Jill Watson: A Virtual Teaching Assistant for Online Education

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Goel, Ashok K.
Polepeddi, Lalith
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MOOCs are rapidly proliferating. However, for many MOOCs, the effectiveness of learning is questionable and student retention is low. One recommendation for improving the learning and the retention is to enhance the interaction between the teacher and the students. However, the number of teachers required to provide learning assistance to all students enrolled in all MOOCs is prohibitively high. One strategy for improving interactivity in MOOCs is to use virtual teaching assistants to augment and amplify interaction with human teachers. We describe the use of a virtual teaching assistant called Jill Watson (JW) for the Georgia Tech OMSCS 7637 class on Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence. JW has been operating on the online discussion forums of different offerings of the KBAI class since Spring 2016. By now some 750 students have interacted with different versions of JW. In the latest, Spring 2017 offering of the KBAI class, JW autonomously responded to student introductions, posted weekly announcements, and answered routine, frequently asked questions. In this article, we describe the motivations, background, and evolution of the virtual question-answering teaching assistant.
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