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Leveraging AI Chatbots to Reduce Chronic Absence

Adam May 20, 2021

Strong communications with family members is one of the most important ways to reduce chronic absenteeism amongst students. While many schools strive to achieve consistent messaging and relationships between staff and families, this outreach can be time intensive and inefficient. 

The pandemic has only made this need for communications more essential, as more students are becoming chronically absent than ever before. The challenges of online learning require frequent check-ins with students and families to make sure they are getting the assistance they need in order to participate in learning. 

Many school districts choose to send letters, write emails, make phone calls, or home visits in order to track down students and families who are running the risk of chronic absenteeism. However, there is often not enough time or resources to manage all of these interventions, leaving staff members overwhelmed and unable to execute other tasks. 

These interventions also cannot just happen once, as it is important that families and students are reached out to multiple times to offer support and guidance when it comes to returning to school. Families often report hearing from their school very infrequently, sometimes because of the number of interventions schools have to perform or issues with delivering messages. This can leave families unaware about their students’ progress at school or if they are at risk of becoming chronically absent. 

For schools who want frequent communication and updates sent out to families regarding student attendance, AI Chatbots are an innovative and scalable technology that can efficiently reduce chronic absenteeism. Automated text messages sent by the bot to families regarding their students’ absences to date ensures that families are aware of how many days missed their students have. Frequently updating families about their students’ attendance status gives them actionable information and awareness about their students’ learning. Keeping families informed about their students’ attendance is one important way that schools can make sure that everything is being done to assist a student in need. 

Districts can choose when to message families about their students’ attendance, perhaps after a specific number of days missed. This cadence of notifications, written as friendly nudges sent over text messages, allows for families to receive up-to-date information without having to log on to an online gradebook. Sending out this information over text messages is more accessible and increases the chance that the message is read. 

Texting is an ideal way to send out this information because of how often we communicate over text messages nowadays. Often the easiest way to get in contact with someone is over text message, as many people have their cell phone on them at all times. Our world has shifted to communicating over text messages, so updating school correspondences to these changes is a necessary step to modernizing and adapting our education system. 

Given the potential for the accessibility of school information sent over text messages, leveraging AI Chatbots for other facets of school communication is one way to build upon this outreach. The bot can not only be used to notify families about attendance, but also serve as an additional resource or line of support for families. 

The chatbot sends out these nudges regarding absences, but using artificial intelligence the bot also can execute two-way texting communication to ask families if they need any assistance in helping their student get back to class. If a family responds to the bot asking for help, the bot can point them to district resources, such as bus information, technology help, or counseling services. 

Using the chatbot’s AI technology to assist families and point them to district resources is one way to amplify the support provided to students and families. Keeping families informed about absences is important, but in order to truly reduce chronic absences further assistance is necessary. The chatbot can automatically send out resources and guidance specific to family and student needs, saving time for staff members who have to respond to countless emails and questions throughout the day. 

For example, the chatbot can send out a nudge to a family detailing how their student has missed a couple of days of school and then ask if they need any assistance getting their student back on track. By probing the family to see if there are any ways the school can assist the family, the chatbot is able to understand what the student and family needs. The family can then respond over text message and say that they need help with transportation, and the bot can automatically send the district bus schedule, making sure that the family now has the resources they need to get their student back to learning. All of this messaging is done through the chatbot’s technology, allowing for staff members to focus on other work and more intensive interventions. 

AI Chatbots are innovative in the K-12 field, however there is research into the positive impact of this type of messaging and technology. To create our AI Chatbot, AllHere built upon a study by Dr. Peter Bergman of Columbia Teachers College that used two-way texting to message families about attendance. The results of the study were significant, as students whose families received the personalized messages reported an increase in GPA, reduction in course failures and an increase in class attendance. 

With this research basis, the AI Chatbot sends out messages that are actionable, timely, and relevant, ensuring that families read the information and that the messages are not seen as spam. Using best practices, the bot also does not send too many messages so there is a low opt-out rate for messaging. This way, families view every message from the chatbot as helpful and important, and read messages as they come in. 

Leveraging AI Chatbots to automate messaging and access to resources is one way to reduce chronic absences in schools. This technology is effective, low-cost, and can reduce staff workloads while increasing support for families and students.

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