Chatbots are programs that act as an additional communication channel between an organisation and its audience. If the audience has a question, Chatbots will automatically and instantly respond without human intervention. The technology is based on AI, natural language processing, and text analysis.
This technology is a boon for universities around the world. It can help with counseling, answering queries, and delivering helpful information to students and their parents or guardians. No longer do students need to wait days before an email is answered or a request is handled.
However, chatbots go much further than this. – they are the outriders towards an intelligent student information system that supplies answers to any question a student may ask, 24/24, and 7/7.
The technology hasn’t made its way to the majority of universities yet, but it is slowly catching on. Education Technology firm Ellucian took a survey in which 52% of recruiters and 58% of students said they trust digital credentials. And, of course, there’s no safer credentialing than with Blockchain.
Are Universities Using Chatbots?
According to Mark McNasby, CEO of Ivy.ai, chatbots were initially used to cover specific areas like financial aid or IT. However, institutions are now expanding their use for much broader functions.
Today, 35-40% of questions asked by students to different departmental chatbots relate to other departments. For example, a college admissions chatbot may be asked about the career options of a specific field. That’s the domain of the placements and careers department.
To solve this, companies have started to develop university-wide chatbots AdmitHub is an example and their chatbot now covers 6,500 discrete topics.
At the moment, chatbot use is still low, but the results have been very promising. Institutions like Herriot-Watt University, George Washington University, and Chung-Ang University have begun experimenting with AI chatbots to assess an application, student reaction, and effectiveness.
Chatbots Allow for Better Communication
Chatbots have already shown promise for better communication with students. At George Washington University, the MARTHA bot generated 4,500 conversations in a month. The bot was shown to improve its functionality as conversations increased.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Computing, a chatbot called Jill Watson was introduced by Professor Ashok Goel. His students didn’t know that she wasn’t a human being till the end of the course. That speaks to how seamless and effortless communication with a chatbot can be.
At Chung-Ang University, students benefitted from a new chatbot introduced in 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it provided guidelines for online class attendance and safety around campus. Plans are now being made to add support for more languages and providing more information.
Not only do chatbots encourage communication due to this seamlessness, but they also generate more conversations. With an increase in communication, students can develop better relationships with their university, and of course, get answers more quickly.
Chatbots Improve Student Retention
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, only 61.7% of all US students continue at the same college they enter originally. In Germany, 28% of students give up their studies at the institute they began in the first year. However, the introduction of chatbots has yielded some improvement in these figures.
Take, for example, Bethel University. It’s a small liberal arts college in Mishawaka, Indiana. For three years, first to second-year retention was on the decline. When they tried Wilhelm, a chatbot AI, their retention rate went up by 4%. Also, 85% of the students that used the chatbot gave it favourable ratings.
Chatbots can Handle Student Counselling for Academia and Campus Life
Not only are chatbots are a great way to engage with students for academia, but for campus life as well.
At Georgia State University, chatbots were successfully utilised to reduce ‘summer melt’(lost students), guiding students that were unsure about which courses to take to select their subjects. It also helped students process financial aid applications and placement exams. This resulted in a 22% reduction in summer melt and 324 more students attended class on the first day.
Chatbots have also been shown to help students with mental health issues. An experimental study was carried out with Chatbots in the University of Tsukuba. The study compared the effects of a chatbot course with a self-guided mental health course. Participants at the university exhibited lower stress levels with the chatbot programme.
Chatbots, though still limited in their use by universities globally are gaining a greater market share as the convenience and cost-savings slowly become apparent. And there is anecdotal evidence that COVID 19 restrictions are accelerating this take-up, for students, faculty, and parents. And they can do this across the entire student journey from admission through to certification.
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