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Inspire: Reimagining education and the lessons for business

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the rise of so-called massive open online courses and how technology is changing the face of education.

But it was a fascinating CoreNote presentation at Inspire, Microsoft’s premier partner event, held in Las Vegas last month, that brought home to me the true potential to leverage collaboration tools and technology platforms that are readily available today, to transform the learning experience.

I have a particular interest in this area. As a member of the Board of Trustees of Wellington’s Scots College, which covers preparatory school for years 1 to 6 all the way through to senior school for years 11 to 13, I have a responsibility to our students to help foster the best learning environment possible for them.

How do we personalise education so that each student gets the exact resources and tuition they need to achieve their potential? An engineering professor at the University of New South Wales has the answer.

“Here’s a challenge,” said Dr David Kellerman during Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s CoreNote at Inspire.

“How do you get 500 students to work together as a single team, a learning community, whether they are on campus or off campus?”

Kellerman delivers lectures every week to around 500 engineering students – the engineering facility alone has 17,000 students while UNSW has 65,000 students.

He wanted to come up with a new way of delivering lectures so he wasn’t just broadcasting to a group scribbling down notes, but addressing each individual’s needs.

Opening up collaboration

He started with Microsoft’s OneNote, creating a workbook that every study could access and add their own documents to. At the same time, he began livestreaming his lectures on Youtube, encouraging students to pose questions in the comments below the videos.

In 2017, Kellerman began using Microsoft Teams, inviting students to join via the free app. Within 60 seconds of it going live, said Kellerman, students had started posting questions and comments, uploading their own engineering diagrams and photos and having discussions in channels set up by subject.

With OneNote embedded into Teams, those 500 students own one big notebook, with everyone receiving updates at the same time. Everyone is literally on the same page, with student documents created natively in Teams and full version history available to them. Third party apps such as the learning platform Moodle and specialist engineering software can be accessed from within the Teams environment.

According to Kellerman, the move to Teams led to a 900% increase in student engagement – measured by posts and comments.

But that created a new challenge – the professor and his teaching assistants were swamped with questions from students. Kellerman came up with an innovative solution. Using cloud-based AI tools, he developed the Question Bot, which acted as a virtual service agent, opening a ticket when a question was lodged and closing the ticket when an answer was given. It allowed the team to keep track of student queries, with the Q&A pairs published in OneNote as a sort of study guide everyone could learn from. In the first week, there were 200 topic-filtered question and answer pairs created.

Instant answers

Then Kellerman took things a step further, leveraging QnA Maker, a cognitive service run on Microsoft’s Azure platform, to train the bot’s artificial intelligence so that it could answer questions on its own. It allowed Question Bot to trawl through lecture notes and resources to find the answers to students questions. It is even capable of searching the videos of lectures, which are held as digital assets in SharePoint, pointing students to a time-stamped video link at the exact point where the answer to their question lies. He even embedded QR codes into course material, so the Question Bot would know exactly where to look for answers when the students scanned the codes with their smartphones.

The system was built and deployed in eight weeks. If that wasn’t enough, Kellerman then created a dashboard for each student to receive their test and course marks. AI tools analyse their progress to date, creating a personalised study pack for each and every student addressing deficiencies in their knowledge.

It means that when these budding engineers walk into an exam, it isn’t in the hope that they’ve prepared properly, but in the knowledge that they are ready to take the test. Now 95% of Kellerman’s students use the system.

Kellerman’s mobilisation of data for benefit of students is remarkable. This is not stuff of the future. He used off the shelf tools and cloud platforms to put these services together. What Kellerman and UNSW have achieved is possible right now and the options are increasing all the time.

Learning anywhere

Even better, these valuable resources don’t have to be limited to the 500 students working in that collaborative study group. Any student, anywhere, could get involved, accessing the resources from a laptop or smartphone.

When I showed the CoreNote presentation to my fellow trustees and the principle of Scots College they were blown away. The potential to transform education and deliver better learning experiences for our kids is real.

But this type of digital transformation isn’t limited to education. Data is the number one asset for most businesses these days. Our customers can apply the same types of AI tools to mine that data and present it in a format that will inform their business decisions.

I came away from Inspire energised about the broadening possibilities for mobilising data in education and in business. The potential these tools and platforms offer in the classroom as well as the workplace is great. We need to follow Kellerman’s lead and help our existing workforce and our young learners take harness them so that they can in turn achieve their full potential.

Find out more about UNSW’s use of artificial intelligence to boost student engagement on the Microsoft blog.



This blog is part of the #Inspire series. For more experts' insights, clients' experiences, click the banner.

#Inspire blog series

Posted by: Jo Healey, General Manager Customer Success, Intergen | 15 August 2019

Tags: #Inspire

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