The use of IBM's Watson Conversation Service has enabled the teachers, systems developers and learning technologists at Bolton College to offer tailoured and personalised online conversational tutorials to thousands of students across the campus. The ability to use natural language processing, natural language generation and learning analytics at scale has been warmly welcomed by the College's Information Learning Technology team.
Cognitive services were introduced to Bolton College to fulfill a simple desire to improve business performance and to further enhance the services that are used by its students around the campus. The underlying premise for using cognitive services stems from a problem that is encountered by schools, colleges and universities of all sizes; namely around the availability and the management of very large amounts of data. You would expect that a large volume of data helps educational institutions to better understand complex situations and by de facto enables them to deliver improved services to their students and employees. However, more data often leads to more confusion. We make too many decisions with irrelevant or incorrect information, or with data that represents only part of the picture. The situation is made ever more complex when we come across the oceans of unstructured data were value has yet to be extracted in an education setting. The solution is to use a generation of new tools or cognitive technologies that help us to penetrate complexity and comprehend the world around us. The goal is to transform and simplify the way we get things done (Smart Machines by John Kelly and Steve Hamm - 2013). For Bolton College, it's cognitive assistant for students, teachers and support teams Ada, is part of the solution.
Cognitive services deliver three major value propositions that make them so compelling for the education sector. The first benefit presents an improved paradigm for engaging and interacting with day-to-day services and systems; were students, teachers and support teams use conversation to access information and services that are pertinent to their needs and requirements. The second benefit enables individuals to discover insights that would have been difficult or virtually impossible to envisage without the use of cognitive services. The third benefit enables students and colleagues to make better decisions. Cognitive services are being tasked with making an increasing number decisions to support students, teachers and support teams and it is happening with more frequency.
The Learning Technology Team at Bolton College was delighted to see Ada, Bolton College's cognitive assistant for students, teachers and support teams being featured on IBM's Watson blog.
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.
Lead Systems Developer, Dean Baggaley stated that the "Watson Conversation service 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."
Ada is representative of an emerging suite of cognitive services that are redefining how students, teachers and support teams access day-to-day services at Bolton College. Click here for further information on how cognitive services are adding value to the education sector.
Ada, Bolton College's cognitive assistant for students, teachers and support teams was recently showcased by the Education and Training Foundation for the way the service was used to support teaching and learning in a maths project that was sponsored by The Learning Consortium.
"This pioneering work into supporting learners to develop their maths skills through Artificial Intelligence is truly remarkable. The more a learner uses the system, the more the system literally learns about each individual's needs and supplies relevant material. What is really impressive is the way the College has been able to involve teachers, the technical team and learners to develop this amazing service." Markos Tiris, Executive Director of The Learning Consortium.
How would students enquire, explore, learn and be assessed ... and how would teachers prepare, deliver, assess and administer their courses ... and how would support teams and administrators carry out their work to support the needs of students if they all had access to a personal cognitive assistant or if the software applications that they all used took advantage of cognitive computing? I ask these questions because the answers or solutions that arise from the use of cognitive computing are set to transform the way schools, colleges and universities deliver education services to their local and distributed communities.
Bolton College has successfully completed its application to join IBM's With Watson App program. The With Watson App program is an application verification program designed to provide exclusive brand, business, and technology resources to developers and organisations that are embedding Watson technologies into their services. The With Watson program has enabled Bolton College to verify and validate its Ask Ada service; an online cognitive assistant for students, teachers and support teams. The Ask Ada service takes advantage of IBM's Watson cognitive platform; which enables the College to use the company's natural language processing technology. Entry to the With Watson App program allows Bolton College to use the With Watson branding as part of the Ask Ada service.
Ada is representative of a new breed of conversational services that are about to enter the education sector. Their introduction will not only augment and enhance the capabilities of many online services that are found in schools, colleges and universities such as learning management systems, library management systems and information management systems; but they will deliver considerable value to the students, teachers and support teams who will come to rely on them. Conversational services such as Bolton College's Ada have various facets. These are listed below:
- they act as Oracles - enabling students, teachers and support teams to gather information and insights from around the campus;
- they act as bridges that connect multiple services around the campus together - enabling improved access to information and services for everyone on the campus; and
- they act as agents or digital assistants - providing timely advice, guidance, insights and assistance to everyone on the campus. As digital assistants they undertake numerous jobs and tasks on behalf of individuals and teams to support the student body.
Members of the IBM Watson Conversation Team visited Bolton College to view Ada - Bolton College's digital assistant for students, teachers and support teams. Students from the College's second year HND Computing programme have been involved in teaching Ada how to respond to questions from fellow students. The project has given them the opportunity to explore natural language processing and the world of digital assistants.
The advent of natural language processing and natural language generation services within the education sector is set to address a number of everyday problems and challenges that are encountered by teachers, support teams and administrators in schools, colleges and universities. In this short article I would like to examine how these services will support the production and distribution of the online student report card.
This is a short promotional video that we shared with colleagues to raise awareness of Ada, Bolton College's digital assistant for learners, teachers and support teams.
One of the most interesting aspects about developing a digital assistant for students and teachers has been the potential for the service to support and enhance teaching, learning and assessment. The learning technology team at Bolton College has conducted research to enable the delivery of the following services through Ada:
the ability to deliver personalised, contextualised, differentiated and adaptive learning and assessment materials to each student;
the ability to utilise particular elements of the student dataset to deliver personalised learning to each student. Ada's responses to student questions can be informed by multiple variables such as the academic level of the student, the current performance of the student on the course, student assessment data, the vocational setting of the student, the goals and targets associated with each student and more.
This represents a significant milestone for the ILT team because it means that teachers across Bolton College can offer differentiated and adaptive teaching, learning and assessment materials to the student via Ada as well as Moodle, the College's virtual learning environment.
If we regard schools, colleges and universities as institutions that process information, the management of data represents the first step in many that enables these institutions to deliver education services to their local and wider communities. They start by distilling data into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into actions. However, as the volume of data rises within a school, college or university it becomes increasingly difficult for teachers, student support teams and admin teams to convert data into information, knowledge, wisdom and actions which enable them to support the myriad of students in their respective institutions. In this short article I would like to detail the use of oracles and machine learning agents which could help schools, colleges and universities to capitalise on student data.