Published: 5 Minutes read

Smarter Student Engagement – Key Webinar Takeaways

Did you miss our recent webinar on how to get started with AI? Have a look at the key takeaways discussed below.


On our most recent webinar we spoke with James Rowley, Associate Director at Cognizant, and Jospehine Walsh, Head of Student Engagement Projects at the University of Galway about how AI can transform student services at higher-level institutions allowing engagement at scale, saving costs, and ensuring data-informed decision making.

John kicked off the webinar by explaining that students have an ever-increasing need to feel more engaged with their university due to hybrid learning, the rise in the cost of living, the accommodation crisis, etc. Furthermore, students have an expectation of receiving the same level of service and personalisation as they do from the brands that touch their lives daily, like Starbucks, Netflix, and Amazon. And so, for Universities, the challenge is how they become more responsive at scale and have the capacity to support students better as they journey through their university life. 

The Digital Transformation Journey

James explained that for most organisations on their digital transformation journey, the first step is understanding the difference between Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (ML). Education institutions have been “light-footed” so far but factors like the pandemic and the rise in hybrid learning have pushed them further on their transformation journey. 

Often what is required is a change in old legacy systems that need to be updated. 

And that, James, explains is the beauty of ML-based solutions. They have a long life, they’re retainable, they’re future-proof, and they’re solving problems that universities have been struggling with for years. Machine learning has become an essential component in addressing immense challenges that had previously been unsolvable. 

Josephine explains it was the pandemic that led the University of Galway to look at AI solutions as a physical space was not an option at that time to allow them to meet their goal of providing universal student support. They took a very inclusive approach involving cross-departments so that everyone clearly understood the support AI would provide in a positive way. That led to a lot of success. 

Student Engagement at Scale

John begins to mark out the four-step process of deploying an AI-powered platform. The first is providing student engagement at scale by creating a virtual assistant called Cara that answers student queries immediately and 24/7 saving hundreds of hours in staff time. Cara meets the students where they are on WhatsApp, messenger, and the web. 

Josephine explains that they really wanted the chatbot to be conversational, to allow some banter, while it still accesses information directly from the University of Galway website. And because of that tone, Cara has gone from being transactional, answering frequently asked questions like “What time does the library close?” to “Where can I fill my water bottle?” to now being more supportive. Now the University can see that students are accessing Cara at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and they are asking Cara “I’m lonely, what can I do?” and Cara is directing them to speak to a real person on our support teams. 

Finger on the Pulse of College Life

Step Two is providing the university with real-time analytics so that they have a picture of the heartbeat of the University. Josephine explains that every week they meet to discuss the analytics that Cara is presenting. “We triangulate that with what’s coming into the walk-in centre and what are our student advisors who meet students, you know, in one-to-one appointments. So, in kind of getting those three inputs that have really informed us in terms of our content for that weekly communication.” Josephine explains that usually, they develop communications and content based on a student journey map but the analytics from Cara has challenged them to rethink their strategy at times. 

Content Management System

John explains the content management system that Galvia has created on the platform helps the university support all teams to create control and collect knowledge in one place and simplify this knowledge sharing. Josephine explains that they can direct students to information that they most want them to see and also that Cara is always learning so accuracy levels are always going up. James explains that you have this constant feedback look, which is really important in terms of improving that model and improving your systems but also to keep the students abreast of what is happening. 

Identify Students at Risk

When that vital machine learning has taken place and trust is built then the fourth step is integrating with legacy systems, legacy systems, academic records, library access, a learning management system, sports, and social, to empower universities to proactively alert them to students at risk of dropping out. 

James explains that for higher-level institutions integration and security are key and that the Galvia platform addresses both. It’s about bringing all that data together and then being able to integrate that, manage it, and integrate it with cloud providers also. 

They then go on to discuss integrations and answer questions from the panel on deployment time and costs. 

Download our Buyer Guide on How to Get Started with AI-Powered Student Engagement.

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