Universities Deploy Chatbots to Aid Students in the Admissions Process and Beyond

AI-powered tools help higher education institutions offer more efficient student support.

Chatbots assist people daily with everything from ordering pizza to dealing with customer service issues. So, it’s no surprise that higher education institutions are embracing them to interact with their No. 1 customer: students.

Whether it's navigating the admissions process or scheduling classes, universities have embraced artificial intelligence to streamline student interactions and offer timely support.

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Chatbots Add Efficiency to the Admissions Process

Rather than blindly searching the internet for information on colleges, students could be asking chatbots their questions. Boston-based startup AdmitHub has designed chatbot apps for Georgia State University, the University of Memphis, West Texas A&M and Arizona State University, EdSurge reports.

Students can ask questions about general topics such as financial aid or issues more specific to the school they are inquiring about via text, Facebook Messenger and email.

At Georgia State, “Pounce” the chatbot has been helping students navigate the application process. In 2017, the university won a Technology Association of Georgia Excalibur Award for employing the virtual assistant that leaders believe increased the number of students who successfully enrolled.

“Our No. 1 goal was to deploy a solution that would nudge and walk students through complex processes such as filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as well as the basics of the admitted student next steps checklist in a personalized way. The process and results far exceeded my expectations,” says Scott Burke, the assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions, in a news release about the award.

AI Supports Better Scheduling, Teaching

Once students are enrolled, AI-powered bots can assist students with navigating other processes. At the Technical University of Berlin in Germany, a chatbot named “Alex” helped students in test groups find and schedule classes more efficiently, Times Higher Education reports.

“Instead of searching through online timetables, students type normal questions to Alex, such as when classes are, who will be teaching them and what exams they have to take,” reads the Times Higher Education article. “The bot replies in natural-sounding sentences and can ask follow-up questions to get to the bottom of what a student really wants to know.”

Georgia Institute of Technology went a step further by introducing a virtual teaching assistant named Jill Watson — which is powered by IBM Watson — in an online course about artificial intelligence. Jill Watson was first used in a spring 2016 course to answer questions in a class chatroom, and students weren’t aware they were interacting with AI until the last day of class, Georgia Tech reports.

Ashok Goel, the professor of computer science and cognitive science behind Jill Watson, tells Georgia Tech that he was surprised at the chatbot’s effectiveness in boosting student engagement. Since the initial rollout, Georgia Tech reports that the virtual TAs have continued in the course, with some students even creating their own personalized chatbots.

“When we started, I had no idea that this would blossom into project with so many dimensions,” says Goel in the Georgia Tech story. “It’s been a bonanza of low-hanging fruit we’re just starting to pluck.”

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Mar 09 2018