Ask Ada



Colleagues across Bolton College are currently engaged in a project that involves teaching Ada, the College's latest digital assistant, to answer day-to-day enquiries about College services. New and existing students will be able to present questions to Ada via the Student Home Page and get answers on a wide range of College services. The use of Ada will enable the College to answer student questions about the College at scale. This will be particularly useful at the start of a new academic year or a new semester when students could pose tens of thousands of questions to Ada.

Ada Graphic by Zoe Rothwell (Bolton College LRC). We thought it was very fitting to call our new digital assistant Ada, after Ada Lovelace.

The College's ILT Team is also examining how Ada could support teachers and students in the classroom. As we converse with Ada we are discovering that her place in the classroom presents colleagues at Bolton College with a number of exciting opportunities to enhance teaching, learning and assessment.

Ada and online tutorials: Like many schools, colleges and universities, Bolton College has been using online tutorials for sometime. When they are designed well the use of these tutorials enables students to access a rich set of learning and assessment materials to support their studies. The use of Ada in an online tutorial will provide students with an opportunity to ask Ada questions pertaining to the topic. For instance, students could ask Ada about a word, phrase or concept in the tutorial that they do not understand or were additional clarification is required. Ada will then respond with replies that have been authored by the course team. As Ada acquires more knowledge about students it may be possible for Ada to provide contextualised responses to students. For instance, Ada may respond with a stretch and challenge question or she may respond with an answer that is worded in a manner that supports students with learning support needs.

Ada as a virtual support teacher: The potential for students to post a broad range of comments, remarks, ideas, thoughts or questions for Ada's attention is ever present. The nature of these enquires means that Ada begins to adopt the behaviour or traits of a support teacher. She has the capacity to respond to a broad range of questions and queries that are put to her by students on a course - these could relate to the progress that students are making on the course or to specific units and topics that make up the course.

Ada on a course home page: Course teams and the administrators that support the course receive numerous questions each day from students about assignment hand-in-dates, term dates, the grades that they were awarded for assignments, reading lists, timetables, tests, information about forthcoming visits away from the College and so on and so forth. If Ada was taught how to respond to these enquiries it would enable students to get responses to their questions at anytime of the day; and it would ease the workload of course teams and their admin teams.

I occasionally pose a question were I ask myself if the phrase 'Ask Ada' will be in common use across Bolton College in a few years time? If she is taught to respond to a broad range of enquiries and if teachers and students find value in her answers then there is every chance that 'Ask Ada' will be heard in classrooms, offices, libraries and cafes around the campus. As Ada acquires a greater skillset, as she gains more knowledge and as she develops an awareness of the environment around her she will begin to act as a true digital assistant for teachers, admin teams and students alike.