8 Universities Leveraging AI to Drive Student Success

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for decades, but the technology has evolved dramatically to disrupt industries – including the education sector – and AI in digital marketing is now a given.

The use of AI in higher education is now a reality, and even a necessity, as it will transform the ways institutions teach and how students learn. In fact, an IDC report found that 99 percent of U.S. higher education institutions believe AI will be key to driving competitiveness in the next few years.

While there are huge opportunities to use AI to improve efficiencies and drive student success, there’s a flip side to the technology. It also poses new academic, ethical, and legal challenges that need to be considered.

So, how are third-level institutions using AI to rise above the competition and leverage it to drive student success?

In this blog, we’ll look at 5 great ways (plus real-life examples) to help you understand the potential of the technology to:

Assess & Predict Student Success

The ultimate goal of universities and colleges is to see students graduate with relevant skills that make them employable. That’s why being able to assess and predict the success of a student is so important.

If a student is struggling or falling behind, technology that can help to intervene at an early stage can change the outcome for that person and also reduce the number of non-graduates at an institution.

1) Ivy Tech Community College: Project Student Success

In Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College conducted a pilot study using AI to get data from 10,000-course sections. By identifying 16,000 students at risk of failing in the first two weeks of the semester, the college assigned outreach workers to call each student and offer support.

By the end of the semester, 3,000 students were saved from failing – 98% of the contacted students obtained a C grade or better. Through Project Student Success, the college has already assisted 34,712 students.

“We had the largest percentage drop in bad grades (Ds and Fs) that the college had recorded in fifty years,” said Lige Hensley, Chief Technology Officer, Ivy Tech. “That one phone call wasn’t everything but it certainly made a bigger dent than we had ever seen.”

2) University of Michigan: M-Write program

One time-consuming area of teaching is assessing student work and providing feedback. A range of tools are in development in this area for institutions, including M-Write, incubated by the University of Michigan.

M-Write is a technology designed to help faculty tackle writing activities at scale. It uses an algorithm to identify areas of a writing piece in which students are struggling and the issues that could contribute to weaker writing.

As part of the M-Write program, senior lecturer Brenda Gunderson introduced a series of writing prompts. These are targeted to elicit specific responses that indicate how well students grasp the concepts covered in class.

Students who participated in the program completed the writing assignments, submitted them, and received three of their peers’ assignments for review. This automated system then used this data to create course-specific algorithms that could identify struggling students.

Drive Personalized Learning

One of the things educators are most excited about when it comes to AI is the potential to help personalize learning.

This not only offers ways for students to get one-to-one tutoring but also allows faculty to use AI to create lesson plans and identify students who may need additional help based on their performance and interactions.

3) Walden University: Julian

As early as 2018, Walden University had eyes on artificial intelligence as a way to improve its offering to students and trump its peers. With this in mind, Walden partnered with Google Cloud to develop an online tutor to offer personalized learning and student support, now known as Julian.

Steven Tom, Chief Customer Officer at Walden’s parent organization Adtalem Global Education, says, “I had seen choreographed, scripted tutors earlier that year, but the real challenge was how to drive personalized, dynamic tutoring at scale. I wondered, how can we deliver education in places where students need more individualized help? As AI evolved, we started to believe there was a real opportunity to realize this vision.”

Julian offers a 24/7 tutor and allows students to gain knowledge in their programs to reinforce concepts and identify learning gaps. The technology allows students to see a new set of activities every time they interact with the tool and it creates notes that can be referenced throughout the program.

As time passes and technology becomes more advanced, Julian will only continue to evolve to meet the personalized needs of students.

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4) Khan Academy: Khanmigo

The Founder & CEO of Khan Academy believes that AI can spark the “greatest positive transformation education has ever seen.”

This personalized tutoring system uses adaptive learning to give students access to an AI-powered personal tutor and allows teachers to lean on an AI teaching assistant. Welcome to Khanmigo!
The chatbot, Khanmigo, offers guidance to students on math, science, and humanities problems, a debate tool with suggested topics like student debt cancellation, and a writing tutor that helps students create a story.

Khanmigo also allows students to chat with a growing list of AI-powered historical figures from George Washington to Martin Luther King Jr., and literary characters like Hamlet.

Boost Student Engagement

Many educators see the potential of using AI for student success primarily for driving engagement. It provides the opportunity to help students learn and new ways to create and consume content.

When an EDUCAUSE poll asked the higher education community how students use generative AI, the majority were unsure (probably due to the infancy of use) but many did identify key areas. Those in the top 4 were submitting generated material, ideating, and entertainment.
Let’s look at how some universities and colleges are using it to drive student engagement.

