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The New Roommate on Campus

March 27, 2019

College students are stacking up their bed frames and shoving aside their laundry piles to make room for a new roommate: Alexa. The newest additions to many dorm rooms are smart speakers such as Amazon's Alexa-enabled Echo Dots.

On some campuses, these devices are programmed to do more than just order pizza and play music. Students can ask their smart speaker to call up information about school programs and activities. Equipping students with school-programmed smart speakers makes students feel more at home while reducing the amount of time administrators spend on answering questions.

"Alexa, What's for Dinner at the Commons Tonight?" 

As reported on CNBC, St. Louis University in Missouri equipped all its dorm rooms — more than 2,300 of them — with Echo Dots customized for questions on SLU sports, concerts, campus speakers, and other activities. Alexa can fill students in on the time of that night's basketball game or on how late the library will be open.   

SLU’s deployment followed up on a pilot program at Arizona State University, which supplied Amazon Echo Dots to engineering students residing at its new high-tech campus residential complex. The students used the virtual assistants to discover information about meal plans, housing, and activities.

Park University has taken the concept of an Alexa-friendly campus to the next level with the release of “Alexa, Ask Park. . . .”  By linking their Park ID to the Ask Park skill, students can get access to their course schedule information, grades, and GPA.

"Alexa, My Term Paper Isn't Due Today . . . Is It?"

Tying personal data to digital assistants opens a whole world of opportunities for college and universities to personalize the student experience. For example, students could receive a daily briefing of their class schedule, find out their advisor's office hours, track meal swipes on the university card, and receive reminders on tuition payments. By integrating Alexa into learning management systems, students could check on missing assignments, upcoming tests, posted grades, or assignment deadlines.

"Alexa, Are There Any Free Rooms in the Vegetarian Dorm?"

Voice-enabled assistants are not only helpful for students already on campus. An HBR article explains how Georgia State University tested chatbots to address the swell of questions from newly admitted students. The university could answer questions at all hours on financial aid, housing, meal-plans, and courses without hiring additional staff.

The University of Adelaide in Australia uses a chatbot to field questions from prospective students who have received their ATAR (Australia Tertiary Admissions Rank), the standardized score used to gain admission to Australian universities. Since everyone receives results on the ATARs on the same day, the phones light up from students who often have to wait for hours to speak with university staff. This past year, 2,100 of those students skipped the wait and used Facebook Messenger to converse with the chatbot, which answered their questions in an average of three minutes.

"Alexa, Is Schrödinger's Cat Dead or Alive?"

Voice-enabled devices, chatbots, and artificial intelligence are all poised to transform the educational experience. The use of chatbots can augment the work of teaching assistants by answering basic questions on assignments and deadlines, monitoring the progress of students, and providing personalized feedback.

Artificial intelligence and chatbots may also be used for intelligent tutoring sessions. They could provide a personalized learning environment to students by analyzing their answers and their learning styles. A lecture could be transposed into a series of messages like a chat conversation, where the student’s levels of understanding is assessed and the material may be repeated or progressed accordingly.

This is only the beginning. As more voice-enabled technology applications deploy across campuses, they will further advance student engagement and streamline institutional operations.

Digital Transformation in Higher Education

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