July 30, 2020

Does the new normal in higher ed include artificial intelligent agents?

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

According to recent Gartner research, “by 2022, 20% of customer service will be handled by conversational agents.” If that is true, then what does that mean for students on a university campus? Impacted by the global pandemic that is COVID-19, the world has gone home and almost every interaction is done remotely. So how can an institution’s staff support students 24/7 in these challenging times? Now more than ever, institutions not only want to be highly responsive to their students’ general questions and concerns but also want to know how they are doing on a personal level. In a recent webinar with a group of global university leaders, we talked about creating a culture of caring. How does A.I. fit in to that kind of culture?

Consider Anthology's Digital Assistant, designed to understand the language of higher education students and their questions. As with any chatbot, it can answer basic questions at any time of day. But how do we make the A.I. capable of more than just providing answers? How can we gain insight into how students are doing and what they are feeling? If the bot can detect this, then how does the institution act on it?

The Digital Assistant, nicknamed RENEE, has been designed by our engineers to understand the intent of students’ questions and provide them the right answers. It has also been designed to respond to students who are not just asking about their grades or financial aid, but who are asking questions about relationships and feelings. Recognizing questions and concerns that need to be escalated right away to a live agent, RENEE will reach out to the student’s advisor to let them know the student needs immediate help from a live, caring person.

For institutions to implement practical A.I. on campus, it needs to be more than just another cool tech idea. It needs to solve a real problem that the institution is facing. For most institutions, the impact of coronavirus is that very real problem. Being there for students and providing a connection to institutional support amid quarantines and social distancing is paramount. Having a responsive and available A.I. to answer general questions can help, but it must also detect when a student needs more urgent and personalized engagement from a live agent.

Anthology's Digital Assistant can take the place of chat agents when they are not available, provide answers to questions specific to the institution and escalate issues to advisors by creating, assigning and managing cases in a timely fashion. It can provide the transcript and context of a conversation to the student’s timeline. Most importantly, it can detect if a student is showing signs of at-risk behavior or mental distress and send a high priority message to the advisor for more immediate intervention.

Artificial Intelligence in higher ed is still in the very early stages as it relates to interacting with students and providing insight to the institution. As more institutions come online using AI, the more it evolves across the industry to improve responses and actions on behalf of students. In this exciting time of change and transformation, it is time for institutions to begin looking at A.I. to solve some of the challenges we face as we enter the new normal.

Topics: COVID-19
Headshot of Raymond Todd Blackwood

Raymond Todd Blackwood

Vice President, Product Management