Ask Ada about subject topics


The ability to support subject specific questions from students is a key trait of a campus digital assistant. The Ask Ada button was first introduced to Bolton College's suite of online tutorials over 2 years ago so students could pose questions to Ada about the topics or key words that they discovered whilst they were going through their online tutorials. The learning technology team at the College recently updated the service so that it could accommodate for a growing number of questions across multiple subject domains; and to do so at scale for students at Bolton College and elsewhere. Here is a short demo of the Ask Ada button within an online tutorial:

The Ask Ada service has the following characteristics when it is embedded within an online tutorial:

  • The look and feel of the Ask Ada button can be managed remotely. If the design of the button is changed, the change is reflected automatically across all tutorials that feature the service.
  • Subject specialists can amend the responses that Ada presents to students remotely. This means that content can be updated with ease and there is no need to republish individual tutorials.
  • The responses from the Ada service can incorporate the use of text, hyper-links, documents, images and video.
  • Each tutorial is supported by a subject specific chatbot. When a question is posed by a student within a tutorial, the Ask Ada service will identify the unique identification code that is carried by the query and assign the correct chatbot to respond to the question. The team decided against having a general purpose subject chatbot because the error rate would have been too high as the number of questions rose to many hundreds or thousands.
  • Subject specific chatbots can be tailoured to meet the needs of students at various academic levels. Teachers can train subject chatbots so that they can respond with answers to support questions from students who are on a GCSE Business or Level 3 Business course and more.

How will the service develop?
There are numerous opportunities for developing the subject specific Ask Ada service. Some of these are listed below:

  • The subject domain knowledge for each chatbot could be crowd-sourced. Teachers and other subject specialists could volunteer their expertise and time to support the service. We would require additional resources to develop and maintain the service. In return, Bolton College could offer the service to schools and colleges who wish to make use of the service within their online tutorials or student facing websites.
  • The response from the Ask Ada service could be tailoured to each student as he or she poses a question. This would utilise the campus dataset around each student to adapt and personalise responses to their questions.
  • Teachers could be kept informed about the types of questions being posed by their students. This may flag a topic that requires further attention.
  • Digital libraries on each subject could be used to act as a knowledge source for each chatbot. This would expand a chatbot's knowledge base but it may contain more errors and the responses may not be curated in a manner that suits the needs of the student or teacher.