It’s a little like that friend who talks to you every day on social networks. But instead of sending memes, making jokes, and taking precious seconds to respond, it tells you things you need to know and responds in an instant. Most importantly, it always gives you the right answer. We’re talking about a tool developed by the Ullo startup from Uberlândia in the state of Minas Gerais, which brings so-called chatbots, or bots, to the world of education.
Released as Mr. Enem in October 2016, just before the Enem (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio, or National High School Examination), the tool based on the Facebook Messenger application soon attracted the attention of candidates who, even while up to their noses in books, spent hours on the social network. “We released the tool six weeks before the exam, and included every question since 2009. Users could enter and talk to Mr. Enem, who answered in a humorous manner. The reaction was really positive and the tool became very popular,” says Bruno Nunes, 24, a systems developer and partner in Ullo, during a chat at Campus Party Brasil in São Paulo. The robot certainly had his work cut out, sending more than 1.5 million messages and 150,000 questions from previous tests to around 10,000 users by the day of the test.
Unlike older versions which used the Microsoft Word text editor, which was hard to control and frequently interrupted the work of the user, the Ullo character is installed in the list of real contacts and begins to interact with the Facebook user when he or she sends a ‘Hi’ message, starting the process of messaging Enem questions.
The tool interacts when the user sends a “hi” message
“Instead of the student studying answers from a printed book, without any kind of interaction, now they answer everything inside the bot. As well as being a fun way to study, the bot says things like “You can do it”, “Don’t get the next one wrong”, “Guessing doesn’t work”. This interaction encourages engagement, and people started commenting about it to their friends and sharing it,” says Thaysa Starling, 26, a partner in the platform with experience in corporate education.
Once the peak of accesses inspired by the test was over, the company, which also includes a third partner, the publicist Leandro Latini, 30, decided to launch the Ullo platform, a paid-for, customizable version of Mr. Enem, aimed at educational institutions and which works with Skype and WhatsApp as well as Facebook. This version allows the institution to choose a conversational tone that is closer to the target age group (as long as it’s above 13 years, which is the minimum allowed by Facebook) and the type of course offered. Teachers can select questions based on past or future lessons, separated by class or by student, and also receive a performance report.
Interaction with robot encourages engagement with students
“We’ve managed to solve a problem that several schools have with technology, which is how to make students use it. We add their personal tastes to the pages they like and the songs they listen to on Spotify. If they have a task to complete by Friday and are going to the Guns and Roses show, they need to be stimulated before the concert. By generating this empathy, this friendship, the student is more motivated to do the activity,” says Bruno.
On the Ullo platform, the cost of R$7 per user is met by the institutions. The payment model is usually applied by class in face-to-face teaching and, in terms of distance learning, is adapted to each user.
The startup has already secured contracts with five private schools in Minas Gerais, reaching 11,000 students, and is now in talks with a private teaching group in São Paulo. And what about state and local governments? “We haven’t even tried, but we’re open to it,” says Thaysa. “It involves a tendering process and we need someone to open doors for us. We’ve grown very quickly and as the private networks have already signed up, we haven’t even looked yet.”