Professor Uses a Chatbot to Help with Class


As we know, professors work hard answering questions, posting discussions, preparing lectures, and grading papers. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a teaching assistant that could automatically answer questions for students online instead of needing the professor to answer all the queries? You bet!

A Georgia Tech computer science professor did just that this spring without the students getting wise. Offering nine different TA helpers to students, the students were unaware that one TA was an AI-powered chatbot and not human. The chatbot teaching assistant, named Jill Watson, was created by computer science professor Ashok Goel to answer repetitive requests for information during massive, online courses. Each semester, Goel and his TA helpers receive more than 10,000 questions on the course’s discussion boards; often, the same question is asked time after time.

Using the artificial intelligence system IBM Watson, Goel used posts from previous semesters and tested Watson for months before deploying it actively. Watson does have limitations – it can only answer questions that it calculates at 97% or more confident of the right answer. Questions it can’t answer are handled by the human TA help.

The response from students once they learned that Jill Watson was a chatbot was overwhelmingly positive. After all, perhaps the best way of teaching AI is to show it in use.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Show an article about how chatbots work:
  2. Poll students about their reactions to the use of AI chatbots as teaching assistants.
  3. Is this a positive or negative advancement?
  4. Divide students into teams. Have team identify a routine job that a chatbot could do.
  5. Poll students: What companies to they think are already using chatbots? What companies could benefit from this technology?

Source: Washington Post, TechWorld, other news sources



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