5) Georgia State University: Pounce

While Georgia State’s artificial intelligence-enhanced chatbot ‘Pounce’ was established as a tool to help incoming students get started in college (i.e. finances and registration) it’s shown to boost student performance in classes.

The university found that students who used Pounce to receive texts about assignments, academic support, and course content were more likely to earn a B grade or higher. For first-generation immigrant students, it helped them earn final grades about 11 points higher than their peers.

“While we’ve seen that students from all kinds of different demographic groups benefit, what we’ve seen consistently is that students who struggle the most overall benefit the most from the chatbot intervention,” said Timothy Renick, Founding Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State.

6) California State University Polytechnic: Packback

At California State University Polytechnic, Pomona, faculty found that many students did not internalize material and share new ideas. Instead, they were writing questions and responses that repeated what was in their textbook or assignment.

Using Packback – an instructional AI platform for student writing and engagement – students wrote between 5 and 7 paragraphs of thoughtful discussion questions and responses that analyzed primary sources and shared new ideas.
There is no other software that provides so much while also improving student writing and participation,” said Ayana Jamieson, Professor at California State University Polytechnic. “Packback Instruct encourages students at every level to think critically and engage with both their assigned readings and their peers in meaningful ways.”

Packback has also developed a Writing Lab feature to use interactive writing coaching to help students improve their writing and build AI literacy skills.

Answer Student Queries

For many institutions, student queries can take up a lot of time and often go unanswered in the evenings or weekends if there’s no staff on duty. AI technologies like digital colleague Ida and voice and chat platform n-powered are changing that, by answering questions on-demand.

Universities and colleges need to be able to answer questions at all stages, whether that’s before enrollment or when someone is a student. Let’s look at some great examples of how institutions are using AI technology to deal with student queries.

7) University of Murcia

The University of Murcia in Spain implemented an AI-powered chatbot called Lola to assist students with inquiries about the campus and academic programs.

The results were impressive as the chatbot managed to communicate with 4,609 students and show proficiency by answering over 38,708 questions correctly more than 91 percent of the time. Keep in mind that this was before the widespread adoption of ChatGPT, so we can only see these metrics improve.

Using Lola not only provided the university with a way to help students outside of standard office hours but it allowed staff to free up the time they usually spent responding to queries to do other tasks.

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Improve Student Retention

The retention rate for public, four-year higher education institutions is 76%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That means approximately 1 in 4 students left their university or college to study elsewhere — or nowhere at all.

The solution? Improve your targeting so that the resources and energy to keep students can be put towards those most likely to enroll. AI-powered technology is proving to be valuable in this capacity.

8) Nova Southeastern University: Aible

Nova Southeastern University in Florida had valuable data in-house but wasn’t sure how to use it properly to improve student retention or optimize student welfare.

With that in mind, it reached out to Aible, an AI technology that uses models and prescribed interventions. Using the software, the university identified the students who were most likely to leave so it could target and prioritize its efforts for the most at-risk students.
As a result of using Aible, Nova Southeastern University achieved a 17 percent reduction in student attrition in just 15 days.

“During a one-hour meeting, we went from a raw dataset to exploring insights in the data automatically highlighted by Aible, to creating and even deploying a predictive model. The collaboration with academic and financial aid advisors helped us further optimize the models and made them more useful.” – Don Rudawsky, VP of Institutional Effectiveness at Nova Southeastern University.

What are the Challenges of using AI in higher education?

As we mentioned at the start of this article, while artificial intelligence can offer huge opportunities for universities and colleges, it can also pose challenges.

Some of those include a bias in AI models due to biased data, lack of personalization, the potential for errors, plagiarism and a fear of job losses for faculty.

So, when using AI, it’s important for institutions to factor in these challenges to ensure that the technology enhances outcomes, supports teachers and benefits learners rather than becoming a hindrance.

“Technology offers the prospect of universal access to increase fundamentally new ways of teaching,” said the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, Dean Daniel Schwartz at the AI+ Education Summit. “I want to emphasize that a lot of AI is also going to automate really bad ways of teaching. So [we need to] think about it as a way of creating new types of teaching.”

Conclusion: AI in Higher Education

Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the way teachers teach and students learn. The technology also has the potential to create 97 million jobs by 2025 according to The World Economic Forum.

The rapid adoption of AI will result in major changes to the curriculum as institutions need to integrate AI into their programs from journalism (chatbots can now create content easily and to scale) to healthcare (are virtual nurses a reality?) to be relevant and create job-ready graduates.

However, automated work will never replace the creativity and innovation that a human can bring. The role of universities and colleges is to teach people how to use AI and provide the skills required of a modern workforce to drive efficiency and engagement.

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