AI chatbot takes up post at Staffs University in UK first

The support assistant has been created to improve student experience

Staffordshire University has become the UK’s first university to use an AI-driven chatbot to help improve the student experience.

The digital coach, named Beacon, will be used to respond to popular student enquiries, as well as building deeper relationships with students in order to identify at-risk or unhappy individuals. The AI function will then be able to provide tailored support and guidance to each student’s particular questions and concerns.

Students will have access to the digital coach from their phones, and can interact via text or voice command.

The majority of students have a strong preference for on-demand, instant responses to queries, according to Andrew Proctor, director of digital services at Staffordshire University.

He said: “Previously responding to each individual query took time but by introducing Beacon, students can interact and get responses instantaneously any hour of the day or night. Not only this, but Beacon also gets in touch with students to provide them with personalised, timely and relevant information and nudge them towards actions and activities that will maximise their experience and attainment.”

Wellbeing has been linked to positive academic achievement and it is the goal of the university to ensure every student has what they need to have a fulfilling university experience, said Proctor.

Ultimately, our goal is to ensure every student has the support and coaching they need to enjoy university life and achieve their full potential.
– Andrew Proctor, Staffordshire University

He added: “Ultimately, our goal is to ensure every student has the support and coaching they need to enjoy university life and achieve their full potential, and Beacon is certainly helping us deliver this.”

“Early feedback has been fantastic, and we have a truly ambitious vision and roadmap to leverage AI and develop Beacon to become one of our most important assets.”

The impact of AI on education has been widely reported, with 2019 being cited as the year that AI hits the mainstream.

Proctor told CIO UK that AI is an important part of the university’s digital vision, and is a core factor in its 2030 strategy: “We’re establishing Beacon as one of our core strategic channels between us and students, because as part of that 2030 strategy, we established the idea that at some point over the next 10 years, artificial intelligence (AI) will become our new user interface (UI).”

He added: “One day students will interact more with AI on a daily basis than any member of the university faculty.”

Cloud services provider ANS Group have joined Staffordshire University in rolling out Beacon, and are confident in AI’s longstanding future in education.

ANS CTO Andy Barrow said: “Staffordshire university are true trailblazers and are setting the blueprint for the future of higher education across the UK. Over time we expect AI to become interwoven into the fabric of the education landscape, becoming integral to revolutionising the student experience.”