Bolton College has received a visit from two prominent figures in the Canadian and American IT industry, after being the only College in the whole of the UK to create its very own digital assistant.
Brian Loveys and Keith Howard travelled from IBM in Canada and Texas respectively, making a transatlantic flight of nearly 5000 miles. They came to visit ‘Ada’, the College’s own virtual assistant, built using IBM’s Watson Conversation platform.
Named after the famous computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, who recognised the full potential of a ‘computing machine’ in 1843, Ada is an ambient computing service used by students to support and enhance their teaching, learning and assessment. She is able to respond to a broad spectrum of enquiries and deliver a personalised and contextualised response that takes into consideration multiple variables, including the student’s academic level, their current course performance, assessment data, vocational area and goals and targets.
Ada has been a labour of love for the College, with staff and students working together to expand the range of questions she is able to answer. Learners from the College’s Computing & Systems Development HND course have been heavily involved in the development of Ada, programming the system and helping to broaden her knowledge base.
Zak Hilton, studying at the College since 2014, said "I’ve loved working on the Ada project, the experience has been great. It’s a privilege to have worked on something so exciting, and the knowledge I’ve gained will be put to good use when I start university in September.”
Ada was rolled out to the College's students in April. The Maths department has found Ada particularly useful, allowing the team to pinpoint frequently asked questions on Ada and then arranging dedicated workshops to answer them.
Brian, who has worked at IBM as an Offering Manager for 10 years said, "Bolton is the first college in the UK to use Watson Conversation and I’m so impressed by what’s been accomplished in such a short space of time. I’m looking forward to returning to Canada and feeding back what I’ve seen to my colleagues. It’s great to see Watson Conversation being put to such good use, and this is going to make a huge difference to the whole college experience for students.”
Aftab Hussain, ILT Lead at Bolton College said, “Ada is really benefiting our students and staff but we have only just scratched the surface. We are constantly expanding the system and eventually Ada will become a true assistant for our Careers Advisors, Librarians and Tutors – the possibilities are endless. We’re really proud to be the only College in the UK with a digital assistant and like Ada Lovelace, we’re proud to be pioneers of this technology.”
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