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“Check In” For Class With A Messenger Chatbot

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Stephen A. Coetzee and Astrid Schmulian

Department of Accounting, University of Pretoria, South Africa

[email protected]; m.me/1155399797938993

In this age of blended learning and using technology in teaching, the physical classroom still offers several benefits for teaching and learning, and students who miss lectures lose those benefits. Yes, information technology offers many exciting opportunities to offer similar benefits, but a skilled teacher in a classroom remains an invaluable component of teaching and learning.

Teaching a large class of approximately 600 students, we suspected that many students were not attending class regularly and consequently performing poorly. Unfortunately we had no proof to confirm our suspicions, and little concrete information on class attendance for us to react on as instructors and to empower us to effectively address the challenge of the ‘lost’ students. Despite requesting the university to implement a system to track class attendance, there was little reaction (perhaps due to the associated costs in an economic environment where the costs of higher education are under scrutiny).

After years of frustration we finally found a solution! A messenger chatbot tracking students’ attendance! Here is how we did it using Chatfuel (www.chatfuel.com)…

In our course administration messenger chatbot, m.me/frk201tuks, we created a ‘Check in’ link in the home block.

After selecting the ‘Check in’ option, the chatbot offers the student the block to confirm their attendance.

Pressing ‘Send Location’ triggers a map on the student’s mobile or tablet.

To present the ‘Send Location’ bubble to the student in their messenger app, the ‘Share Location’ plugin in Chatfuel is used.

Immediately after sharing their location, the student is asked to confirm that they personally shared their location and that they are in fact attending the lecture.

The purpose of this message is to ensure that students take responsibility and creates a sense of accountability for sharing their location. We are considering formalising this response further by collecting the student’s student number in a ‘User input’ when they subscribe to the chatbot on the first day of a new semester. We can then display the student number in this message together with the student’s name and last name to further formalize this commitment response.

This message is presented to the student by adding a ‘User Input’ card immediately after the ‘Share Location’ card in Chatfuel. The response is then saved to an attribute {{Attendance}}.

The chatbot finally replies with a word of thanks and provides the student with a menu item to return to the main menu.

In the ‘Attendance’ block, the data collected by the chatbot is then emailed, by using the ‘Send email’ Chatfuel plugin, to a dedicated Gmail account created specifically to track attendance. Although the ‘Share Location’ card collects several data points we chose to only email the {{address}}, together with the student’s {{first name}}, {{last name}}, and response to the confirmation message {{attendance}}. The comma separators in the email body field are important for extracting the data later!

Having collected the attendance data with the chatbot and emailing this data to Gmail, the next step involves automatically transferring the data from Gmail to a Google Sheet. To do this we used a free Zapier (www.zapier.com) work flow.

Before setting up this ‘Zap’ you need to create a Google Sheet to store the data and create the columns for the data you need, in this instance ‘Date and time’, Email address’ and ‘Name & Location’.

This information is then used in creating the zap linking Gmail to the Google Sheet.

In the Google Sheet, the body text of the email is collected in one column. To separate this information into columns for {{name}}, {{last name}}, {{address}} and {{attendance}}, highlight the data and in the ‘Data’ menu select ‘Split text to columns’ and when prompted select ‘Comma’ as the separator. The data is now ready for further analysis and manipulation.

We now have a fully automated class attendance register thanks to our messenger chatbot! We can determine who is in class and more importantly who is not and can now begin to reach out to these students.


“Check In” For Class With A Messenger Chatbot was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Chatbots Magazine

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