AI-miable connections

How students are engaging with chatbots at:

Winston-Salem State University (N.C.)

“One of the odd things about an AI chatbot is that students will be very honest with it,” says Joel Lee, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management.

“They may even, at times, tell the AI things that they won’t tell their counselor, or ask it questions they’re afraid to ask a human.”

Winston, the institution’s chatbot, gets questions ranging from a student’s love life to movie-inspired fears that self-aware AIs will take over the world. If students curse at it, they will receive a casual but clear message to mind their manners. Winston also sends emojis as responses on occasion.

LINK TO MAIN ARTICLE: Rise of the machines on college campuses

“Students treat him like a person more than you think,” says Lee. “The most common text message that he gets is ‘Thanks,’ which is interesting because he’s clearly an AI and you don’t have to thank him, but students do, which is cool.”

California State University, Northridge

Students are much more willing to engage with a chatbot than with a human, as it can be seen as a lower-risk situation, says Elizabeth Adams, associate vice president for undergraduate studies.

One student recently asked the university’s chatbot about the exact size of a dorm mattress, sending multiple texts to get the information. “Obviously, she could’ve picked up the phone and called housing to get the answer, and it would’ve taken probably less time,” says Adams.

Ray Bendici is deputy editor of UB.


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