Bringing artificial intelligence to life for higher ed

One of the most rewarding parts of being a parent is watching your child develop and grow. As time passes you see the child gain new skills, learn to walk, read, tie their shoes, until they become their own person. Bringing to life a new AI entity is similar. In the beginning, it can’t do very much without a lot of training and attention. It responds in funny ways as it seeks to better understand what the user is asking or wanting it to do. Much like our children, we see all the potential it has, what it could be, and what we hope it becomes. But this growth takes time. For AI, the growth is much faster than it is for humans, but it takes time, nonetheless. This is what it is like to bring to life and AI like RENEE, a digital assistant for higher education.

This year, RENEE was released to the higher ed market by way of CampusNexus Engage, a system of intelligence and engagement built on top of Microsoft Dynamics. In her first release, we really focused on providing institutions a way for students to ask questions and get answers. We began by teaching RENEE all about admissions, advisement, financial aid and building the foundation of her personality. As she continues to interact with students, her ability to understand what students are looking for grows faster and more precise.

In these early stages of RENEE’s development, she can make decisions on where she looks for answers and how to respond to general chit-chat and banter with students as well as attempt to connect with students when they are showing signs of frustration, disappointment, at-risk behaviors and even sadness. Even in these early stages, we are cultivating RENEE’s ability to act on behalf of the institution to determine when a student needs more than an answer to a question, and should be transferred to a live agent or advisor who can provide immediate, personalized support.

This is a great achievement and a fantastic way for institutions to begin implementing a very practical A.I. solution at their institution that solves real challenges. This is just the beginning. The next phase of RENEE’s learning will come by way of learning tasks she can do for students, like looking up information, updating systems with their consent, making appointments, setting reminders, and even registering for courses.

In addition to learning how to perform these tasks, she will also be able to learn from external sources that institutions design. For example, if an institution has its own help-desk or has been working on their own knowledge base, RENEE will be able to interface with those knowledge repositories and use that information when she interacts only with students or staff from that specific institution. As her global knowledge increases, her knowledge about each institution expands as well.

At this point, RENEE is more than a question-and-answer bot. She also notifies advisors when students need attention. She helps students and advisors by automating tasks and doing things for them. After that, the next phase begins: introducing reinforcing machine learning algorithms. These are the same types of machine learning that you find in self-driving vehicles and non-player characters in video games. Based on the thousands of interactions RENEE has with students, she will not only be able to answer questions but predict what questions will arise. She can search across data systems to find missing information, proactively survey students, collect information that relates to predictive indicators like persistence and likelihood of engagement and giving, and even making recommendations to students for courses, co-curricular activities, events and making connections with others.

We are incredibly excited about RENEE entering the market and starting her journey as more and more institutions have her interact with their students. We are also eagerly awaiting how she will be able to grow and evolve as she expands her capabilities and grows into that companion artificial intelligence we have been longing to see for decades.

Is AI right for your institution? This next article dives into that question. 

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For more info on how RENEE works within CampusNexus Engage, click here.

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