To the Editor:
In “How Ed Tech Is Exploiting Students” (The Chronicle, April 8), Chris Gilliard refers to our work on the Jill Watson project as an illustrative example. In this project, we collect questions posed by students and answers given by human teaching assistants on the discussion forum of an online course in artificial intelligence. We use this data exclusively for partially automating the task of answering questions in subsequent offerings of the course both to reduce teaching load and to provide prompt answers to student questions anytime anywhere. We deliberately elected not to inform the students in advance the first time we deployed Jill Watson as a virtual teaching assistant because she is also an experiment in constructing human-level AI and we wanted to determine if actual students could detect Jill’s true identity in a live setting. (They could not!)
In subsequent offerings of the AI class over the last two years, we have informed the students at the start of the course that one or more of the teaching assistants are a reincarnation of Jill operating under a pseudonym and revealed the identity of the virtual teaching assistant(s) at the end of the course. The response of the several hundred students who have interacted with Jill’s various reincarnations over two years has been overwhelmingly positive. We are puzzled that Mr. Gilliard equates this with student exploitation. We are disappointed that The Chronicle published his article with the accusatory reference to Jill Watson without any evidence or explanation.
Professor, School of Interactive Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology