Oct 25 2019

Universities Using Chatbots to Improve Student Services

Using smart technology, universities are able to bring efficiency to academic and administrative tasks.

Universities are embracing artificial intelligence solutions to assist in IT projects and academics. At George Washington University, after piloting its 24/7 chatbot service MARTHA, 89 percent of users advocated the tool be a permanent tool.

“We’ve created a service broker that can handle decisions on where to go to look for information,” Jonathan Fozard, assistant vice president for the CIO’s office at George Washington University told EdTech. “As we educated it and users tested it, the Watson component was learning alongside of us. If someone types in a question about 3D printing, we know that’s most likely a student who has access to 3D printers in the engineering classroom or a medical enterprise.”

As AI technology advances, university chatbots have evolved into valuable learning tools. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities take advantage of AI to boost graduation rates.

AI Chatbots the Actions of Real Human Assistants

Given that AI-based chatbot responses grow more refined as the tools learn via experience, introducing a bot into a university environment incrementally can often make sense.

When George Washington University piloted its MARTHA bot, for example, it generated approximately 4,500 conversations in about a month, says Fozard.

“We rolled it out to understand how we could improve students’ experience, and faculty and staff’s, on campus,” he says. “As we educated it and users tested it, the functionality was learning alongside of us.”

When Ashok Goel, a professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing, first introduced AI teaching assistant Jill Watson in an online class, he didn’t tell students she wasn’t an actual human being until the end of the course.

“Part of the reason was that we didn’t even know if it would work; we were not convinced it would actually do anything useful,” he says. “So, it was initially just an experiment for us in AI.”

During the Stellic Degree Audit Application implementation at Carnegie Mellon University, the software was only available to advisers and administrators, who tested the audits prior to the solution being released to students.

“As a part of the pilot, soft release and official release, the Stellic team controlled which students had active accounts in the application,” says Jamie Brandon, senior systems analyst in the university registrar’s office. “Students received access as soon as the Stellic team activated their accounts.”

For more on chatbots, check out "Help Desk at George Washington University."

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