Effective Use of AI in Higher Education Will Include People

by Sarah Turkaly | November 8, 2018
Effective Use of AI in Higher Education Will Include People

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly the topic of conversation in higher education circles. It was featured prominently at EDUCAUSE and there is no shortage of articles on the early trials of AI (including an article from Signal Vine's CEO). It's pretty clear the potential for AI to impact higher education is great, but what will differentiate the impactful use of AI in higher education? Our contention is that people are at the heart of what will drive the success of AI.

We're not alone. In a recent TechCrunch articleRay Dalio, famed hedge fund manager, spoke extensively about the importance of human involvement in AI.  In it, he argues that understanding is essential to anchoring decisions on reality and contextual events. "It’s for this reason that Dalio believes that the future of artificial intelligence will rely on humans." 

Closer to home, The Chronicle reported back on the prevalence of the human factor in IT discussions. In it, the author talks about a session called "Why Only Human Intelligence Can Power the Student-Success Revolution" and includes interviews with student success leaders.

Pairing AI with people has many benefits that we have outlined below.

People are central to the success of AI in higher education

Encourage Action and Behavior change

Working in the edtech industry, we encounter higher ed AI messaging tools like chatbots. Tools like this help deliver information to students quickly. However, this approach does not guarantee that a student will be able to complete complex tasks like submitting their FAFSA. People, like administrators and counselors, provide the additional context needed to respond to unplanned questions or responses. This is why it is important to use a messaging platform that can flag a response for a staff member to answer. A real person can check a student’s progress over time, and program nudges that result in improved outcomes.

A Signal Vine user recently explained that the benefit of pairing people with automation was handling the unexpected. Students were using the two-way texting channel to surface questions, issues, and responses that the student services group had not anticipated. It was handling those issues in an effective way that fundamentally change the advisor/advisee relationship for the better. 

Build Relationships and Trust

Data-driven automation, a component of AI, is great for pulling information from your database like first name, GPA, application status, deadlines, etc. You can then target groups of students based on those attributes and behaviors. This approach helps to provide relevant and personal messages that create urgency. This is a great way to automate simple tasks and serve the students who need additional support.

However, users will eventually need a real person to support those students. Digitally savvy students can tell when they are communicating with a chatbot. We've seen more than a few occasions where students have asked  “are you a real person?” or a similar question. Students are always pleasantly surprised when they find out they are messaging a real person. They continue to ask detailed questions that could not have been answered by a chatbot alone.

Using automation that leverages the insights of your staff can nudge your students to complete tasks and build trust. It also helps them feel more connected to your school. Sending contextual messages like a birthday text or even just telling a student you’re looking forward to having them back on campus helps the student feel connected. Students are more likely to stay enrolled and have better outcomes when they feel more connected to their school. 

Automate Simple Tasks to Free Up Time for the Complex

Texting that incorporates AI is an increasingly important tool for reaching a large number of students without increasing staff workload. About half of all traffic to websites comes from mobile phones, rather than computers. Additionally, Gen Z students reportedly prefer texting over communicating in-person for simple tasks. Texting doesn’t require an app to download, an internet search, or any direct action other than opening the message. It's the perfect channel for AI to handle simple tasks like providing deadlines, links, and nudges.

As an added benefit, while automating the outreach for those simple tasks, you identify the students that require more complex support. You're essentially using AI to identify your at-risk students who have self-selected themselves for additional support or have not responded to your outreach. This is where pairing advisor or counselor support is so important. You've leveraged the power of AI to quickly sort out at-risk students, and now it's time to provide the personalized support that will ensure those students enroll and persist. 

The Future of AI

The future of AI needs humans and AI to work together to function successfully. As CIO Magazine states, the real benefit of AI will be to " help alleviate time-consuming, menial, tedious or even physically-strenuous tasks, without employees losing their jobs." Signal Vine is already incorporating this concept into our Blended Messaging ® approach. This function allows users to schedule mass messages, have one-on-one conversations, and set up automated replies - all in one conversation thread.

Pairing automation and people leads to better academic outcomes for students. It also frees up advisor time for the complex and human part of the job they love. In addition, it's also a personalized way to increase engagement and retention and sets students up for future success. This is why we believe people will be central to the success of AI in higher education. 

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