Can students develop a high-tech AI product in school – and how do they start?

When thinking of a high-tech product, you might imagine people in white coats in a computer lab, or a bunch of new-age Silicon Valley guys that nobody seems to understand. But is it the whole story? 

Certainly not!

Modern technology has democratized access to many of the high-tech building blocks. Today almost anyone can build tech solutions to real-life problems and help create value for their school or community. But how do we get students and classrooms a taste of it? How do we familiarize children with these things early on?

Understanding product development basics

Whether you are developing a new car model, new software, or a state-of-the-art gourmet plate for a restaurant, the underlying process will be surprisingly similar. 

TCGen says product development process runs through the following stages:

  • Idea 
  • Product definition
  • Prototyping 
  • Validation / testing
  • Detailed design
  • Commercialization

Everything starts with an idea. It can stem from thinking about a problem you encountered, and which you are looking to solve. 

But, beware. While it is great to think deeply and have ideas, an idea is only a starting point and doesn’t really solve anything. So, it is important not to stop there, but move on to the second step which will steer things towards a clearer execution path. Product definition is about listing what the future product will look like, i.e., what features it will have, how it will behave, how it will be used.

After that comes the creation, the actual shaping of the product. At this point it is still a prototype, not a finished thing. And that is perfectly fine. Many believe it is better to build a prototype sooner rather than later, as it pulls you into the loop of testing and refining it, which can run in iterations. Once the maker is happy with the solution and how it works, it is polished through detailed design. After that, it is ready for real-life use. 

It doesn’t really matter if you are building a rocket ship or a simple wooden tool. Most likely you will go through these same steps when creating something new. We believe this type of thinking is best learned early on, preferably in classrooms.

In the creation and innovation economy, companies expect their employees on all levels to contribute and create. So, it is imperative that students learn methodologies and soft skills needed in creating something from nothing, be it a high-tech solution or an artwork. 

How schools can offer this type of opportunities and empower students to develop skillsets for their future jobs, has been the focus of our work at STEMI for many years now.

How we do it at STEMI – building a chatbot

What makes our programs different from the usual school lessons? It is a deep understanding of product development stages and putting our students first as they master the process. 

We believe that teaching children is not about giving them rules and guidelines to follow on their way to a desired outcome. It is even worse if we as educators decide what the desired result is and expect children to replicate it. 

Instead of that, we seek to develop and unlock skills by giving children tools to understand any challenge. That kind of skillset will likely serve them well throughout their education and later when they join the workforce.

How are we doing that? 

We developed a program that teaches kids how to develop a high-tech software product – a chatbot. It guides them through each of the stages described above. 

As everything starts with an idea, we don’t want to take that away from them. We don’t tell them what type of solution they should build. Instead, we aim to inspire them. We do that by engaging them with complex topics and letting them come to their own conclusions on how chatbots can be used.

Taking students on a journey of discovery

By shifting the focus to “Why?” instead of “How?”, the STEMI-powered education starts with why anybody would want to use chatbots. Some of the things that come to mind are:

  • A chatbot can be available day and night, unlike the average human 
  • It could “talk” to millions of people, and do that faster than a human 
  • It could save people from waiting on the phone to get information they need
  • It could save people from working in a super boring job, where they mostly repeat the same answers to the same questions
  • It would not be caught in a bad mood, or snap at someone for asking the same question again and again

When you take students on such a journey, they can think about solving problems they have seen around. Time and again, we are amazed with how creative they are when they are free to think without the borders of school tasks.

So far students enrolled in our programs have developed chatbots that educated people on renewable energy sources and how to decrease our environmental impact. Another bot offered people opportunities to help neighbors in difficult life situations. There was one that helped students get quick information on when their next class starts, and in which classroom. 

All these products – and they are high-tech AI products without any doubt – were born out of students’ own ideas. It continues to fascinate us how children can create and dare to solve the biggest world problems when we are not limiting them, or their imagination. 

Turning the idea into a high-tech product

What comes after the idea? We encourage children to think deeper about it and find their way to solutions. Through teamwork and the design thinking methodology, they can deconstruct and rearrange their idea until they come up with a set of features their solution needs to have. 

This process is a valuable learning experience for several reasons.

First, it helps children master soft skills needed when cooperating in project-oriented scenarios. Those same skills will likely serve them well in their future jobs or their own business ventures. Second, it teaches them – in practical ways – that working together is key to building outstanding things. 

Building a high-tech product in school is in many ways a revealing experience. It helps children see how each one of them has something to add to what the team is building. Those with talent or preference for software will focus on developing the algorithm. Those with passion for language will work on developing the answers and communication of the future chatbot.

We don’t skip on any skill or preference of students, which is why the chatbot is a great project to learn from. It has a visual interface, a language component, and STEM behind it. As such, it covers off diverse areas, appealing to children with diverse interest.

The program consists of the following components:

  • Intro to chatbots
  • Natural language processing
  • Design
  • Coding
  • Chatbot architecture
  • Machine learning
  • Design thinking
  • Project management

We firmly believe this is a key skillset they need, as they learn and grow to become the creators of the future – in any field they choose to embark on.

Catering to the whole group, and varied interests

When it then comes to prototyping and solution shaping, we aim to make it interesting to all the students, not just to those interested in STEM. 

How do we do that?

Together with the best industry experts, we developed a multi-layered education experience platform where you can create your own chatbots from scratch, in multiple ways. You can take the full-code route, which means writing in the programming language, and learning all the tech behind it. If you choose to go the other way, you will create the chatbot using drag-and-drop functionalities, focusing on sentences and language while not diving deep into code.

What is most important is that whatever path you choose, the result will be the same. It will be a functional high-tech solution with a real-life impact. And students will immediately see the outcome of their work. 

The chatbot program – and other ones on the STEMI platform – allows your students to start building their project portfolio early on, while in high school. This could help them in future job interviews, as employers value practical experiences and project work. If it is from an early age, all the better. If your school helps students get a head start in this way, too, it could score higher than schools without such programs in their curriculum.

Finally, the core question is not whether students can develop a high-tech AI solution in school, as STEMI has made that completely achievable. Rather, the question is how many skills they will develop while doing that, and how big the future impact of those solutions will be.

For more information on our Chatbot program, and how your school can benefit from it, contact us and schedule a call with one of our experts. We look forward to hearing from you!