Artificial Intelligence

Penn State World Campus Taps Google Cloud to Build Virtual Advising Assistant

hands of robot and human touching

At the start of the spring 2020 semester this January, Penn State World Campus will have a new artificial intelligence tool for answering the most common requests from its undergraduate students. A virtual assistant will help academic advisers at the online institution screen student e-mails for certain keywords and phrases, and then automatically pull relevant information for the advisers to send to students. For instance, the AI will be trained to assist advisers when students inquire how to change their major, change their Penn State campus, re-enroll in the university or defer their semester enrollment date, according to a news announcement.

"Our academic advisers spend a significant amount of time collecting the information and documentation they need to respond to these kinds of requests," explained Dawn Coder, director of academic advising and student disability services for World Campus, in a statement. "By leveraging AI, we will be able to complete these common requests instantly."

To build the tool, World Campus has partnered with Google Cloud, which will sub-contract the development to AI and machine learning software company Quantiphi. The project is the institution's first venture in AI and the first use of AI for academic advising across Penn State University. An internal World Campus advisory board, consisting of academic and business leaders from the university as well as two World Campus students, will oversee the project.

By automating processes that are time-consuming for academic advisers, World Campus hopes to provide answers to students more quickly and free up advisers to provide more personalized support when needed. AI also provides a cost-effective way to expand advising services without adding staff as enrollment at World Campus grows, Coder noted.

"Using AI to assist our academic advisers positions us to be even more responsive to our learners," commented Renata Engel, vice provost for online education at Penn State. "It gives us the chance to maximize our resources, increase the opportunities for advisers to meet with students and support learner success."

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at rkelly@1105media.com.

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