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Dahlia Pilot Project

Thank you for your interest in participating in Persona's pilot project. This page intends to explain our pilot project in more depth, provide more details about our app and share our long-term goals.

September 1st, 2022

Download the full Pilot Project

At Persona, we are focused on enhancing the future of education for students through cutting-edge Artificial intelligence (AI) technology. There are many subsets of AI, meaning the technology can be applied to solve a wide range of problems. For example, AI can be used to identify objects in an image or to play a board game like chess. Persona is focused on a subset of AI called "conversational AI", or in other words, giving computers the ability to talk with us. An example of conversational AI you might be familiar with could be Siri, Alexa, or Google Home.

Persona has been working on advanced conversational AI for the past year to develop a new application for students called "Dahlia". In a sentence, Dahlia is a virtual AI tutor for students to get help with their coursework in Math, Science, History and Computer Science. An easy way to think about Dahlia is this: Imagine a mobile app like Siri, except much more advanced that can talk to you just much like a real person. Instead of being able to assist you with things like reminders or mobile phone functionality, Dahlia can help students with their coursework in school, just like a real tutor would.

Dahlia has been internally tested over the summer months and is now ready for a pilot project to get a wider range of exposure and student feedback. In this pilot project, we are looking for student users to try Dahlia for a semester's course duration. The purpose of our pilot project is to understand better how helpful Dahlia is and where it needs improvements.

This page is intended to explain what Dahlia is, our pilot project in more depth and our goals with Dahlia.


What is Dahlia?

Dahlia is a virtual AI tutor that students can chat with to get personalized help with their coursework. Currently, Dahlia is capable of helping students enrolled in Math, Science, History and Computer Science at a secondary education level (Grades 9-12).

At its core, Dahlia is something called an "Open-Domain" conversational AI model. What this means is that Dahlia has no bounds to what it can talk about, just like humans. This allows us to deliver an experience to students that feel like they are chatting with a real tutor.

Our current version of Dahlia is integrated into Facebook Messenger (shown in the video)and Slack. This decision was made because we believe most students have Facebook, which will create a frictionless experience without having to download another app on their phone. We believe this will lead to more students using Dahlia, which will ultimately help more students and improve our product in the long term. If students do not have Facebook, we welcome all students to use our Slack integration, which works very similar to the video on the right.


How does Dahlia work?

This is a great question it is important when trusting Dahlia to help a student and concerns around accuracy.

Language Model

We use something called an "autoregressive language model" to predict the next word in a sentence. This model is trained on massive amounts of internet text data, which allows it to memorize snippets of the internet it has seen before. This helps Dahlia to understand the context of a sentence and provide a more accurate response.

Conversation Model

Our base language model is capable of having conversations, but they tend to be very poor quality. To address this, we fine-tune our base language model on large amounts of student-tutor conversations. This allows Dahlia to get familiar with the style of talking with students, which leads to better conversations and increased accuracy. Because many of these sample conversations we show Dahlia contain factual accurate information, it also continues to learn content from this data.

Web Search

Dahlia has the ability to search the web for information that it may not know. A common use case we are experimenting with is using the web to understand current events. This is an incredibly nuanced and difficult problem to solve, but one we feel will be crucial to building a system grounded in truth.


The Pilot Project in Practice

Now that you have an understanding of Dahlia and how it works, we want to share the details of how the pilot project will look for students.

As mentioned earlier, the goal of our pilot project with schools is to understand how helpful Dahlia is for students. While we can test Dahlia internally, we believe the only way to gauge how helpful Dahlia is if students find it helpful in a real educational setting.

For this reason, we are looking for a small number of students (a total of  5 students per class we work with) to try Dahlia for one semester. During this time, students who participate in our pilot project are expected to use Dahlia at least twice a week. The students in our pilot project will be selected by the student teachers whom we have partnered with. Students at any time can opt out of the pilot project or refuse participation if they have been selected by their teachers.

Since our pilot project revolves around understanding how helpful Dahlia is, we will be sitting down with students in person to get their feedback every 2 to 3 weeks. Because students are the end users of our product, we believe their feedback and suggestions are paramount to the success of Dahlia. These interviews will be done at the school we are piloting this technology at and outside of class time. We are strongly against impeding students' class time and will never be conducting interviews during classroom times.

If we do plan to conduct interviews with students on the premises of the school, everyone will have a criminal record check prior to the pilot project beginning.

Vietnamese college student using smartphone


Transparency With Data Collection

As a company, we are focused on ethical AI and being transparent with the data we collect. This is a summary of what data collection and what our purpose is for it.

We do not collect any personal information from students, as it is strongly against the purpose of our app. 

Conversation Transcripts

We store the conversations students have with Dahlia. The reason we do this is to further improve our AI models and build more "training data". These transcripts are fully anonymous and cannot be traced back to an individual student.

Conversation Types

Making sure students are using Dahlia in a healthy way is a top priority for us. To do this, we use AI models to detect whether a conversation included any harmful language or dangerous tones. We store the history of these detections in the students profile to improve our models.

Last Time of Conversation

A feature we have built into Dahlia is a "short-term memory". Dahlia can remember a conversation from 10 minutes from the last sent message. To make this work, we monitor the last time a student has sent Dahlia a message.


Long Term Goals

While the pilot project is focused on one to two semesters, we have long-term goals for Dahlia. Our ultimate goal is to build a technology that helps students whenever they need it, in the most humanistic way possible.

In the ideation of this project, we identified two major problems that many students face which were validated through conversations with students and teachers. The first one was most students need help the most when they are outside the classroom and don't have access to their teacher. We view this as a major problem because it can lead to students falling behind and experiencing difficulties in school. Another reality for many students is that parents may not be able to help their children with their coursework.

The second problem we identified is that most students feel embarrassed to ask their teachers for one-on-one help, regardless if they are struggling. While there may be a multitude of reasons for this, we believe based on conversations that this is a larger problem than most people realize.

Our goal with Dahlia is to solve these two problems and provide a brand new experience for students to seek help whenever they need it in a judgment-free way. We hypothesize that students will use Dahlia as a place to get help, explore their interests and have a trusted entity they can go to for help.

We believe that Dahlia will open the door to a new world of AI education and unlock new ways of learning. For instance, today Dahlia is a text-based chatbot that students can text with like a friend. In the future, we view Dahlia as an app that could expand into much more humanistic forms, such as voice or virtual reality. 

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In class
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