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The current and potential use of #VoiceFirst services on campus

Aftab Hussain, Strategic ILT Lead, Bolton College

This article explores the current and potential use of voice first services on the campus; otherwise known as conversational services or chatbots.

In Bolton College’s case, students simply have to talk to their Ada chatbot to illicit information about their studies and College services.

When voice first services enter the education space they will initially be voice or chatbot overlays on existing services such as the institution’s external and internal facing websites; their learning management systems and on back office services.

As voice first services mature students, teachers and support teams will spend less time directly interacting with websites or applications to support their day-to-day work or activities on the campus. 

They simply have to engage in dialogue with their personal cognitive assistant to garner access to information, insights and services.

For example, students at Bolton College simply have to ask Ada for their class timetable.

The need to engage directly with services that underly that enquiry and many others besides will lessen overtime.

After all, who will want to open a website, software application or mobile app, login to the service and then search for information or undertake a transaction if the same can be done in less time and with less cognitive load? 


As personal cognitive assistants become more able it is inevitable that a traditional service such as a learning management system (LMS) will be disrupted.

For instance, a student can simply ask their cognitive assistant for today’s classroom notes or a teacher can simply ask the cognitive assistant to post a new file to his or her course page on the LMS.

In the extreme, the traditional LMS interface disappears altogether. Students and teachers can simply engage with the library of teaching, learning and assessment materials via their chatbot.

The LMS is simply a large database which is tagged with copious amounts of metadata which enables the cognitive assistant to govern the distribution of learning and assessment materials on behalf of the teacher.

The most significant point to make here is that the intelligence that governs the behaviour of the LMS is external to the LMS.

The same is true for all other applications and services that are to be found on the campus. For the EdTech sector this is a key battle ground because the dominant voice first service, chatbot or cognitive assistant will govern access to all campus services and all the data that underlies these services.

The fusion of campus data enables institutions to take advantage of intelligent process automation which drives many of the services that students, teachers and support teams will use on the campus. As campus chatbots mature, their behaviour will be governed and shaped by the digital cortex that wraps around the campus and its key datasets.

For example, the behaviour of an online tutorial or assessment activity will be governed by the sum of all previous and current student interactions with the material. The response that a chatbot offers to a student could be shaped by multiple specialist cognitive agents interacting with one another.

The introduction of the cognitive element to campus services will be very telling; more so when individuals simply have to talk to their voice first services to gather information or when carrying out day-to-day tasks and transactions.

For example, teachers simply have to talk to a voice first service to gather student data; and students just have to talk to their smartphones to arrange an appointment with the student services team on the campus.

Aftab Hussain, Strategic ILT Lead, Bolton College

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