Friday, May 13, 2016

I, Teaching Assistant

Here's an interesting development in the classroom: A Georgia Tech professor created a chat bot to answer students' questions in an online forum.

A pretty good article about this is here. 

This seems remarkable at first but now I just shrug. How hard is it for a computer to say, "It's in the syllabus"?

Beaker Ben


  1. I love to see students being active about their education and asking questions instead of being silent and completely indifferent to everything the entire semester, anyone troubled by the incredibly high number of questions the students generally ask in this class over the course of the semester? And the article refers to them as "routine questions."

    I agree with Ben--the students are probably asking questions that could easily be answered by reading the syllabus. Or by reading the book and paying attention in class. This article once again makes me question how "college-ready" today's students are. But we already know the answer to this question, right? :-) :-(

  2. I'm with you, Ben and Jaime. I have a BIG PROBLEM not with the concept itself, but with the computer having been taught to answer routine questions that certain lazy little shits should be looking up themselves. As evidence, I offer the fact that "Jill" wa also reminding students of due dates---in other words, a customer service model that infantilizes students and delays their transition to self-reliance.

    Nobody in the WSJ article's comments picked up on this, which I consider the most significant problem of this implementation. Comments seemed mostly split between "let's replace the leftist professors with robots" and "Hurrr Obama durrr."

    1. If I remember correctly, these were GRADUATE students. I did think the number of questions was high - 33 per student throughout the semester, but I wasn't sure if that number included follow-up reaponses, like, "Correct." or, "Please rephrase your question." Still, grad students shouldn't need this level of handholding.

  3. I was intrigued that Oren Etzioni was quoted for this article. I first became aware of him ca. 1995, pre-Google, when I regularly used a search engine called MetaCrawler. As years marched on, MetaCrawler picked up a young Google as one of the many web indexers under its umbrella, and then of course Google would become the tail that wagged the dog.

  4. PEOPLE!

    We are missing an opportunity here!

    From the smallest SLAC to the most ponderous R1, artificial intelligence could handle the routine communiques from far more than teaching assistants. Think of the possibilities!

    President: I just heard about this wonderful new thing called a flipped classroom. We will do this in all our classes effective immediately.

    Dean: You'll just have to get used to doing more with less.

    Chief Officer of Student Retention and Appeasement: What have you done to promote student success today?

    Department Head: Let this serve as notice of your mandatory attendance at yet another department-wide meeting where we will ignore the agenda to exchange sharply-worded differences of opinion.

    Colleague: Oh, wow, I'm so busy all the time. I wish I could have all the easy classes like you.

    Student: Is this going to be on the test? Can I do anything for extra credit?

    1. IBM's Watson would be smarter than any administrator and less socially akward to boot. AI could only make things better. After all, decisions really would be data-driven, assuming their algorithm didn't answer with the first search result from

    2. Yes. As to the social aspects, I think "lack of personality" is preferable to active indifference or overt malice.

      I missed a couple:

      IT: Try logging out and rebooting.

      Bookstore drone: We can't get that edition anymore.