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South Australia trials 'EdChat', an AI chatbot enhancing education safety
Tue, 7th Nov 2023

EdChat, an AI chatbot designed to enhance learning and ensure the safety of students, has been successfully trialled in South Australia, opening the doors to a potential revolution in education technology. The initiative is the brainchild of the region's Department of Education and has been developed in collaboration with Microsoft.

A trial involving more than 1,500 students and 150 educators across eight schools was completed in August, focussing on how the chatbot functioned in a real school environment. It allowed the Department to gain a broader understanding of the tool's limits and its potential benefits.

EdChat is designed to promote student safety while they explore AI-supported learning. It also provides teachers with the necessary tools to guide and facilitate their students' exploration of this new technology.

Several key highlights emerged from the initial trial, including EdChat's role in assisting with schoolwork, stimulating creativity and critical thinking. The tool facilitated better comprehension of complex concepts or topics. It also offered students with 24/7 access to a source of instant, safe information.

Remarkably, participation increased at a considerable pace. By the end of the 8-week trial, the number of users had surged from 20% to numbers significantly higher. The focus on safe, secure, and ethical adoption ensured that student data privacy and the proper use of AI were perfectly balanced.

In light of the successful trial, the South Australian Department of Education now plans to expand EdChat access to schools and students in remote or rural areas and those serving communities in lower socioeconomic zones, driving equity in education.

The AI-powered chatbot, EdChat, was the Department's answer to disruptive generative AI services such as ChatGPT. The chief executive of the SA Department for Education, Martin Westwell, stated that the chatbot was a step forward towards maximising the value of AI in education while minimising the associated risks.

"EdChat is the first step in our strategy to maximise the value AI can deliver in the education space, while minimising the risk," Westwell said.

Rosie Heinicke, principal at Mitcham Girls High School - one of the schools that participated in the trial, described how students valued EdChat as a safe, judgement-free space to ask questions and explore ideas. Furthermore, she stated that the chatbot is a resourceful tool enabling students to transition from answering questions to learning how to ask the right questions.

The chatbot also ensures data protection and the ethical use of AI technology. Daniel Hughes, Chief Information Officer at the Department, stated that safety measures and controls have been fitted into the system, making it safe and suitable for student use. All interactions are logged meticulously, maintaining data security while providing school staff with visibility over student usage.

Following the completion of the trial, the Department demonstrated confidence in EdChat's underlying architecture and the effectiveness of its controls. "Our next steps are to get EdChat out to the schools and students who stand to benefit the most from AI," Hughes concluded.