College students sitting around a wooden table, studying and working on their devices.

4 ways our campus uses machine learning to build community and empower students

From onboarding to professional development, machine learning can help you improve the campus experience

In the past decade, higher education has experienced a major shift toward digital experiences. This change reflects the way in which the rising generation prefers to engage with each other and with their instructors—as well as how they desire to learn. It’s an evolution that is echoed at campuses across the nation.

This means that the way faculty and staff interact with students is fundamentally changing. Students expect to be able to connect with us anytime, from anywhere. This is particularly challenging for us at Indiana University (IU) because we are so geographically dispersed and touch an enormous diversity of individuals and groups, with a fall 2018 enrollment of more than 114,000 across eight campuses and multiple satellite locations. At IU, we have a compelling need to create new pathways to support our students and to give them digital options to engage with faculty, staff, and each other across disciplines and locations.

To address this challenge, we believe it’s important to leverage smart tools that not only tap into the expertise of our staff but also incorporate emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

AI and machine learning support human knowledge

One partner that has helped us tackle this challenge is a company called InScribe. InScribe has developed a machine learning-supported Q&A platform that allows us to efficiently crowd source answers to common issues and high-priority questions. InScribe connects our learners and experts across the traditional boundaries of class, campus, and semester.

Related: How AI will shape the university of the future

When individuals need help, they can turn to InScribe and immediately reach a community of experts including advisors, educators, and peers. Students can seek curated verbose answers that minimize reliance on 24/7 call centers, websites, emails, or face-to-face conversations.

As questions are answered, the system automatically categorizes and stores them so everyone benefits from the conversations that came before. This community of inquiry is enhanced by an AI system that helps prioritize the flow of new questions. Using sentiment analysis and natural language processing, InScribe can proactively alert us to high-priority issues and individuals that may need one-on-one intervention.

This scalable approach to knowledge sharing has allowed us to increase access to information, boost student engagement, and create a sense of community across our many populations at IU.

As a result, we are leveraging InScribe in several key areas including onboarding new students, academic support for existing students, and professional development for faculty.

Student onboarding

One population most in need of information is our new students. To quickly integrate them into university culture and help them navigate key topics such as financial aid, registration, and career planning, we leverage an InScribe Q&A community supported by our IU coach advisors. A small number of IU coaches answer important questions and nurture students during their first year. This is particularly useful for IU Online students who may never set foot on campus. InScribe helps coaches scale their time, and allows our students to connect with the appropriate IU staff member across distances.

Student academic support

Of course, the need for support doesn’t stop when you finish your first year. Existing students frequently reach out to instructors via email with questions about course content and materials. Using InScribe, we are able to bring together populations of students and faculty across similar course topics. Now, students can quickly find answers to commonly asked questions or post new questions to seek help from faculty and peers. InScribe enhances student learning and gives us the ability to quickly disseminate the information students need to succeed. The curation and sharing of knowledge also benefit faculty by giving them a space to answer student questions once, instead of multiple times through one-on-one exchanges.

Professional development

At IU, it isn’t only our students who are learning. Our faculty are also continually developing new skills for use in the classroom. InScribe supports this ongoing professional development by giving instructors a space to connect with one another, find information, and share best practices. This is particularly useful for new faculty, part-time faculty, and distance faculty, helping them come up to speed on new terms, processes, and procedures. Faculty can weigh in, ask questions, and contribute to our knowledge repository so everyone on staff easily benefits from IU’s body of knowledge.

Related: Going beyond the hype: How AI can be used to make a difference

Faculty truly are our greatest asset at IU. New solutions, such as InScribe and others that are accessed through Teaching.iu, help enhance and highlight their knowledge and expertise and share it with their peers across our organization.

Forward progress with intelligent technology

At Indiana University, we are exploring what it means to have smart devices, to leverage AI and machine learning, and to bring them into our educational environment. As tools become more intelligent, we are witnessing how they are positively impacting our teaching, learning, and culture.

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