Aftab Hussain, Strategic ILT Lead, Bolton College

A growing number of education campuses like Bolton College are using chatbots to help their students, teachers and support teams. As these services mature they will be put to use across various contexts.

In this article I would like to highlight five uses for a campus chatbot; as well as providing links to institutions who have already deployed a chatbot on their campuses.

Chatbots could be used to support three broad service categories:

  1. Firstly, they offer institutions the opportunity to enhance how they provide information, advice and guidance to potential and current students on their campuses.
  2. Secondly, they offer an opportunity to reduce the friction and cognitive load that currently surrounds the completion of day-to-day tasks and activities on the campus.
  3. Thirdly, chatbots offer teachers numerous opportunities to enhance teaching, learning and assessment. Further still, when the behaviour of a chatbot is informed by underlying machine learning models it offers further gains for students, teachers and support teams on the campus.

The following 5 use cases are not meant to be exhaustive. They are designed to highlight the broad range of possible uses for chabots on a modern campus.

1. Supporting students and teachers with Learning Management System enquiries

In this use case the chatbot supports students and teachers across a number of contexts. For instance, the chatbot can support students with day-to-day enquries on the institution's LMS which can help students find subject specific content on the LMS.

A student can ask the chatbot about key words or terms that are used on the course; even engaging with the chatbot whilst in the middle of an online tutorial.

In institution's were their chatbot is well established, a single chatbot can handle course content enquiries from students across multiple courses; negating the need to deploy a discrete chatbot for each course on the LMS.

2.Supporting teachers to assess students

The technology that underpins a campus chatbot can also be used by teachers to assess students onliine. For example, a course team could create conversational tutorials; were the chatbot is used to ask closed and open ended questions on behalf of the course team.

In this instance, the course team utilises the natural language processing capabilities of the chatbot to garner responses from students within an LMS tutorial. The conversational flow that is designed by the course team and by their online instructional design team can cater for correct, incorrect or null answers and it can also manage requests for further guidance and support from students during the course of an online tutorial.

The responses offered by the chatbot can also be contextualised and personalised to meet the needs of each student.

3. Supporting teachers to manage student progress

When a course team meets, the teachers can turn to their voice enabled chatbot and ask for the latest information on any student on their course. Teachers can ask the chatbot about recent attendance, reasons for absence, current and predicted academic performance, any learning support needs, upcoming exams and so much more.

When a chatbot is used in this manner, each teacher on the campus is effectively given a personal cognitive assistant who can assist with day-to-day enquiries and tasks; and it can even prompt, nudge and give guidance to the teacher.

4. Supporting prospective students

When a chatbot has access to an institution's course inventory and it has been trained to answer general and specific enquiries from potential students; and if there is a workflow underlying the service, a chatbot is well suited to handling the large volume of new course enquiries; especially in the period leading upto a new academic year.

For example, Becky the chatbot at Leeds Beckett University helped them boost student enrollment through the clearing process.

The following video shows the university's FaceBook Messenger chatbot in operation (there is no sound on the video). The service is presented in a simple, effective and uncluttered manner; which must be warmly welcomed by potential students to the university.

 5. Supporting new students as they start their studies

I guess that when you enrolled for a new course at college or university you had lots of questions about your new course, the services that you could access to support your studies and about life on the campus.

With the advent of the campus chatbot students simply have to talk to their smartphone app to get on-demand information, advice and guidance. For example, Bolton College's chatbot handled over a 1,000 timetable enquiries each day at the start of the last academic year.

How are chatbots being used elsewhere?

Campus chatbots are not yet pervasive; so it's always a good idea to have a reference point for your own campus chatbot project. Here are six universities who have launched a chatbot service for their students.

Georgia State University and their Pounce chatbot

Georgia State took a systematic approach to address summer melt, which refers to the group of students who accept offers of admissions but subsequently do not show up for fall enrollment.

The university developed an approach that would help at-risk students through these obstacles by instituting a combination of a new student portal to guide students through the steps needed to be ready for the first day of classes and an artificial-intelligence-enhanced chatbot, “Pounce,” to answer thousands of questions from incoming students 24/7 via text messages on their smart devices.

In the first summer of implementation, Pounce delivered more than 200,000 answers to questions asked by incoming freshmen, and the university reduced summer melt by 22 percent.

This translated into an additional 324 students sitting in their seats for the first day of classes at Georgia State rather than sitting out the college experience.

The Universidad Siglo 21 and AgentBot 

The University has implemented a virtual cognitive assistant which supports students with day-to-day enquiries about the university and life on the campus. The service also supports students with their enquiries about course content.

The solution uses AIVO's agent bot. It's a great example of how cognitive services can be used to support students, teachers and support teams on the campus.

Deakin University and Genie

Deakin University's Genie App is a smart personal assistant that supports students during the course of their studies. The ability to connect to various campus datasets amplifies Genie's ability to provide on-demand support to all students on the campus.

The app also supports speech-to-text and text-to-speech interaction. It's a wonderful example of a campus chatbot.

University of Canberra - Lucy and Bruce

The University of Canberra has developed two chatbots called Lucy (the chatbot for students) and Bruce (the chatbot for support staff). The university says that it currently offers support via email, phone calls and FAQ’s. The new chatbots give their students and staff another avenue to find assistance quickly and easily. The chatbots offer the university an opportunity to establish a new streamlined service interface; enabling them to extend the window for meaningful support to all their students.

Saint Louis University and SLU

In August 2018, Saint Louis University introduced Amazon Echo Dots into its halls of residence.

The university's voice assistant is called SLU and is able to respond to a growing range of questions from students about the campus and their studies.

Arizona State University

In August 2017, Arizona State University introduced Amazon Echo Dots into its halls of residence.

Once again, the Alexa voice assistant is continuing to learn about how to respond to student questions about the campus, campus services and their studies.

The use of chatbot services at Bolton College

Bolton College launched its student facing Ada chatbot in April 2017. The use of cognitive services on the campus offers the College an opportunity to improve how students, teachers and support teams make use of online services to support their work.

The College has started to embed the chatbot into all student facing services; such as the student home page, Moodle and other bespoke applications such as its work experience app.

Over the coming academic year the College plans to roll out an iOS and Android Ada app for students and teachers; it plans to make use of machine learning to support an automatic marking service for its work placement programme and it plans to present the Ada service on the institution's staff home page.

Aftab Hussain, Strategic ILT Lead, Bolton College

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