The Alloprof homework help site has just introduced two new functions that use artificial intelligence to make it easier for young users to access the answers they are looking for.
In the Support zonea discussion forum run by teachers where primary and secondary students can ask questions, a first tool analyzes requests and suggests existing content that could satisfy the young person, such as an answer already given to a similar question submitted in the past, or explanatory sheets that can be found elsewhere on the site.
“Real people continue to answer questions, but instead of waiting sometimes up to an hour for an answer, the student has instant access to a first lead, which can allow him to continue his revision”, specifies Marc-Antoine Tanguay, spokesperson and director of strategy at Alloprof.
The other new feature is a text reading tool to facilitate comprehension for some students with reading difficulties, since they will be able to focus on the material itself instead of trying to decipher the words. It can also be useful for young children who are just starting to read. “The voice pauses between paragraphs, it’s not straight reading,” notes Marc-Antoine Tanguay. The voice synthesis tool is being deployed for certain subjects, such as French and history, but it still needs to be fine-tuned for science and mathematics, so that it can read tables, for example.
Two graduation projects
The 550,000 students who use Alloprof can thank not researchers or experts in artificial intelligence for these new tools, but rather graduates from Polytechnique Montréal and the École de technologie supérieure.
“We met with Alloprof managers at the end of 2021 to help them see how to better take advantage of all the content on the site,” explains Dany Plourde, technology transfer and innovation advisor at the Valorization Institute. (IVADO) of the University of Montreal, an organization part of whose mission is to enable industry and society to benefit from the knowledge generated by university research in digital intelligence.
While the Institute often establishes more extensive partnerships, which can span several years, with researchers and graduate students, some of Alloprof’s ideas were concrete and quickly feasible. “For projects of this kind, we can put them in contact with students at the end of their baccalaureate who are looking for industrial mandates to carry out. So we put together two proposals with them, and both were accepted by groups of students,” says Dany Plourde.
Both the recommendation system and the reading tool were therefore programmed by groups of software engineering graduates, free of charge and in just four months, during the winter semester which has just ended.
“It’s really a success story, because it’s quite rare for artificial intelligence projects of this kind to be deployed so quickly,” notes Dany Plourde.
For Alloprof, it’s a godsend. A project such as the recommendation system, for example, required a total of 1,350 hours of work by three female and two male students. If young graduates had to be paid an hourly rate of $40, which is realistic in the market, the bill would have risen to $54,000.
Alloprof will be able to develop the new functions as it wishes, since it has obtained all the intellectual property on the work carried out. “Students are asked to provide all the system documentation, which will make it possible to add functionalities or modify them,” specifies Lévis Thériault, the lecturer at Polytechnique Montréal who oversaw the project.
From phone to AI
The arrival of artificial intelligence is just the beginning for Alloprof, says Marc-Antoine Tanguay. “Our service was born 25 years ago around the telephone. We have followed technological developments,” he recalls.
From a simple phone line where children spoke live with teachers, the service grew to include a website, which featured educational content, chat, games and videos as the Web progressed. “We have always wanted to use new technologies and adapt them to education. And there, we have come to algorithms and artificial intelligence, ”explains the spokesperson for Alloprof.
The organization also has several other projects in the bank where artificial intelligence could be useful. “For example, we have a lot of images on the site, we would like to have a tool to identify them in order to facilitate their discovery and their consultation by visually impaired students”, he illustrates.
One thing is certain, Alloprof intends to repeat partnerships with the university community to achieve this. “It is certain that we will try to do it with graduates or graduate students for larger projects. We are a charitable organization, and that allows us to do real research and development for free,” says Marc-Antoine Tanguay.
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Artificial intelligence to help your children with their homework
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