The idea to develop a virtual teaching assistant originated during the design phase of a new part-time master programme back in 2019. The programme had to provide students with a personalised learning experience, proper student guidance and regular and efficient student feedback, even when taking an increased number of online teaching sessions into consideration.
We asked ourselves the following questions:
- How can we provide better support, guidance and feedback to students using new and innovative technologies?
- How can we proactively (and automatically) offer relevant content to students based on their online activities and results, thus personalizing their learning experience in view of increasing student numbers and online teaching activities?
- Is there a way in which we can automatically store and re-use data on recurring questions from students?
Whilst discussing the above questions we came up with the idea of a virtual teaching assistant: an automated conversation tool or artificial intelligence chatbot that uses a database of question-and-answer pairs on both programme level (e.g., “what time does our marketing class start tomorrow?”) as well as course content level (e.g., “I need help with question 3 of our group assignment”).
The virtual teaching assistant would use machine learning technology to continuously add additional content to its repertoire, thus being able to support students better and more efficiently moving forward.
CLI-support was granted for the first development phase of the virtual teaching assistant, which officially commenced in June 2021.
The main goal of this first phase is:
- To provide an insight into the development feasibility for the virtual teaching assistant based on the available data.
- To produce a high-level design of the virtual teaching assistant, including the conversational design, development roadmap and blueprint.
Phase 1 of the project was completed on the 26th of July 2021. The project deliverables were positively received and a project plan is currently being made to commence with phase 2 of the project in September 2021.
Phase 2 of the project concerns the actual development of a working virtual teaching assistant. As such, the desired result is to implement the virtual teaching assistant in two Master programme courses in the upcoming 2021/2022 academic year.