This past semester, the BHS Help Desk and Ms. Tyrrell’s Exploring Computer Science classes were fortunate to be selected by ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) to pilot an AI (Artificial Intelligence) Chatbot curriculum. This pilot was made possible through ISTE’s partnership with General Motors. We are doing a poster session at the ISTE 2018 conference, and our Tuesday, June 26, session is entitled, “Shared Solutions in K-12: Artificial Intelligence Using Chat Bots.” My student Gati Aher will also be presenting with us at ISTE. During the conference, there are many other sessions on AI, including “Artificial Intelligence Goes to School” which will give an overview of the program, and “Empowering Students to Develop Artificial Intelligence for Automation and K-12 Solutions.”
This pilot opened up a vast world which we had some understanding of, but we didn’t really know the technology underpinning chatbots. In my class, we looked at chatbots before including ELIZA (an AI, Rogerian psychotherapist) which was created in the 60’s. I first learned about ELIZA when I had it on my PowerBook back in the 90’s. That PowerBook actually still works, incidentally, and I’ve shown ELIZA to the students along with some very dated voice synthesis. One of my students Shawn Scott showed me that Microsoft has a Virtual Agent used on its support site. Mel Thibodeau showed me Replika which is an AI friend whom you can install on your smartphone.
The pilot also introduced us to the world of AWS (Amazon Web Services). Everyone knows Amazon as a commerce company, but not nearly as many people know Amazon’s reach and influence with the web. The pilot curriculum showed us how to use Amazon Lex and Amazon Lambda. Lex is essentially what powers Amazon’s Alexa assistant, and it can be used to create chatbots. Lambda allows you to run external code from Amazon’s servers, and it gave our chatbots more functionality. There are any more tools in AWS, and our students will continue to learn more about its tools. If schools are interested, they can sign up for AWS Educate.
This video gives a good introduction of how Lex works.
Our materials for ISTE 2018 can be found here. While we learned a lot in our month or so working with the pilot curriculum, we believe we just scratched the surface. We will continue to work with our students and our school’s IT group and the school community to see if what we’ve done can be implemented as functional chatbots which would be used to provide basic tech support and other useful functions in our school.