Ada - Bolton College's Latest Digital Assistant



The Information Learning Technology (ILT) Team at Bolton College has successfully deployed a number of digital assistants to support the delivery of learning and assessment materials to students. The use of these digital assistants has enabled the personalisation of teaching, learning and assessment at scale. Digital assistants can also be designed and deployed to enhance a range of other services that are used by students and colleagues. One of the projects that the College's ILT Team is currently working on involves the use of a digital assistant called Ada who is being taught how to respond to a wide range of student enquiries across multiple contexts.

Ada - Bolton College's Digital Assistant for Students, Teachers and Support Teams
The ILT Team and colleagues across the College are currently teaching Ada to improve how she responds to student enquiries. In the following example Ada responds to a question relating to the closing time of the College library.

In the following example Ada seeks clarification before responding to a student's question about a forthcoming assignment submission deadline.

As Ada develops a better understanding of Bolton College and its services she will be better placed to answer the day-to-day questions and queries that are presented to her by students via the College's Student Home Page. The objective for the first phase of the project is a simple one. We want Ada to be in a position to answer as many questions as possible on a wide variety of College services such as student services, student finance, accomodation, transport to and from the College, careers information, UCAS - the university application process, exams, questions relating to the College's sporting programme; organised excursions away from the College and many more.

The second phase of the project seeks to enable Ada to provide contextualised responses to the questions posted by students. Examples include:

  • how well am I doing with my studies?
  • when is my next assignment due in? What grade did I get for my last assignment?
  • where is my next lesson?
  • what exams have I got coming up? Where do I need to be for this afternoon's exam?
  • do I have any overdue library books?
  • at the start of the new academic year students will be able to get answers for questions such as: what is my timetable, who is my tutor, who is teaching me for the various units on my course, where do I need to go to on my first day at the College and so on and so forth.

Ada will also enable the use of natural language to trigger actions by students. For example, I want to make a complaint or I want to send a message to one of my teachers. In these instances Ada will provide the student with a link to the online College complaints page and a link to the student-teacher messaging service.

The third phase of the project will enable teachers and support teams to trigger actions and interventions regarding the students in their care. Examples include:

  • I want to send a message to Student A. I want to send a message to my whole class.
  • Could you show me Student A's academic dashboard?
  • I want to add an intervention to Student A's support record.
  • Which of my students have handed in their assignment?

The use of natural language processing by Ada provides opportunities to improve the way students and colleagues access, engage and interact with digital services at Bolton College. I hope that Bolton College's latest digital assistant will contribute towards the discussion about the use of digital technologies and the manner of their use to support and enhance educational services. I will post updates on Ada over the coming year.