Image: Wikipedia, 2023

Resistance is futile

First made popular by the Daleks in the BBC series Dr. Who in the 1960’s (sorry, Star Trek fans), this phrase reflects well my feelings about AI. So if you can’t beat it, join it.

My colleague Ron Owston, a fellow Research Associate at Contact North, kindly (well, I think it was kindly) offered to develop a chatbot for my web site, which has over 2,700 separate posts on online and distance learning. I’m calling it Tonybots.

To test it out, here are some questions I put to it, and Tonybots’ responses, drawing on my web site:
Q. Is AI a good or bad thing for online learning?
A. As an AI, I don’t have personal opinions, but based on the context provided, it can be said that AI has both potential benefits and challenges for online learning. On the positive side, AI can support teachers and instructors, handle tasks like content presentation and management, and potentially aid in skills development. However, there are also concerns about AI in education. These include the potential for unintended bias in algorithms, the need for transparency about how AI works, and the ethical implications of its use. Furthermore, the use of AI in education requires educators to adapt and change their teaching methods. So, it’s not a simple matter of AI being good or bad for online learning, but rather a complex issue with many factors to consider.
Q. What are the issues regarding equity and access with online learning?
A. Equity and access in online learning are significant issues that have been highlighted in various discussions. Here are some of the main concerns:
  1. Digital Divide: Not all students have equal access to the necessary technology for online learning. This includes reliable internet access and appropriate devices. This is particularly problematic for students in remote regions, those in poverty, or within specific socio-economic or ethnic groups.
  2. Digital Literacy: ot all students, or even teachers, have the same level of comfort or proficiency with digital tools and platforms. This can create a barrier to effective online learning.
  3. Accessibility for Disabled Students: Online learning platforms and materials need to be designed with universal design principles to ensure they are accessible to students with disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss.
  4. Quality of Instruction and Resources: There can be a wide disparity in the quality of online learning experiences, depending on the resources available to different schools or teachers.
  5. Cultural Affirmation and Social Engagement: Online learning needs to reflect the cultural diversity of learners and provide opportunities for social engagement, which can be more challenging in a virtual environment.
  6. Support for At-Risk Students: Identifying and providing additional support for at-risk students can be more challenging in an online learning context.
  7. Equity Mindedness: There is a need to consider equity issues when designing online learning, including access to materials, quality of instruction, and pedagogical issues.
These issues highlight the need for intentional design and support structures to ensure online learning is equitable and accessible for all students.

Q. What are the main policy issues for institutions in the move to blended or hybrid learning?

A. The move to blended or hybrid learning presents several policy issues for institutions:
  1. Resource Allocation: Institutions need to ensure they have the necessary resources to support blended learning. This includes technology infrastructure, instructional design support, and training for faculty.
  2. Curriculum Changes: The shift to blended learning may require significant changes in curriculum and teaching methods. Institutions need to develop policies that guide these changes and ensure they align with educational standards and goals.
  3. Support for Faculty: Faculty may need support and training to adapt to blended learning. Policies should address how this support will be provided and how faculty will be encouraged to embrace new teaching methods.
  4. Quality Assurance: Institutions need to develop policies to ensure the quality of blended learning courses. This could involve setting standards for online content, monitoring student engagement and performance, and regularly reviewing and updating courses.
  5. Equity and Access: Policies should address how institutions will ensure all students have equal access to the technology and support they need to succeed in a blended learning environment.
  6. Organizational Structure: Institutions may need to consider changes to their organizational structure to effectively support blended learning. This could involve creating new roles or departments, or redefining existing ones.
  7. Innovation and Flexibility: Policies should encourage innovation in course design and teaching methods, and provide flexibility to adapt to changes in technology or student needs.
  8. Student Support: Policies need to address how institutions will provide support to students in a blended learning environment, including academic support, technical support, and support for mental health and wellbeing.
These policy issues highlight the complexity of the shift to blended learning and the need for careful planning and ongoing review.
Each response also provided the sources from my web site to support the results.
It is important to stress that this chatbot was drawing only from my web site, not generally from the Internet. I found that using a general chatbot I got more vague and less precise answers.

My reaction

I have to say I was impressed. These responses are a pretty good summary of my views and thoughts on these topics. However, they still need to be contextualised, that is, applied within a specific institutional or teaching context, and more specific conclusions or recommendations would be drawn if I was acting as a consultant, for instance.
I think it’s fair to say that this use of AI is fine for looking backwards, and that is useful, but it is not so helpful for looking forwards. But then you need to base future decisions on past knowledge, at least to some extent. So yeah, as Tonybots said, it’s rather a complex issue with many factors to consider.

How to use Tonybots

I have added Tonybots to the Welcome page on my web  site: or you can go directly to it by clicking on the image below:

Image: G2, 2023

I am also trying to add it as a masthead to the home page of my site, alongside search, but I am getting some technical help to do that. I will let you know when that’s done.

Iin the meantime please feel free to experiment with Tonybots, and do let me know your reactions by using the comment box at the end of this post.


  1. You never stop innovating, Tony!

    I decided to give TonyBot a query I could check, and asked “Has Tony spent time in Mexico?” – it gave a decent summary but the link provided was what I hoped, for the time I got to meet you during that conference in Guadalajara.


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