The University of New South Wales (UNSW) will leverage Microsoft’s GitHub to open source its classroom. UNSW already has a cloud-based classroom that is built on Office Education. In December, the classroom will become available on GitHub.

First up will be UNSW’s artificial intelligence-based chatbot, called Question. Dr David Kellerman, a lecturer at the UNSW school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering, says Question is used to ensure students online work is not missed by the school.

Like other UNSW systems, Question is based on a Microsoft product, this time the Bot Framework.

“Question treats every students’ question like a service ticket. It connects them with the right people. When the TAs [teacher’s assistance] come in and answer those questions, it’s logged off, and it’s read as a question and answer pair automatically,” Kellerman said.

Question automatically logged 1,000 Q&A pairs by topic over a single semester, allowing the AI system to machine learn based on the data. Data is automatically written to Azure cognitive service Q&A. Instead of answering questions on its own, Question redirects students to the relevant conversation.

“Sometimes students post photos. How do you get context from the photograph? I started putting QR code on all the learning material and we use vision APIs so the bot is able to read it and say, ‘hey I see you’re working on question 4.1’, then it can pull in relevant information from Azure Blob Storage and redirect students to more valuable learning resources.”

AI Growth

Kellerman spearheaded the development of Question, starting with a prototype in 2017. The original goal was to sync students in Office 265, using Microsoft Teams. Since then, the bot has grown to become more capable.

“Now we were able to communicate with diagrams, hand-drawn mathematics, pictures, and code snippets. And all the lecture material was going straight into the channels in Teams, everything aggregated together in one place and stored on SharePoint,” he said.