The need for a chatbot in education is obvious, but making the case for how to do it is not generally straightforward. The first step in Farhan Karmali’s process to build a relevant and useful chatbot was to undergo a period of user research. While an automated concierge or academic counselor sounds cool, Karmali’s evidence shows that students and teachers have more elementary and prescient needs that a chatbot could solve right away. Namely, the ability to deliver on lots of basic and common questions, usually involving little academics and maybe too much of the teacher’s nerve.
Thus, the first version of Karmali’s chatbot for the Islamic Online University was a simple provider of facts, starting with general questions and FAQs and, shortly afterwards, personal information about enrolled courses, grades, and dates.
Both the development process and the chatbot itself followed a “basics to complexity” route. To get started, Karmali used Dialogflow, a language processor service. Similar to many others, it offers a handy visual interface where a developer can list “language intents” and a resolution workflow. When a student makes a simple request, Dialogflow classifies it into one of the available intents. If it succeeds, it triggers an information request according to the workflow designed by the developer. If the request requires information from the Moodle site, it takes advantage of a web hook to quickly and securely get it for the bot to use in its answer.
Just like the previously documented attempt for a Moodle chatbot by Matt Porritt, Karmali’s chatbot is a work in progress. His roadmap includes a priority plan to turn it into a real plugin with more features. It could be available as a bottom-right tab on a Moodle site, as a dedicated page, or even as its own app. Next, he envisions a deeper integration with voice assistants, potentially turning into a brand new Moodle interface.
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