How chatbots will change the face of campus technology

There are a multitude of ways chatbots can help to streamline the student affairs and services process, maybe as soon as next semester.

In the first few months of the new semester hubbub, what if there was an assistant at the beck and call of students to help them navigate the college process? While the campus faculty and staff are likely too busy during those first few days to answer all the questions on students and parent’s minds, chatbots – akin to Siri, Cortana, and Alexa – could provide the ideal digital assistant to make not only these first few days run smoothly, but also the student’s entire time on campus.

With campus technology already sorely outdated (an EDUCAUSE survey from 2013 found that the average age of student information management systems is over 13 years) AI and chatbots could be the catalysts that finally bring campus tech into the modern era.

From applying to college, to arriving on campus, declaring a major, signing up courses and eventually graduation, there are a multitude of ways bots can help to streamline the process, maybe as soon as next semester.

student engagement

College Applications, Acceptance and Arrival on Campus

For high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, applying to college is daunting, to say the least. After the challenging task of deciding which schools to apply to, the real work begins–filling out applications, submitting transcripts and recommendations, and navigating the differing due dates, fees and requirements of each school. Using the Common Application or an individual university’s as a platform/database, a bot integrated with these systems could greatly help to streamline the process. For example, during the application process, a bot could send push notifications to students to remind them about upcoming deadlines, missing documents, or improperly submitted data, and would be available 24/7 to answer student’s questions such as “Am I missing any documents for my application?” or “What’s the deadline for submitting the application fee?”.

Upon acceptance, such a bot could also streamline the introduction to campus life. After acceptance, a university “welcome bot” bot could ask the student to select an upcoming orientation to attend and provide directions to campus, and even help the student to select courses from a list of options specific to their application. Additionally, based on the student’s interests and information from their application, the bot could suggest relevant academic and social groups to get them involved in campus activities.

Important to note is the avenue through which the bot would interact with the student. While individual universities might have their own chatbot with a Natural Language Interface (NLI), a more streamlined approach would be to create a bot that worked behind the scenes and who delivered information through the students preferred NLI, such as Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. We’re currently working to develop a streamlined way for Unit4’s chatbot, Wanda, to communicate with these consumer chatbots–and others.

Virtual and or augmented reality could also play an important role here to provide students with an individualized tour of campus. Using overlaid images in the student’s smartphone camera app and guided by GPS sensors and the student’s course schedule, a bot could provide information about campus buildings the student will have class in as well as point out relevant dorms, student centers, the library and other surroundings.

(Next page: Chatbots and AI for academic progress, financial aid and graduation)

eSchool Media Contributors