LANCASTER UNIVERSITY 2021 UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH CONFERENCE
10th MARCH - 17th MARCH 2021
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Lancine Conde

Lancine Conde

Computer Science (Ghana) | Year 3 | Degree: Computer Science BSc Hons
Chatbot tutors for e-learning

This research aims at identifying the potential uses of chatbots in the educational context for improving current e-learning platforms which suffer from poor course completion and user retention rates. Chatbots are conversational robots that make use of natural language processing and machine learning to converse with users over a chatroom. They are already being deployed in a variety of fields but are still mostly used in marketing.

This research will ultimately see the construction of a chatbot tutor prototype for teaching basic to intermediate French to English speakers. It will try to bring in the more personal and dynamic dimension that traditional e-learning platforms lack by mirroring the relationship between a tutor and a tutee. The bot will also be made to be as autonomous as possible.

Chatbot building tools have tremendously improved during the past five years and now require few to no programing knowledge to use, meaning that anyone can get a bot running in a matter of days. Therefore, it may be the right time for educators to start looking into chatbots as a novel way to dispense their knowledge.

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Lancine Conde
 
Lancine Conde

Lancine Conde

Computer Science (Ghana) | Year 3 | Degree: Computer Science BSc Hons
Chatbot tutors for e-learning
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Points of failure analysis

Following a literature review, the most common concerns identified for e-learning were:
  • The sense of isolation and feeling of loss for the learners
  • The overall lack of communication with tutors and other students
  • The fact that tutors cannot attend to everyone
  • Ineffective & unadapted course designs because tutors are not adapting the content to the platform
  • Some inadequate and confusing learning platforms
  • Tutors and learners being out of touch with the technology

Possible solution

Regarding possible solutions to solve the problems identified, the two following frameworks were picked out:           These outline the five most important characteristics that an online platform and an online tutor should exhibit respectively. And to implement them, conversational agent were chosen as the base.

What are conversational agents?

Good question! Conversational agents, more commonly known as chatbots or assistants, are a special kind of program that make use of natural language processing and machine learning to converse with users online. They are already being deployed in a variety of fields but are still mostly used in sales and marketing. A lot of websites and applications use them nowadays so you may have already interacted with one before.

OK, but why chatbots for e-learning?

Chatbots can help solve several of the problems that learners and also tutors face:
  • They can be used to provide an interactive learning experience to increase engagement
  • They can also mirror the relationship between a tutor and tutee
  • Learners tend feel less complexed than when facing a human and are more likely to ask the bot questions
  • The bots can also be ran 24/7 over many channels making them perfectly scalable
  • Most people are already used to chatting over chatrooms so they'll feel right at home
Through the way it replies and its behaviour, it can also be made to implement the 5C frameworks mentioned earlier.
The chatbot can use the same methodology as traditional dialogue-based intelligent teaching systems in which the system gives out a lesson and has the learner answer a series of questions based on it afterwards. In a nutshell, chatbots understand users by deriving the overall Intent from the user's message and the Entities as parameters, based on the current Context. To assert the answer to a question, all the bot has to do is check if the user's intent and entites match the correct answer for the current context. Using this method, they can be used to teach a large variety of subject. Modern chabots also have a variety of tools in their arsenal with rich replies. Rich replies enables them to not only send simple text, but also voice messages, images, videos, tables,... They can also dynamically look over internet for answers to a learner's question, though this increases the complexity.

Sure, but how would it teach?

Intents, entities, context, rich replies… All of this sounds complicated...

Complicated you say? Not anymore! Thanks to giant cloud providers such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or IBM, it has actually become possible to build and deploy sophisticated chatbots while writing little to no code and at a very low cost.

Can I see a few examples?

Of course! Here are a few screenshots of a chatbot tutor for teaching French currently in developpment using Google Dialogflow and Botcopy. All of the French lines are spoken aloud to help with pronunciation. Some command suggestion are sometimes given to the learner to help the lesson go smoother. In case of a mistake from the learner, the bot will give them another chance with a new hint.

Alright, thank you Fredbot. That was very informative.

Hello, my name is Fredbot and today I will walk you through this presentation on e-learning and chatbots

Research aim

  • Despite a 29% growth in student enrollment in 2020 it is predicted that there will be a 6,1% decline in market value for self-paced learning until 2021 (Tamm 2020)
  • An edX study estimated that only 3,13% of registrants completed their courses in 2017-18 (Lederman 2019)
The aim of this research is to find out why current e-learning platforms are failing to retain their learners and how they could be upgraded. It ultimately lead to the following research question:

How can current e-learning platforms be upgraded to improve learner engagement and retention?

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my appreciation to my assigned supervisor Dr. Frederick Kofi de Heer-Menlah for his valuable and constructive suggestions during the planning and development of this research work. I would also like to thank Dr. Govindha Yeluripati and all the teaching staff at Lancaster University Ghana.

References

My pleasure 😀

Fredbot has exited the conversation

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