With Google Cloud, Penn State World Campus to add AI to advising services

June 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State World Campus is working with Google Cloud to use artificial intelligence technology to help its academic advising staff answer the most common requests from its undergraduate students.

Penn State World Campus plans to implement the AI virtual advising assistant for the start of Penn State’s spring 2020 semester in January. It will be the first venture in AI for the World Campus and the first in academic advising at Penn State.

The goal is for AI to automate processes that are time-consuming for the academic advisers, allowing students to get answers more quickly and freeing up the advisers to work closely with students on other matters.

Through its contract with World Campus, Google Cloud will sub-contract the development to Quantiphi, an applied AI and big data software and services company with offices in the United States and India. Quantiphi will work with World Campus staff to build the AI solution during the upcoming fall semester, which starts in August.

“Using AI to assist our academic advisers positions us to be even more responsive to our learners,” said Renata Engel, vice provost for online education at Penn State. “It gives us the chance to maximize our resources, increase the opportunities for advisers to meet with students, and support learner success.”

Dawn Coder, director of academic advising and student disability services for World Campus, said the AI will be trained to assist advisers when students inquire how to change their major, change their Penn State campus, re-enroll in the University and defer their semester enrollment date.

Coder said the AI will be trained to recognize certain keywords in phrases in emails that students send to her office’s general inbox. The AI will pull information for the advisers to send to students using a customized user interface.

“AI will be a game-changer,” Coder said. “Our academic advisers spend a significant amount of time collecting the information and documentation they need to respond to these kinds of requests. By leveraging AI, we hope to be able to complete these common requests instantly.”

Coder said her staff of 48 full-time advisers collectively spends more than 5,000 hours a year assisting students with those most common requests. She hopes AI will enable them to offer more personalized support, such as helping those who are returning to college after a lengthy amount of time, helping with academic planning, or assisting students when special circumstances or challenges arise.

AI is a cost-effective way to expand advising services without adding staff as World Campus continues to experience increasing enrollment, Coder said. In 2018-19, her staff advised more than 11,000 undergraduates, a 55 percent increase in the number of students over the past five years.

“We’re committed to equipping educators with best-in-class technology," said Kevin Kells, director, Google for Education. “Through this collaboration, Penn State World Campus advisers can leverage Google Cloud’s AI tools to accelerate the time it takes for students to get answers and ultimately free up advisers’ time to focus on what’s important: spending more time with students.”

The virtual advising assistant AI project is being overseen by an internal advisory board created by Penn State World Campus’ administration. The group was formed to help advance AI in World Campus’ student services and operations.

The board consists of academic and business leaders from across the University and two World Campus students.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for information about learning online.

Penn State World Campus to use AI in academic advising

Penn State World Campus will add artificial intelligence to its academic advising services starting in January. World Campus is working with Google Cloud and software company Quantiphi to train the AI to answer the most common questions that undergraduate students have for advisers.


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Last Updated June 26, 2019