How chatbots are changing Australian universities
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Chatbots – computer programs that can conduct conversations via sound and text – are taking over many industries. They’re helping people sleep, answering your flight queries and making toys talk.

Now, they’re on campus too. Universities are using chatbots to help students and staff out with questions they have, from admission exams to carpark troubles

At the University of Adelaide, chatbots are now deployed to help students calculate their adjusted ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) scores, which includes bonus points across a couple of categories. It’s helped students receive this critical information almost immediately, according to director of student recruitment and admissions services Catherine Cherry.

“In the case of the ATAR, that will be a critical decision-making moment for the students,” Cherry said to The Australian.

Phone lines are usually busiest on Year 12 results day, where they will be open from 8am to 8pm, servicing more than one thousand calls.

“The first three hours are the busiest, and in those first three hours we reduced the calls by 47 percent, and the overall number of incoming calls (was) reduced by 40 percent. We probably could have had halved the number of staff that we had,” Cherry said.

“The chatbots are really opening up for us the ability to give customers access to more services, without there being a huge, long-term development effort on our end,” she added.

Other Australian universities are putting the chatbots to use too. “Lucy” and “Bruce” at the University of Canberra answer questions by students and staff respectively on issues ranging from class schedules to student services.

At Deakin University, student chatbot “Genie” – using the intelligence behind IBM’s supercomputer system, Watson – was trialled earlier this year and in the works to be fully launched in July. Genie will then be able to help students how to find the next lecture hall, apply for next semester’s class, submit assignments and find out where a counselor can be reached, according to Chatbots Magazine.

William Confalonieri, Deakin’s Chief Information Officer and head of project for Genie said:

“The most promising opportunity to use this technology is to support a much more personalized approach to on-campus services that still appeals to a large crowd. The system will also help lower the burden on stressed-out faculty, as they no longer have to explain the same things over and over to different students.”

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