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News UK's first AI digital student coach wins national technology award

Staffordshire University has won an industry award for the UK's first artificially intelligent digital ‘Student Coach’

Digital student coach 'Beacon' is a mobile phone app
Image: Digital student coach 'Beacon' is a mobile phone app

We firmly believe it is the start of one of the most creative and innovative developments across higher education that will augment the capabilities of staff and students to transform the university experience.

Andrew Proctor, Director of Digital Services

The AI Student Coach chats with students to ensure they’re settling into student university life and acts as a digital friend for as long as they need.

It has now been named ‘Best Not-For-Profit Project’ at the Digital Technology Leaders Awards.

The University teamed up with leading Cloud Services Provider, ANS Group to become the first university in the UK to deploy an AI-driven coach and support assistant via intelligent Chatbot technology.

It is called Beacon, an app for mobile phones, and recognises students who can choose to interact via text or voice conversation. Beacon provides personalised and responsive information on student timetables, enables contact with personal tutors and provides answers to 400 frequently asked questions covering campus facilities and support services as well as other day to day services.

Andrew Proctor, Director of Digital Services at Staffordshire University, said: “Artificial Intelligence is a disruptive technology with huge potential that has yet to be realised across higher education. It also plays a significant role in Staffordshire University’s 2030 strategy.

“We are a modern university with lots of students who need 24/7 support and Beacon is a digital friend which provides a personalised student experience and help on-demand.”

Released in January 2019, Beacon has had an immediate impact, having already provided over 25,000 instant answers 24/7 and completing over 5,000 self-service tasks in the first four months.

Most importantly, Beacon has used AI to forge new relationships between 300 students and personal tutors, providing support covering critical aspects such as wellbeing. Beacon has also encouraged students to join more societies improving their social connectivity.

Andrew added: “Beacon was developed to support the retention and progression of students and we can already see the positive impact that it is making. The technology behind Beacon is scalable, and we are currently exploring the potential of further implementations in different organisations including local schools and colleges.

“This is just the beginning of Beacon’s capability and impact. We firmly believe it is the start of one of the most creative and innovative developments across higher education that will augment the capabilities of staff and students to transform the university experience.”

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