In part two of our series, guest blogger Sue Spies offers tips and suggestions for harnessing new technologies and protocols to ensure a better student experience.
Digital transformation has been a major focus in higher ed. But as more colleges and universities continue to adopt an increasing number of digital solutions, especially during the era of COVID-19, campus leaders need to humanize this technology to ensure student success.
Humanizing technology involves facilitating connections, especially with students, and demonstrating these interactions are happening. Schools should also utilize technology that shows they understand their students.
Some of the ways that schools can humanize students’ experiences with technology are through single sign-on gateways and artificial intelligence.
Creating one-stop shops with single sign-on
Single sign-on gateways play a major role in the process of humanizing technology because they deliver that one-stop-shop experience students and parents expect when accessing their student accounts, financial aid, and registration information.
The concept of one-stop shopping started in the physical space around 10 to 15 years ago to eliminate students having to run around campus from one office to another, particularly during registration periods, to get their financial aid and student accounts in order. There was limited communication across these departments. Having separate offices created frustration and poor customer service. Schools decided to aggregate the appropriate data from various systems into one view to create an integrated dashboard, so whoever accessed that data could make informed decisions and immediately take action.
These solutions provide separate dashboards for the students and the back-end administrative staff. For staff, customer relationship management (CRM) systems provide case management and bring together data from disparate sources on as few screens as possible with the ability to drill down further when needed. Reporting tools allow for tracking to ensure follow-up and gain insight into trends. It’s also helpful for staff to see what students see on their own devices to help students when an issue arises. These platforms can upload documents, configure workflows, and support student feedback for schools to receive quick, actionable data.
Implementation involves training staff and educating students about the relevant academic policies, the impact of billing and financial aid registration, and the school’s policies regarding financial aid processes and requirements.
A great example is Texas State’s King’s Central mission that existed before COVID. The university pushes the solution directly to the customer with a self-service option leveraging a knowledge management framework populated by student questions and answers from the university.
Answering student questions with AI-enabled chatbots
Artificial intelligence-enabled chatbots provide similar services in higher education, though they are more commonly used in the corporate world. In higher ed, chatbots can immediately answer routine questions, thus freeing full-time staff who can then spend their time on more pressing matters. Some chatbots provide the ability for students to escalate a question to an actual person for immediate interventions. Schools can leverage the AI to anticipate future problems and their solutions. Some vendors provide standalone systems that integrate with larger student information or customer relationship management systems, which are interesting developments.
Most schools that leverage chatbots are deploying virtual agents or software campuswide so the chatbots can automate responses to routine student questions across the institution. For example, a chatbot on the financial aid page can answer questions about enrollment. Some questions students ask include, “How do I change my major,” “How do I check my grades,” “How do I defer my enrollment,” or “Who is my advisor?”
Capelli University has a virtual agent that provides 24/7 access to an AI or machine-learning tool that scrapes databases and email databases to find some of the routine questions students ask and how campus officials answer them. Others leverage data from the learning management system.