Published: 4 Minutes read

Student Engagement: its an AI Revolution

Did you catch our recent UCISA webinar on 'How to Get Started With AI-powered Student Engagement'? Let's dive into the key takeaways below.

Hosted by UCISA’s CEO, Deborah Green, we were joined by James Rowley, Associate Director at Cognizant, Firoz Khan Pathan, Client Relationship Manager at Cognizant, and Josephine Walsh, Head of Student Engagement Projects at the University of Galway.

Watch the webinar is full here.

How AI can address current challenges in student engagement

The conversation kicked off with the topic of current trends in higher-level education. James emphasised that students today need enhanced user experiences and personalised interactions to stay engaged.

Furthermore, the shift to remote and hybrid learning models, along with the growth of artificial intelligence, has presented a plethora of data and analytics opportunities for educational institutions. With this abundance of information comes the ability, to provide around-the-clock student assistance, offer better mental health support, and address outdated legacy systems.

Cara – the University of Galway’s virtual assistant 

John and Josephine tell the story of how the University of Galway implemented an AI-powered student engagement platform in 2022. Initially, it was motivated by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for easily accessible information and support for students learning remotely. 

The platform included the creation of a chatbot called Cara (meaning friend in the Irish language), available 24/7 through WhatsApp and web browser, providing factual information based on existing University data. By connecting various data sources, it empowers student services and advisors to better understand student needs. Josephine states that Cara’s impact goes beyond individual queries. It serves as a starting point for identifying trends and issues among students. 

Cara has streamlined communication between students and the University. Students no longer have to navigate multiple channels or wait for office hours for assistance. This efficient communication process enables quick identification of problems and appropriate actions. Whether it’s addressing technical difficulties or providing mental health resources, Cara plays a vital role in ensuring timely support for students.

How analytics can help university staff make better decisions 

Insights from Cara’s analytics, are helping staff make better decisions about communications to students. Josephine cites a particular example of when the fee deadline passed. The student services team assumed students would no longer face difficulties or have further concerns about fees. As a result, they had planned to halt communications regarding fee queries. However, Cara insights showed that fees were very much a hot topic for students and so the team adapted communication strategies accordingly.  

In terms of mental health support, John explains that sensitive pathway maps are built into Cara so that no matter when a student in distress may contact the University through Cara they will be extended support and once office hours begin, the student will be contacted by a real person, a staff member. 

Josephine raised an interesting observation that they have found that certain students find it more comfortable seeking help through chatbots than directly approaching a person. This insight emphasises the potential of AI to bridge the gap, ensuring that students who might otherwise hesitate to seek help openly can still access the support they require. 

The future of student engagement: automation, personalisation, and data-driven insights 

James states that over the next five years, we can expect to see significant changes in the field of education. 

One key trend is the automation of administrative tasks. AI technology is now able to generate exams and coursework, freeing up educators’ time for more meaningful interactions with students. 

Personalisation is another area that will greatly impact education. With advancements like Cambridge Math’s adaptive curriculum, coursework can be adjusted based on each student’s individual needs. This tailored approach ensures that every student can complete the curriculum in a way that suits their learning style. Furthermore, personalised assessments and feedback systems are gaining popularity. By providing tailored experiences and targeted feedback, students feel more engaged and supported in their learning journey. This approach fosters trust between students and educational institutions, ultimately leading to higher retention rates. 

Lastly, James explains that data-driven insights will play a crucial role in improving education. Through analysing data, educators can identify struggling students early on and design effective interventions. Curriculum design can also be enhanced by leveraging data to identify areas where improvement is needed. 

These advancements will revolutionise how we teach and learn, creating a more efficient and engaging educational experience for educators and students alike.

If you want to learn more about how to get started with AI-powered student engagement, then download our guide here.

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