University uses AI to prevent student dropouts

University uses AI to prevent student dropouts

A new AI platform is helping one university identify at-risk students and then personally engage with them to help them navigate their learning issues.

The mind behind the ground-breaking ‘Question bot’ platform is Dr David Kellermann – a senior lecturer in the school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at UNSW.

By augmenting communication and collaboration in Microsoft Teams using AI and rich data analytics, Dr Kellermann has reduced the risk of student drop out. What’s more, the University has noticed a staggering 900% increase in student posts and engagement since the launch of the platform.

At its simplest level, Question bot functions to facilitate a problem of scale, helping connect the right people together in a class of 500, and making sure that no question goes unanswered.

Since its launch, the University has noticed a staggering 900% increase in student posts and engagement.

Dr Kellermann said the platform operates within the conversation between people, rather than the traditional human vs Chatbot experience, essentially giving AI a ‘seat at the table’.

“One of my favourite anecdotes is from my teaching assistants who started to tell me they were intentionally ‘waiting a few minutes’ before answering students’ questions, because they found that the questions would often be answered by fellow students first,” Dr Kellermann told The Educator.

“Imagine how engaged a group of students must be to have that kind of situation. A week or so before the final exams, on the same day that I release the machine learning-generated personalised study packs, I book a large venue for the students and support a Study Day.”

Dr Kellermann said hundreds of students attend the study days.

“The room is always packed with students helping each other and learning together,” he said.

“The atmosphere there is vibrant, collegiate, and – for me – inspiring.

Dr Kellerman said that achieving buy-in from the University’s executive level was simple, given the powerful benefits that were apparent for UNSW’s faculty and students.

“If you build something that delivers more value and is easier to use, the people will want to use it. Just make something better,” Dr Kellerman told The Educator.

“We are at the perfect moment, insofar as what technology has to offer, to be able to overthrow the first model of digital education- a model that failed to foster collaboration and community.”

Dr Kellerman said that when students are part of a learning community, their collective energy fuels an engaged educational experience.

“I am privileged to be included in that,” he said.

Dr Kellermann said other universities don’t have to learn anything from this technology, nor from him, as he is just “scaling the principles that we all already know”.

“What I would encourage other universities to do is join me in open sourcing these tools, collaborating on making a modern platform for learning, and to collectively contribute to the global platforms of education for everyone to use,” he said.