By Victoria Maneske
College can be stressful with the many deadlines, information gaps and anxieties of keeping up with the speedy transitions and technicalities of the campus experience. In order to help give students easier access to relevant information and important updates about campus, CI has implemented an artificial intelligence chatbot called Ekhobot, which has been adapted to continue its purpose in aiding students through turbulent times.
During the fall semester of 2019, CI launched Ekhobot, to help give easy access to deadlines, answers and support for first year students looking for help, communicating through friendly, conversational AI text messaging. It is named after CI’s mascot, Ekho the dolphin. It was designed to provide quick resources 24/7 and to encourage students to become more involved in campus activities and support services, with the main goal of improving the retention rate of first year students. If a student asks a more complicated question, the chatbot service will connect students to a person who can find the answer they need.
According to Ekhobot’s 2019 proposal presentation, the strategic initiatives of this AI chatbot were to increase academic support for first year students, improve timeliness of admissions and enrollment, break down administrative barriers that hinder timely degree progression and pursue efficiency and effectiveness in administrative systems and to save time for students by replacing human intervention with technology.
Jill Leafstedt, the Associate Vice Provost for Innovation and Faculty Development, helped lead Ekhobot to CI students. As stated on CI’s Feb. 10, 2020 news release, “Leafstedt and Associate Vice Provost for Student Success & Community Engagement Amanda Quintero, Ph.D., led the effort to bring Ekhobot to campus, making CSUCI one of five universities in the CSU system to develop a campus-specific chatbot.” It also mentioned that since the launch in fall 2019, Ekhobot had reached more than 2,031 students, sending out a total of 13,240 individual messages in the span of one semester.
The latest development of this AI chatbot was announced on July 29, 2020 as Ekhobot was able to expand to all students, rather than just first year students, due to a $36,625 grant, the second installment of a total $89,637 two-year grant. This grant was provided by CSU Northridge and the Irvine Foundation, all for the CSU AI Consortium.
The pandemic has altered the course and purpose of Ekhobot, enforcing the need for a more complex role of the chatbot. It is now a way to stay connected with students during the turbulent times and to have an outlet for support and answers, as well as gaining feedback on how students were coping with the virtual transition and how the chatbot could improve.
In the 2020 news release, it stated, “In an effort to learn what students need for their different circumstances, Leafstedt said a number of targeted campaigns were underway for students with different academic needs, depending on where they are with their education.”
However, not all students are aware of the chatbot or even utilize it. “To be honest I have never heard of Ekhobot, and didn’t know our school had this service,” Briana Pelayo Zamora, a third-year history major, said.
Despite that, Ekhobot has been mainly successful and is featured in EDUCAUSE 2020 Student Technology Report, which can be found here https://www.educause.edu/ecar/research-publications/student-technology-report-supporting-the-whole-student/2020/student-success.
If you’re interested into a deeper dive of the programming of Ekhobot, you can find more information here https://explosion.ai/blog/deep-learning-formula-nlp.
Ekhobot is ultimately important in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of CI’s student experience on campus, as well as gaining data on how students are handling their college involvement. It provides a quick and easy channel of communication for all students, and it may be on its way for further adaptations.
As long as you have your current cell phone number updated in your CI Records Student Center in myCI, Ekhobot should automatically be available to you. If not, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to opt in. Ekhobot’s number is 805-883-6336.
For more information, or if you have any questions about Ekhobot, you can visit here https://www.csuci.edu/tli/ekhobot.htm.