Anxiety disorders in pupils and students: A chatbot to help?

Anxiety disorders are a growing problem among students. According to several studies from the USA, Great Britain and Australia, almost one third of the students surveyed have struggled with anxiety disorders in the course of their lives. Women in particular seem to be affected more often. But there could be a new helper in the fight against anxiety: a chatbot named „Botto“ that can help students get a grip on their fears.

The chatbot was developed by the students Tarek Shuieb, Suhal Enayat, Theodor Gerer and Sissi Zhou during a semester at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich under the supervision of Professor Gudrun Socher.

Logo von Botto

What is a chatbot?

The term “chatbot” combines the words “chat” and “robot.” The concept was born from the idea that a chatbot is like a virtual conversational partner, capable of having automated conversations with humans. Thanks to artificial intelligence, chatbots can recognize human language and respond to it. Nowadays, chatbots are widespread and can be found on websites, messaging apps, and mobile applications. They are most commonly used by companies to automate customer service and be available 24/7. However, there are also other potential uses, such as providing information or solving problems.

The group of students from Munich had the idea to develop a chatbot named “Botto” to help students deal with their anxieties. For the prototype’s development, the RASA system was primarily used, which is generally accessible software that makes it easier for developers to create chatbots. Additionally, they used Moodle, an open system that allows teachers and schools to provide and manage online courses and activities.

Before starting the technical implementation, the students devoted their research to anxiety itself and investigated when it most commonly occurs among students and what common strategies are used to solve it. The name of the developed bot – a combination of bear and Otto – is intended to evoke friendly and cozy associations.

Der Chat Botto in seinem digitalen Wohnzimmer

To make Botto seem as approachable as possible, the students additionally gave it a digital home that should convey comfort and relaxation without distracting from the focus and mascot design. They demonstrated how Botto should function in an individually developed storyboard.

Die Geschichte einer ängstlichen Studentin als Comic

At the end of their work, the students conducted a test in real conditions, in which Botto communicated with a female student suffering from exam anxiety. Botto asked the student how she would rate her stress level on a scale of 1 to 100 percent and suggested a suitable breathing exercise.

Chatbots like Botto could be a promising way to help students manage their anxieties, in part because such technology is available 24/7 and can quickly respond to individual needs. The developers of Botto, who emphasize that Botto cannot replace a therapist, are happy to make their dataset available to anyone who wants to further develop the chatbot to offer a corresponding app.

Contact with the students is possible via the University of Applied Sciences in Munich.


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