Friday, 11 March 2011

Talking to an innovator

I'm excited to announce that my interviewee will be Phil Hall, CEO of Elzware, who develop conversational systems which they say enable "users to interact with websites as easily as they might on real-world premises - whether that is a shop, classroom, factory, call centre or office".

Er, what's a conversational system again?
Conversational agents, chatbots, or virtual agents are software 'entities' which a user can talk to (usually through typed messages), and get answers, service or information that they require. They are 'natural language' systems, which means the user doesn't have to use any special codes, words or computer languages to communicate - they just type in their own, natural, language and the conversational system 'understands' and responds appropriately.

And how's that related to eLearning?
These conversational systems offer more than just simple question and answer or FAQs. They can take and pose questions, in natural language, and they can also suggest other points of reference, useful information, links or guide a user through a dialogue. Specifically, Elzware is behind

According to the TeachBot website, TeachBot is a Virtual Teaching Assistant developed using their cutting edge conversational system approach. Bristol City Learning Centres and their expert educational consultants worked in conjunction with Elzware to create an "innovative, effective, affordable and engaging educational tool, which would most importantly, help students achieve better grades". Essentially, it offers personalised educational support in English reading and writing, at home or in the classroom, for students working towards their GCSEs in Years 8, 9, 10 and 11.

This is Blob, the teaching assistant students interact with. You can experience chatting to Blob on the TeachBot site, or chat to Yhaken, Elzware's original conversational system.

Phil has a fascinating and varied background, including experience as an Engineer, Cabinetmaker and Anthropologist. I know he's going to have some very interesting insights into innovation in elearning!

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