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9 January 2019 0 Comments
Posted in Education, Opinion

Should education be as tech-obsessed as the corporate market?

Author headshot image Posted by , Paralegal

Chatbots have been applied to a range of situations throughout the world, from customer advice to supporting refugees in Lebanon who have PTSD, but the education sector has been slow to adopt the technology.


Woebot supports those suffering from depression by helping people monitor their mood and learn about themselves by drawing on a therapeutic framework known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It asks people how they’re feeling and what is going on in their lives through brief daily conversations, talks to them about their mental health and wellness and sends them videos and other useful tools depending on their moods and needs at that moment.

Mental health is a high priority for universities, colleges and schools. Students could benefit from the technology and the education sector could save on costs.

The need for investment in tech for universities

One university’s recent attempt to increase the effectiveness of its spend on mental health care focused available funds on face-to-face contact with experienced professionals, but decreased out-of-hours services. Whilst this improved access to expertise for more severe conditions it still left lower level problems unsupported. One solution to a more focused spend could be to adopt new technology to help where appropriate at minimal cost.

Northwestern University gave its students unlimited access to Tess for two to four weeks. Students showed a reduction in depression by 13% and in anxiety by 18%.

Could the education sector benefit from wider use of these technologies to catch problems earlier and triage them at minimal cost?

Investing in what could appear a single purpose technology may be daunting. Because there is no exhaustive list of chatbot applications, innovation is required to maximise the technology’s value and justify its cost. However, some institutions are adopting the challenge to help with their service provision in other areas and seeing the rewards.

BECKY, used by Leeds Beckett University, is a chatbot which helps the University consider applications via Clearing. It cost £30 to implement which, not only won an award for digital innovation, but only cost 24p per query during its first year and is anticipated to further reduce costs as its usage increases. In a financially challenging environment, these innovations are essential to staying ahead of the competition.

Additionally, The Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation invested more than $240m in the Summit Learning project to improve teaching methods by using these technologies.

Not even the most expensive schools and universities can afford one-to-one tutoring for every student. But, developments in AI-technology can create a similar experience at a fraction of the cost while freeing educators of many menial tasks.


Chatbots could help stretch budgets and improve the well being of students at the same time.  They are a cost-effective solution which, if used creatively, can ease a number of pastoral, operational and educational burdens.


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