Think chatbots could do a job at your college or university? A joint Jisc and UCISA event in September aims to equip schools and colleges with the knowledge to develop their own bots.
FAQs and other online information can sometimes be dense and perplexing for website visitors, but what if you could create a digital assistant to guide users through it all?
Chatbots are already employed by lots of companies to front conversations on smartphones and other computing devices. Live chat options are emerging on many websites, including at universities, and some have reported that a significant number of clearing enquiries came through live chat rather than telephone calls during August.
A recent survey conducted by Jisc is reporting a growing number of UK further and higher education institutions are deploying bots in their live environments to support parts of the student journey, and staff activities - both administrative and academic. There are also some spectacular medical research case studies emerging.
Many institutions are investigating how to build prototype bots into their business processes. In response to this, Jisc, UCISA and four of the major platform vendors - Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft - have joined together to organise a hackathon on 24 September to help developers get started on building their own chatbots.
We’re allowing vendors to use Jisc’s service desk data and FAQs to create chatbots for their platforms before the hackathon. On the day, developers from colleges and universities will be able to choose one of the platforms and get to know how the chatbot was designed and built. Once back at their institution, the developers will be supported by the platform vendors while they build their own bots.
There will be an unusual cost to attend this event: every attendee must have been authorised by their line manager to spend up to five professional days, within one month of the event, to build a chatbot based upon their own institutional data and information. The purpose is to encourage institutions to investigate how this technology could be adopted in their own environment. Hence, only developers who have the active support of their department will be able to attend this initial event.
Later in October, Jisc and UCISA will host several “computer labs” for institutions which have already deployed chatbots. There will be a separate event for each of the platform vendors hosted at one of the leading institutions. The purpose is to develop some communities of practice through which developers can quickly share techniques for developing these new channels.
With luck and a spirit of collaboration, we may well see a rapid expansion of chatbots in different parts of each institution. And, hopefully, UK education can become an exemplar of this new technology.