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Seven ways bots will change the student experience

Derren Nisbet looks at how bots will alter a student's time at university

Posted by Hannah Oakman | August 25, 2016 | Higher education

I wanted to provide a glimpse in to the future and the role ‘bots’ will play in managing students’ lives on campus. A bot is a software application that runs tasks automatically over the Internet. They perform functions that are both simple and repetitive, typically at a much higher rate than would be possible for humans. With recent advances in technology and machine learning, they can not only respond to requests, but proactively, via a digital assistant, initiate action based on what they already know. 

Bots will replace apps in the not so distant future. Messaging platforms like Slack and WeChat will serve as a smart interface to the user, helping students interact with bots using natural language. 

As colleges and universities compete to attract digital natives, bot technology offers exciting opportunities to create a seamless and simple student experience. Use cases are considerable but here are just some of the ways bots could help institutions better serve students.

Bots will replace apps in the not so distant future. Messaging platforms like Slack and WeChat will serve as a smart interface to the user, helping students interact with bots using natural language

1. Admissions
Through the messenger bot, the student is informed that their application has been successful and they have been offered a place at University. After confirming, the student is asked to choose their course preferences and modules from a list of available options based on their application. Through their messenger window they can then talk to their phone and make a payment. The student is prompted to join relevant study and social groups with others from their selected courses.

2. Academics
Following an online quiz, the student has been told that they need additional qualifications and knowledge to undertake a physics MBA. The bot suggests an online course that will provide those grades and enable acceptance to the course. It usually costs $200 but to encourage participation the student will receive a 50 percent discount. Once confirmed, the bot manages enrolment to the course and syncs the student’s calendar with the course timetable. Automatic mobile payment can be made or an invoice sent later

3. Financial aid
Based on information supplied in the application form, the bot automatically contacts enrolled students that are entitled to financial aid, scholarships and grants to advise them what’s available. Once tuition, fees, room and board are confirmed, the bot suggests ways in which financial aid can be apportioned and can arrange payment directly according to the student’s wishes. At the end or beginning of every term, the bot will proactively contact the student to confirm if changes need to be made.

4. Course transfers
Students register to make a course transfer. Based on the course timetable in the student management system, the bot will suggest possible courses that would fit with current commitments. The student makes their choice and the bot manages course enrolment and updates the student schedule. A list of timeslots are provided for when the student can meet with their advisor or course tutor.

5. Communicating with faculty and advisers
The bot proactively notifies the student when an advisor makes a change to a course, when a submission is due, when an advisor has one-on-one time for meetings available. The student can confirm via the messenger bot if their work is ready for submission. They can request a deadline extension or arrange a meeting.

 6. Managing academic progress
The student bot notifies students at regular intervals how close or far they are from achieving the scores they need to pass, or achieve the next grade. It will suggest modules where extra credit can be attained and manage the registration process.

 7. Personal data
Students are prompted at regular intervals to confirm their personal data, emergency contacts and communication preferences are up to date.

This technology has the capability to revolutionise the student experience. Through automation, bots will significantly reduce the administration and research students have to undertake by presenting them with the right information at the right time. Bots will also be able to optimise students’ activities on campus so that undergraduates make the most of their time and choose the study path that is best for them. Ultimately students will be spending more time on the activities that enrich their time on campus. Similarly, institutions will become more efficient, moving from a data and system management model, to using bots to proactively manage the best student experience they can deliver with the resources at hand. 

Derren Nisbet is Managing Director at Unit4 UK&I 

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