Amid rapid developments in educational technology, educational software called “chatbot tutors” are emerging to provide interactive communication solutions for students and teachers alike. This practice has the potential to achieve a leap in education, although it is not devoid of concerns and possible drawbacks.
What Is a Chatbot Tutor?
A chatbot tutor is a software application that employs artificial intelligence and machine learning to conduct a written or voice conversation with a student. It can be used to provide personalised instructions and answer questions.
Sherin Moussa, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the French University of Egypt, said that chatbot tutors teach themselves, develop, and interact with what they receive from users.
How Does a Chatbot Tutor Work?
These chatbot models are first trained on a large dataset of text and symbols. They then use this data to learn how to answer questions and provide instructions. Preparing the diverse content requires a great effort from chatbot developers, added Moussa.
“We may not need to input content later, as artificial intelligence apps like the recently deployed language models, such as ChatGPT, can now collect and generate the required content,” she said. “But herein lies the challenge, as the content displayed by AI can be inaccurate, as it is no longer under the supervision of any educational authority.”
Eman Elbehiry, an English instructor at Egypt’s Zewail City of Science, Technology, and Innovation, thinks it will be possible to integrate chatbot tutoring into undergraduate education through flipped learning.
“That means a student will use the chatbot to understand the subject’s theoretical foundations, to be followed by a practical lecture to hold a critical discussion and develop students’ analytical skills,” she said.
“It can also be used after face-to-face lectures to help students formulate a more comprehensive perspective on the subject under study and correct their conceptions with a specialised human lecturer if the chatbot makes a mistake.”
Research Studies on Chatbot Tutors
Several research projects have studied chatbot tutors, including one published last summer in the Journal of Educational Technology Research & Development. The study concluded that university students’ use of a chatbot tutor resulted in better academic performance, self-efficacy, learning attitude, and motivation.
“By constant reception of responses and performance, the chatbot tutor constantly adjusts the learning experience to better suit the user’s level. This gives each learner a unique learning experience.”Sherin Moussa, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the French University of Egypt.
Another recent study, titled “Interacting with Educational Chatbots: A Systematic Review,” analysed 36 studies examining the efficiency of educational chatbots and found that they can be effective tools to support student in several ways:
- Acquiring knowledge. Educational chatbots can help students learn new information and concepts.
- Developing skills. These programs can help students develop new skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing skills by providing feedback on their writing.
- Motivation. Educational chatbot software can motivate students to learn and be more involved in the educational process.
- Self-efficacy. Educational chat programs can help students develop their self-efficacy and belief in their ability to succeed.
Women and Chatbot Tutors
Another study found that chatbots could reduce the gender confidence gap in learning programming, for example. The study, titled “A Chatbot Tutor Can Lessen the Gender Confidence Gap in Information Systems Learning,” followed the experiences of 136 students in an introductory coding course. It found that women who interacted with a chatbot tutor showed higher levels of confidence in their abilities than those who did not.
According to acquire.io, chatbots can be used to efficiently solve a number of educational problems, in addition to their role as assistant teachers. Chatbots were found to be helpful in:
- Providing students with access to information. Chatbots can be programmed to answer undergraduate students’ questions about classes, assignments, and university policies.
- Providing administrative support. Chatbots can deal with administrative tasks on campus, by answering students’ related questions.
- Offering proactive reminders and assistance. Chatbots can send alert messages to university students.
- Engaging students. Chatbots can be used to create more interactive and engaging learning experiences. They can also be used to provide students with feedback on their assignments.
- Helping teachers teach. Chatbots can assist lecturers by providing them with information about their students, correcting papers and essays, and keeping track of students’ progress.
Concerns and Cautions
Despite the advantages chatbot tutors can offer, AI-powered tools have some disadvantages, like any technology. These include:
- Using the wrong logic. Chatbot tutors make mistakes and may provide incorrect information.
- Lack of empathy. Chatbot tutors are not human beings, and they may sometimes lack empathy. This may be a problem if the student is having difficulty understanding or is feeling frustrated.
- Bias. Chatbot tutors are trained on data provided by human beings. This means that the data can sometimes reflect the biases of the people who made or collected the data.
- Development cost. Developing and maintaining a chatbot tutor can be expensive. This could be a barrier for universities looking to adopt this technology.
- Cheating. One of the biggest challenges is misuse with the intent of cheating. Chatbot tutors can provide students with answers, help them write essays, and even provide them with personal comments, making it easier for students to cheat on exams and essays without being detected.
“Many challenges have arisen with the recent language models, such as students’ laziness to search for information and their reliance on the chatbot. Many students lack independence, which will make them vulnerable to false information that they will never question.”Eman Elbehiry, English instructor at Egypt’s Zewail City of Science, Technology, and Innovation.
Elbehiry adds: “Many challenges have arisen with the recent language models, such as students’ laziness to search for information and their reliance on the chatbot. Many students lack independence, which will make them vulnerable to false information that they will never question. It is also difficult for some students to formulate their questions in a way that is understandable to the chatbot, which will waste more of their time.”
Tips for Proper Chatbot Use
Here are some tips to help teachers combat the misuse of chatbot tutors:
- As a university lecturer, make sure your students know the university’s policy on cheating.
- The service provider, external or on-campus, should monitor student interactions with chatbot tutors.
- Use plagiarism-detection software to check students’ essays.
- Always remind students of the importance of academic integrity.
- Nothing can substitute for having a positive learning environment in which students feel able to ask for help whenever they need it.
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