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October 18, 2017
AI on campus: A more intelligent student experience
By: Jonathan Fry

Many of the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) have come, of course, from the academics, labs and research and development centres within the world’s leading universities. But when it comes to applying AI to how the universities themselves operate, it’s fair to say that the progress to date has been limited.

Some current deployments of AI, for example, include chatbots and virtual assistants that provide students with routine answers to administrative questions. But what we’re seeing less of in my experience is the application of transformative AI that can really enhance and change the entire student experience from their studies to their social lives.

So what do I mean by that? A few examples that come to mind. Each of these offers an opportunity for universities to give students services and experiences that can add real value to their time at college.

Combining queries and data to get better answers. AI is already able to understand natural language voice and text queries that, combined with big data and machine learning, enable students and faculty to get answers to a wide range of questions. These could include finding the best courses suited to students’ interests, academic record and career ambitions, to helping students access healthcare on campus by being able to describe their symptoms and offering a diagnosis and next steps to get treatment.

Finding insights from data is another key area where AI can create actionable results faster and more accurately than people can. These could range from aligning labor market data with students’ interests and activities to deliver targeted career advice to helping prioritise and focus alumni fund-raising activities.

Using AI to learn more effectively is already helping more than 150 million people around the world to acquire new language skills with Duolingo. Students can interact with smart machines as instructors to help supplement their knowledge and provide one-on-one tuition that adapts itself to each individual’s needs.

And then there’s the ability of AI to analyse vast amounts of data to guide decision-making. This has implications from helping to predict the most likely candidates for admission all the way to enabling the university’s leadership to shape their business strategies.

These are just a few of the areas where I see AI being able to have a significant impact on the life of the university, the experience that students receive and the way that leaders can meet their strategic objectives. In fact, analysis we carried out shows that 85 percent of more than 700 processes we documented—from academic and research to alumni services and facilities management—were opportunity areas for AI. What’s more, students are overwhelmingly ready to embrace AI. In our recent survey, we asked them how comfortable they would be interacting with an AI for student services. 75 percent said they would be comfortable. Only 8 percent said they would not be.

So where and how should universities begin? They start with a basic analysis of their goals and strategy for the future. Every institution is different, so each has to start by identifying its specific priorities. AI by itself is not a panacea for all the challenges they face. But harnessed in line with a clear strategy, AI can help universities achieve transformational results across a broad range of key areas from enhanced teaching to the student experience on campus.

Next steps? Having found the right opportunities, pilot, test and be prepared to scale success rapidly. AI really is a game changer. And the time to start embracing it is now.

I want to hear your views so please leave a comment or join the conversation at https://www.accenture.com/us-en/topic-accenture-innovating-student-experience.

See this post on LinkedIn: AI on Campus: a more intelligent student experience

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