Digital Chatbots will bring uOttawa web to life

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Author: Paige Maskell, Digital Communications Officer

robot in a speech bubble wearing a wireless headset

You’ve probably interacted with a chatbot before – maybe while shopping on a website or researching a professional institution online. Maybe the chatbot provided clear, direct, scripted answers - or perhaps conversed with you just like a human would. They have become an essential tool in the user experience, providing quick and efficient answers to users’ questions, often without having to disrupt a human employee. Chatbots work as a supplement, not a replacement, for the human workforce – chatbots and online chats with humans are used in tandem to provide information to the user. 

Chatbots come in one of two forms: scripted bots and smart bots. The former follows simple if/then logic, while the latter converses with users by mimicking human language, similar to text messaging, to gather customer data and provide information about services. A study conducted by Drift, Salesforce, and SurveyMonkey discovered that 69 percent of consumers actually prefer using chatbots for quick communication with brands, as they provide information quickly and efficiently at any time with minimal effort from the user.  

Chatbots can assist in making the University more agile as we continue to enhance the digital experience for everyone who interacts with our institution. There are currently two Proof of Concepts (POC) in the works. “The first POC was created when the COVID-19 pandemic began,” explains Infrastructure Architect Erich Noriega. “Microsoft open sourced a Questions and Answers prepacked solution [about the pandemic] that would take any FAQ knowledge base and add conversational skills from their chatbot.” The second initiative, led by Faculty of Engineering Professor Andrew Sowinski, seeks to assist students by having their questions answered using a “Question Bot”. This bot receives questions from students and tags the students’ Teaching Assistant (TA), who can then answer the question. It also gives an opportunity for other students to answer the questions as well, providing an added connection to the classroom community. Questions and answers are stored and reused for the next time they are asked, without additional assistance from professors or TAs. This collected information can also serve as an FAQ for the course. 

 “The potential of chatbots comes from its automation,” says Noriega, “just think of the possibilities!” 


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