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The Genie is out of the bottle, and at your service - a glimpse into the future

The Genie is out of the bottle, and at your service - a glimpse into the future of student support.  In a future not too far away, students are all going to have personal assistants. That's if Deakin University's Genie app is anything to go by.

Deakin, long established as a leader in creating and adopting new digital technology, started developing their student support tool back in 2015. And it's now reaching a level of maturity that has seen it become an important part of their student experience.

So, what is Genie?

Genie is a voice controlled smartphone app, created by Deakin and designed to provide student support and guidance for students at the Australian University.

Deakin Genie Google Play

The use cases are quite broad but all revolve around a simple Q&A format. Students can, for example, ask Genie when their upcoming assignment due dates are, or check which books they have from the library and when they're due back, and what their class timetable looks like for the week. An electronic PA you could say.

Deakin Genie Video Screenshot

And with new students joining University each semester, the app can deliver real efficiencies by answering the numerous common queries new students need answering to help them settle in.

The app makes use of quite a range of technology including voice recognition, chatbots, artificial intelligence, and a predictive analytics engine.

To get Genie up and running was quite a challenge, although Deakin made it look easy.

The project involved numerous staff and students identifying typical use cases, trawling through archives of questions and identifying the best answers to queries.

Genie was then asked thousands of questions in different variations with people rating the responses for accuracy to fine tune the system.

And then information from the main website and other digital resources had to be incorporated to make the service expansive enough to be useful.

This initial investment in time and resource was really high for Deakin and is a relatively high barrier to entry for any other Universities interested in mimicking the technology and approach.

But the beauty of machine learning platforms like this is that the payout improves over time. Or put more simply...the more questions students ask, and the more feedback students give about the accuracy and quality of responses, the better the answers provided by the AI solution get.

And when the answers are combined with rich media such as maps, timetables and images, the output of this solution for the student is really powerful.

According to Deakin Vice-Chancellor, Jane den Hollander, there has always been a true need for such a system:

"Students continuously tell us they want access to accurate, immediate and easily understandable information, that they can instantly find themselves. Genie will be able to provide them a single destination to find the information they need, how and when they want it."

Students expect on-demand accurate answers to their questions nowadays. So having a single, reliable destination like Genie really makes sense. Much like search experiences on University websites and Intranet portals, they need to work and deliver relevant contextual content in an instant.

It also extends the reach of support staff and the quality of service they can provide. And when the handoffs are well coordinated between AI and human intervention, AI could provide significant efficiencies and a seamless experience for students.

Over time, Genie may become more sophisticated and broaden out it's uses, helping to give advice on admissions, tuition fees, accommodation queries, health and wellbeing and employment advice.

It has actually now been in the wild at Deakin for over three years but broader adoption seems to have stalled. Deakin confirmed a few years ago that it wishes to commercialize the hugely successful project but not within the HE space. This is to ensure they stay one step (or actually many steps) ahead of their competitors.

But their commercialization target dates have long passed. A sign maybe of how difficult it can be to both commercialize and protect such a precious digital innovation.

With predictive technologies growing so quickly, perhaps Deakin University will consider licensing the solution to HE organizations in areas of the world which are not deemed in direct competition to them in future.

We can hope for this, as AI is an exciting field and greater adoption in higher education will mean AI-led support gets more sophisticated more quickly. It can also continue to make a greater contribution to the University experience and a key part of the smart campus of the future.

We think the future of AI support tools like Genie is bright. Much like Disney's Genie, they could be a brilliant, adorable, and compassionate friend. But what do you think?

Could you see yourself using Genie as a student?

And do you think it's more useful for established students or new students?

Can you envisage similar solutions to Genie being developed across other Universities and Colleges in the near future?

Tagged: mobile, ai, chatbot

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