Leveraging AI in Higher Education

By: | April 8, 2020

Chatbot and virtual assistant are two types of artificial intelligence (AI) that have been around for a while but have only recently begun to pop up across numerous industries. From insurance companies to wireless service providers, we’ve all interacted with their digital representatives — sometimes to our delight; sometimes to our frustration. In fact, it’s getting more and more difficult to tell whether the agent on the other side is carbon- or silicon-based.

User-oriented virtual assistants present intriguing opportunities for solutions providers like TouchNet, which could integrate them into its solutions to answer basic student account questions such as “What’s my balance?” or “When is my next payment due?” Chatbots, which are typical server or company-oriented could serve as customer service entry points — whether they are administered by the school or through our managed services.

Students prefer virtual assistance

It’s no surprise that this technology is being adopted by universities. Today’s consumers, students included, want and often expect an immediate response regardless of the channel. If the AI experience is seamless and students get the information they’re looking for quickly, it’s better for everyone.

In fact, the benefits for both students and schools are easy to see:

  • Students can find information faster from a single source.
  • Chatbots can knock out easy responses to standard, pre-programmed questions.
  • Complex issues can be triaged for customer service representatives.
  • Staff is freed up to provide more one-on-one assistance to students.

Lasse Rouhiainen’s article, “How AI and Data Could Personalize Higher Education,” in the Harvard Business Review explains how this is already happening on the other side of the Atlantic:

Recently, The University of Murcia in Spain began testing an AI-enabled chatbot to answer students’ questions about the campus and areas of study. As this chatbot was rolled out, the school’s administrators were surprised to discover that it was able to answer more than 38,708 questions, answering correctly more than 91% of the time. Not only was this chatbot able to provide immediate answers to students outside of regular office hours, but university officials also found that the chatbot increased student motivation. All of these benefits were achieved without the need to change the structure of the staff.

Siri and Alexa: Pioneering women in the world of AI

But chatbots are just one solution. The combination of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) to where this is headed quickly. Since the introduction of Siri in 2011 and Alexa in 2014, our eyes have been opened to the ease and convenience of voice-initiated virtual assistance. My 2-year-old twins already know to ask Alexa to play their favorite song. And several campuses have placed Echo Dots in every dorm room — giving students unfettered access to Alexa for school-related questions. While privacy concerns necessitate safeguards must be in place, we already know students are willing to part ways with some personal information if it helps them get what they need.

More than FAQs

AI’s potential isn’t limited to answering financial questions or reciting class schedules. As this family of technologies matures and evolves, the more intelligent, intuitive, and effective it will become. In the very near future, AI could help identify students at risk of failing a class or dropping out, not engaging in campus activities, not using their meal plan, and more. Again, from Rouhiainen’s article:

To reduce students’ stress and improve their motivation to study, universities should also consider introducing chatbots and virtual assistants that can help them manage their mental well-being. One example of such a tool is Woebot, an AI-enabled chatbot designed to help users learn about their emotions with “intelligent mood tracking.” At a time when many university health systems are stretched to capacity, and students experience dangerously long wait times for on-campus mental health counseling, chatbots could provide some immediate relief. Of course, introducing such a chatbot is not without its own inherent risks. Universities would need to exercise extreme caution in protecting students’ personal data and would need some level of human oversight to monitor the advice that chatbots are giving students.

College campuses are on the cusp of an AI surge, and the possibilities for chatbots and virtual assistants are endless. Both schools and students benefit from their inclusion because there are so many audiences to serve and so many topics to cover. If you’re considering the potential benefits AI holds for your students and institution, we look forward to helping you introduce technology that assists students, staff, alumni, and everyone who interacts with your school.