July 31, 2020

Do you need a digital assistant on your campus? It depends.

This content was previously published by Campus Management, now part of Anthology. Product and/or solution names may have changed.

Have you ever asked someone a question and the answer was, “It depends”? It depends on the time, the circumstance or your own characteristics. As people, we can listen to the question and observe different factors based on who is asking the question in order to provide the right answer under the right circumstance. Now what if you ask that same question to an artificial intelligent agent? How would that AI know those factors about you and provide the best or correct answer? This is one of the challenges we set out to solve when creating RENEE, A Digital Assistant for higher education.

RENEE, the name of our artificially intelligent digital assistant, has finally been released to an initial set of institutions with the ability to answer questions specific to their student population. We set out to build it with the ability to understand the kinds of questions prospects, applicants and students would ask. Our goal was to create an A.I. entity that could provide support 24/7, covering a wide range of topics from questions related to the admissions process, what is happening on campus, financial aid and academic related queries. However, while designing its intelligence, we very quickly realized that the answer would be, could be or most likely should be different at each institution.

We had other goals as well, it had to be a single entity who could learn more quickly by interacting with students from multiple institutions simultaneously. This way, with more students asking questions, potentially the same question in a different way, we could reinforce its ability to learn more quickly. The more it works with students, the more accurate its understanding of what students are really asking becomes. In the A.I. world we call this “the intent.”

There are other problems that we believe A.I. can solve at higher education institutions like, are my students okay? What signs are students giving us that we should really follow up on, like loneliness, fear, sadness, or lacking confidence in their experience or academic aptitude? This is what makes it special compared to other bots that simply answer questions from a knowledge base. RENEE knows that the answer depends on the student, the institution and the situation. It can tell if the student is asking a basic question like “Am I on track to graduate?” or handle a statement like “I hate my roommate.” It can tell that the first question is about locating the information regarding the student’s academic progress and can direct the student to the right to the answer. For that second question, RENEE knows it will require someone at the institution to reach out and communicate that they care.

The technology today provides us the tools and the ability to bring artificial intelligence to the campus to increase customer service, improve support to students and provide institutional insight into what students are thinking and feeling, and what they need. In an increasingly digital world, the technology can actually make us more human when our students are in need of comfort and personalized support.

If you want to know which AI solution is right for your institution, then the answer is still -- “it depends.” But if your institution is considering a practical AI solution on campus to provide 24/7 support to your students, then Anthology has a solution for you.

Headshot of Raymond Todd Blackwood

Raymond Todd Blackwood

Vice President, Product Management