example: semester dates, library opening hours, exam office locations, campus activities, deadline for applying for university and more);
- Specific questions from students about their studies (for example: What lessons do I have today/this afternoon/tomorrow? Who are my teachers? What’s my attendance like? When is my next exam? When and where is my work placement? What qualifications do I have? What courses am I enrolled in? etc.)
- Subject specific inquiries from students. Bolton College is teaching Ada to respond to questions relating to GCSE Maths, GCSE English and the employability curriculum.
The college’s Lead Systems Developer, Dean Baggaley says, “Watson Conversation has enabled us to provide a powerful digital assistant to our students, a first for a further or higher education provider in the UK. The service provides a powerful toolset to developers, which gives you the ability to create an amazing interactive experience.
Improved access to information and personalized teaching:
Ada has truly transformed the way that Bolton College engages with its students and teachers, and supports the way the college operates. Already, students and colleagues at Bolton College have created a service that can respond to over 2,000 questions, across multiple domains.
The benefits of the virtual agent include:
- Improved access to information about the college
- Enhances teacher’s ability to deliver personalized teaching, learning and assessment to his or her students.
- Improves teacher’s access to learning and assessment materials for students
- Supports general student inquiries about the college and specific student inquiries about their studies at scale
- Positive return on investment and long-term savings for the college
With the implementation of a chatbot, Bolton College is shaping how students learn, along with saving money for the institution. With the use of cognitive technology, students and schools can change their method of communication to enhance the learning experience.
How can you get started with building a chatbot for your business? Learn more about getting started with Watson Conversation Service.
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