Conversational AI: Striking the Human-Technology Balance with AI Chatbots in Education

by Signal Vine | October 21, 2021
Conversational AI: Striking the Human-Technology Balance with AI Chatbots in Education

Despite what science fiction movies might have you think, artificial intelligence, or AI, isn’t out there to replace humans and take over the world. In fact, AI can actually be your friend.

That’s how we like to think of it here at Signal Vine — as our friend, our convenient little helper, freeing us up to do more impactful things.

In his article on how AI will interact with us in the workplace, Joe McKendrick sums up the sentiment quite nicely: “Instead of worrying about job losses, executives should be helping to reduce jobs in which AI and machine learning take over boring tasks, while humans spend more time with higher-level tasks.”

Three years later, we’re still talking about whether or not robots will take our jobs, but AI is poised to create millions of new ones as well.

All higher education staff are seeking to find a way to answer the 80% of the simple inquiries that are general to all students. Signal Vine has incorporated conversational AI into our solution, resulting in a stronger partner in the ongoing conversation with students: a chatbot for higher education.

What is Conversational AI?

Conversational AI is artificial intelligence that provides human-like interactions through automated communication methods. It can recognize human speech and text, learn how to interpret intent over time, and then respond with human-like conversation. Chatbots and conversational AI are often used interchangeably, but chatbots are a narrow application of conversational AI.

Conversational AI in Education: Signal Vine’s Virtual Advisor

Signal Vine’s Virtual Advisor tool is an AI chatbot for higher education. The Virtual Advisor allows college staff to answer commonly asked questions only once — when students text in, the Virtual Advisor can send the pre-written response, rather than requiring the staff to answer each question individually, over and over again.

The concept of this tool stemmed from a common customer sentiment: “I am so tired of answering the same questions over and over again!”

Even if you adore your students, burnout is inevitable. Using this higher education chatbot ensures consistency, accuracy, and saves staff time and energy.

When the Virtual Advisor simply steps in to answer frequently asked questions, staff have time for those critical and  valuable interactions with students on subjects that are unique to the student’s particular situation. To put it another way, when students text in with a question that is general (i.e., “When does the Financial Aid Office open?”), they receive a response with the pre-vetted answer. Should the student have additional questions, the message is flagged for staff to respond to their specific issues that the chatbot cannot answer on its own.

How Does the Virtual Advisor Higher Education Chatbot Know When to Respond?

The Virtual Advisor “listens” to conversations, made possible by conversational AI. It sorts through certain queries looking for the frequently asked questions it has been programmed to know.  The Virtual Advisor can successfully answer basic  questions about deadlines, requirements, and general facts about your institution or unit. The personal questions are left to staff to answer. But, by filtering through the basic (but important!) questions, the Virtual Advisor helps decrease staff workload, complementing your student relationship and building communication.

It judges each query to see how well — with how much confidence — it recognizes it. If the Virtual Advisor ranks the query with high confidence — in our case 90% or higher — it will respond with the corresponding pre-programmed answer. If the Virtual Advisor ranks the query with low confidence, it flags the message for a human to respond. It acts as an assistant, so staff can do more important tasks and not get bogged down in answering the same question for the hundredth time that day.

On the back end, the engineers are looking at the flagged messages and determining where the chatbot could continue to be trained and which items and questions it could learn to answer in the future.

How is Signal’s Vine’s Virtual Advisor Different from other  Chatbots for Higher Education?

There are some key differences:

  1. Signal Vine’s platform is designed to move communication with students seamlessly between technology and staff. Neither the student nor a staff member has to make that initial decision about who should answer the messages. The Virtual Advisor will answer the questions it can, and then flag the rest for staff members.
  2. Signal Vine’s chatbot is all text-based, which is where students are 24/7. The student can start a conversation with the Virtual Advisor and doesn’t need to change channels to have a professional respond.
  3. Signal Vine’s chatbot is integrated into the student conversation flow. Staff members and students have full visibility into who told them what, when. This increases the accountability and consistency for both students and staff.
  4. Virtual Advisor works as part of a coordinated communication engine. Paired with text nudges, the Virtual Advisor can support student questions — even the ones not directly related to the original conversation.
  5. Many higher education chatbots exist to deflect advisor interaction with students. Signal Vine’s Virtual Advisor strives to make those interactions more meaningful and timely.

Virtual Advisor: Conversational AI in Education

It’s more than just a chatbot for higher education. Rather than taking over conversations and possibly confusing students, our Virtual Advisor works with your staff to make sure students get the answers they need. It’s constantly learning and getting smarter. At the end of the day, however, you and your students still control the conversation. Request a demo to see exactly how it works for yourself.

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