Intelligent Agents: Effective Practices and Pitfalls

Intelligent Agents: Effective Practices and Pitfalls

This guide was developed based on Brightspace Community article Intelligent Uses Of Intelligent Agents.

We advise you to check out our other guides, Intelligent Agents – Getting started and Intelligent uses of Intelligent Agents, especially the first one if you haven’t been introduced to Intelligent Agents.

 

Intelligent Agents is an automated email notification feature that can assist instructors, administrators, when defined activity occurs in a course or when there is a lack of login or course entry.

 

Here are 7 effective practices recommended:

  1. Think carefully about whether you want the Agent to send an email to the student, or to you, or both.
  2. When the Agent send you a notification, be prepared to contact the student. Some tips in how to deal with a great number of request.
  3. Use Intelligent Agents sparingly: repetitive emails may lose effectiveness, reserve use for the most important items.
  4. Carefully consider the implication of Manual versus Automatic running Intelligent Agents.
  5. Use the Agent Name and Description fields to your own benefit.
  6. If using an Agent to send an email to yourself, and if you expect many, create rules in your inbox to highlight them.
  7. Intelligent Agents become more valuable as class size increase.

 

And potential pitfalls:

  1. Be careful when using Replace Strings, ensure that they are properly formed and use them sparingly
  2. Be aware of what happens to intelligent agents when copying a course from term to term
  3. Agents are not included when exporting a course
  4. Cannot Reply to the primary “From” on Agent emails

 

7 effective practices recommended:

Who receives the email?

Think carefully about whether you want the agent to send an email to the student, or to you, or both.

  • There are various examples of when you might want to NOT automatically send an email to the students.
  • Sending to yourself gives you one more chance to decide whether to contact the student, or not.
    • For example, you may want to send the email to yourself indicating that students haven’t accessed your course during the past week (see Intelligent Use #2).
    • By sending the email to yourself, and not directly to the student, you have one more chance to determine whether that email to the student might be warranted.
    • Maybe the student told you in advance that they would be out of the country and disconnected for 10 days. Do you really want to send that student an automatic email asking “Hey, what the heck are you doing?”

 

Save time with Text Expanders

When the Agent sends you a notification, and doesn’t send an automatic email to the student, be prepared to contact the student, if warranted.

  • Use a “text expander” when multiple, similar emails to students may be needed.
  • A “text expander” can reduce the amount of time that you spend writing emails.
  • Texter (for Windows), but there are several others.

 

Our top five uses for Text Expanders:

  1. Tech Support: sending commonly asked questions for tech support or common troubleshooting techniques for regular questions
  2. Grading: adding commonly used phrases or resources for grading discussions, quiz feedback and other assignments
  3. Common HTML Code: when editing with Brightspace HTML Editor.
  4. FAQ: Sometimes you just need to send the answer that is in an FAQ
  5. Instructions/Information: Sending links and information about campus resources or instructions to install software, etc.

Use Intelligent Agents sparingly

 

  • Too many repetitive emails may lose their effectiveness
  • Reserve use for the most important items

Mix it up between Automatic and Manual

 

Carefully consider the implications of Manual versus Automatic running of Intelligent Agents:

  • Automatic Agents will run once a day, or less often, as scheduled.
  • You have to remember to turn off a Scheduled agent, or set starts and stop dates (recommended).
  • Manually triggering the Agent allows you to determine when the timing is right.
  • Manual run also executes immediately when you select it, rather than waiting until the designated time of day for automatic runs.
    • Designated time of day for Scheduled Agents will be the same throughout the whole D2L Org.
    • Your LMS Admin can change the time in Browser Config Variables, Tools, IntelligentAgents, PreferredRunHour

Names and Descriptions are your friends

 

Use the Agent name and description fields to your own benefit:

  • Name your Agent well to easily pick it from the list.
  • Describe what the Agent is intended to do and when it will be used.
  • Add a reminder to yourself in the description about info that needs to be changed from term to term (due dates, office hours, etc.).

Handling many IA emails

 

If using an Agent to send an email to yourself, and if you expect many of these emails:

  • Create a rule in your email client to automatically place these message into a special folder
  • Make sure the folder is visible on your email client, so that you don’t miss the incoming emails.
    • Hint: Not including the “Agent Completed” email (indicates Yes or No whether there were any “hits”) in the Rule is a good way of keeping your eye on the special folders, since those emails will come into your standard email inbox.

The bigger the better

 

There are times when size doesn’t matter, but:

  • Intelligent Agents can become more valuable as class sizes increase.
  • It’s a matter of scale. Automatic messaging is of less value when interacting with 10-15 students, and of great value when interacting with 30, 50, 100, or more.

For an example, see this post about Jaqi Broadbent’s uses of Intelligent Agents with a class of  nearly 2,000 students.

Potential Pitfalls:

Be careful when using Replace Strings

 

Communications triggered by Intelligent Agents use Replace Strings. (make sure you check our guide for Replace Strings).

  • Ensure that your replace strings are properly formed. No one wants to see this in their email: Hi {Initaiting UserrFrist Mane}!
  • Use “name” strings sparingly, as you would when speaking with the student. Every other sentence is a bit unnatural.
  • Also, the Replace Strings can only use the names that are recorded in the Brightspace database. If a student only wants to be called by a nickname, the FirstName Replace String will only pick up the name in the database.

Copying a course from term to term

 

When copying course components from an old course to a new one:

 

  • Each Intelligent Agent will be copied over, BUT the settings of each agent will not be copied.
  • You must enable agents in the new course to make them active (and this is a GOOD thing! – otherwise the agents might be running before you are ready for them to run).

Courses Export, but not Agents

 

If you are exporting a course, Intelligent Agents are not included as part of the course export package.

 

  • You can copy course components from one course to another to transfer Intelligent Agents.
    • Same note as above, they need to be enabled before they will run.
  • To copy Intelligent Agents from course to course, the two courses must be on the same main ORG.
    • In other words, if you teach at two schools, you probably can’t copy the Agents from a course at one school into a course at another school.

Cannot Reply to the primary “From” on Agent emails

 

If an email is sent directly to a student, they cannot reply to the primary sender of that email.

 

  • In the body of your email text, make it clear that they should “Reply all” and make sure you added your email address as CC on the original draft of the email, or
  • Include a “mailto:” link in the email body sent by the Agent and tell students that they need to reply to you that way (although the original text of the agent email will likely be lost in that case).
  • Example:  If you reply to this message, you MUST Reply All and ensure that my email address (instructor@tudelft.nl) is in the CC field of your email before you send it. If you do not do this, I will not receive your email.

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