The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has tapped Microsoft partner Cloud Collective to improve the learning experience for engineering students and reduce its dropout rate.
Cloud Collective is an alliance of three Microsoft Gold Partners – Antares Solutions, Modality and Quorum – that provides full-service cloud solutions built on the Microsoft platform as "one partner experience for customers".
UNSW engaged Cloud Collective through Antares Solutions to help it improve collaboration, faster information sharing and scale the learning experience, all through artificial intelligence (AI) and Microsoft Teams.
The completed solution was shared with an audience during the recent Microsoft Inspire 2019 conference.
In order to kick off the project, David Kellermann, a senior lecturer in the school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering, first deployed Microsoft Teams to promote collaboration and communication.
With large volumes of questions rising from the use of Teams, some that might have go unanswered, the need for a bot arose.
Antares was the Cloud Collective’s alliance partner that took on the project and initially developed the QuestionBot to help automate answers to the questions.
"The problem had now been turned into an asset: within the first two weeks of QBot going live, over 200 question and answer pairs had been successfully answered by tutors and automatically added to the self-learning knowledge base by QBot," Sulabh Jain, principal consultant at Antares Solutions told ARN.
"QBot was now able to answer the questions directly or track the person who had asked the question and make sure they were notified once the correct answer had been provided."
The solution was developed in eight weeks and counted with the help of Kellermann, who counted on QnA Maker Azure machine learning cognitive service to train the bot.
Within two weeks, QuestionBot was able to direct the students back to the conversations where their peers had been talking about similar problems.
Cloud Collective first started working on the project 18 months ago which resulted in a proof of concept delivered in eight weeks. Since then it has evolved with Antares having added features to the bot including reporting and analytics.
Those features have helped the UNSW to identify "at-risk" students — those potentially going to drop out — and engage them to see if they need extra support.
"QuestionBot is actually creating a study resource for the students filtered by topic. It’s not a textbook; it’s made out of their own collaboration, their own discussion automatically. In fact, in the first two weeks alone, Question bot created 200 high-quality topic filtered question and answer pairs,” Kellermann said.
The data collection that’s amassed from across the platform establishes a digital feedback loop for UNSW Sydney that is available to students and lecturers. Both can see how they are travelling with their studies, and also glean context about their results.
The solution was had-picked by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to be presented during Microsoft Inspire 2019 only two weeks prior to the event. According to Cloud Collective, this is something that Microsoft usually plans months in advance but Nadella had watched a video presentation of the solution and decided this was to be included at the event's keynote.
The exposure has been an "incredible" result for Cloud Collective and Antares Solutions. "Throughout the event people were approaching our team congratulating us on the achievement and exclaiming how impressed they were with the solution we had implemented," Jain told ARN.
"We are proud of the work we have completed, but the work is not over. We will continue to work with Dr. Kellermann, UNSW, Microsoft and any other education providers who want to revolutionise the way their students learn using the power of Microsoft technologies.'
Cloud Collective has also applied the QBot technology to other industries including HR with its solution askHRplus.
Education lead of Microsoft Australia Steven Miller said the software giant is focused on delivering solutions and tools that help infuse AI across multiple tasks.
"And we are working directly with partners and customers to help develop the skills that will allow this to happen fast," he said.