Tuesday 9 September 2008

Artificial Intelligence Chat bots and EFL ESL

Earlier this week I posted a short article to my Quick Shout blog about a new site called Virsona that enables teachers and students to develop their own AI ( Artificial Intelligence) chat bots.

Since then I have been trying the site a bit more, developing tutorials and thinking about how we can use it with our EFL ESL students.

To get an idea of what a 'chat bot' is, got to this page and start asking Abraham Lincoln some questions: http://www.virsona.com/ecchat.aspx?cvid=212
The chat bot has beeen programmed with lots of information about Abrham Lincoln and each time you enter a question the bot searches it's log and tries to match key words from your question with its log information.

This all sounds very compicated, but the site actually makes it quite simple to create your own bot which can either be yourself, a fictional character or a historical or real person.

The students can add information to their chat bot in a number of ways:
  • Write diary log entries
  • Email in the information
  • Add answers to random questions
  • Type in questions and answers
  • Ask the bot questions and then correct the answers.
Here are a couple of video tutorials showing how it is done:
So how do we use this with our EFL ESL students?
All of these ways can be very useful for generating meaningful language practice.

The virtual you - Get students to recreate themselves as a chat bot. They can upload a photograph of themselves and generate random questions to answer. You could also get them to write diary entries for a week or two. Then at the end of term you could get the students to share their chat bots and see which one is the most convincing. this is a noce way of combining a range of personal information questions with a learningg diary. You could also create one for yourself which students could interegate or get the URLs of your students' bots so that you could find out more about them.

Your virtual celebrity - You could ask students to do research on a favourite celebrity or person from history and then use the information they find to create a chat bot of that person. A number of these are already under development, though Lincoln is the only one open for you to chat with at present.
Grammar bot - You could get your students to create their own grammar bot with infformation they have learnt about various grammar points.

Vocabulary bot - Likewise you could try to get students to create a vocabulary bot that has definitions for the new vocabulary they are learning.

Topic expert - You could ask groups of students to create topic experts based around various general knowledge areas then they couldd work in teams to challenge each others' bots in a test of knowledge.

Interview Lincoln - Get your students to interview Lincoln and see what they can find out about him. See if they can decide if it is a real person answering them.

What I like about this site
  • It's free and obviously aimed at educationalists
  • I'm fascinated by AI and how it can be applied to language learning and language production so..
  • It's great that they have ma de it easy to create your own bot, with out having to know about the technology
  • I like the selection of random questions it can get students to answers (a task in itself)
  • Looks like it could develop into a novel way of sharing knowledge

What I'm not so sure about
  • The site is obviously still under development andd a few things don't always work (I had a few problems trying to upload questions and answers in the 'Teach' section
  • The site carries some advertising
  • Not sure about the ethics of creating bots of real people (not sure if i would want someone else putting words in my bots' mouth)
  • Bots aren't real people and sometimes they make stupid mistakes, but as long as our students are aware of this then we could maake it part of the challenge. It might well be worth telling your students about 'The Turing Test': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test a challenge designed in 1950 to try to trick people into thinking a machine was human.

Well for all the problems I still think this is a site that students can enjoy and which can encourage them to produce a lot of accurate language in text form (bots don't understand bad grammar or spelling).

Hope you enjoy it.

Related links:


Nik Peachey


Anonymous said...


This is just to say THANK You for the amazing resources your blog brings together for ESL teachers! I will be travelling to Europe later this week to an institution that teaches ESL and ESL methods and I can only imagine how happy they will be to discover your creative ideas on this site! Please, keep up the great job you are doing!

Nik Peachey said...

Thanks Lesya,

I'm glad you enjoy the ideas here and thank you for telling others about them. For me that is the big challenge. Writing the materials is easy, the difficult thing is to get people to know about them, so I'm always grateful to anyone who can sporead the word.

Many thanks


Anonymous said...

Hi there!
Just want so say hello- besides that I really enjoy following your blog and try the things you share here in my own classes, so thanks for that ! BESIDES I was in Morocco for 2 weeks in our semester break! OMG what a country, all myths and colours and stuff are haunting me since my return.Dunno about the jazz in Rabat. I was there for 3 days.
Anyways, I'll be following ur site, or we'll be, me and my students.
Good day!
Sebnem- English Teacher, Istanbul

Nik Peachey said...

Glad you enjoyed Morocco and my blog. Hope to have some new postings coming soon.



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