Dr. Paul Orscheln, Associate Vice President, Enrollment Management and Retention, Missouri Western State University was interviewed by Gordon Freedman, www.NLET.org, about the deployment of EdSights chatbot on his campus:
Freedman: What gave you the confidence to try EdSights with your students, what about the solution and co-founders convinced you?
Orscheln: Having done research myself in noncognitive assessment, this approach to retention management was what drew me in. I don’t see many other retention solutions who are in this space. Additionally, the passion Carolina and Claudia have for student success was palpable during our initial meetings. I wanted to try something different.
Freedman: What was the initial reaction of the faculty and students? Was this seen as intrusive? Did it make sense to try a solution closer to how students communicate?
Orscheln: Since students are familiar with the communication channels used by EdSights, I haven’t gotten the sense that they (or faculty) feel it is intrusive at all.
Freedman: What convinced you that the chatbot responses would be accurate and the students would actually try it, and honestly use it?
Orscheln: Again, for many students, this form of communication is most comfortable. And from the early results, it appears that it has been fully embraced. We are planning to utilize chatbot technology throughout the entire recruitment process in the future.
Freedman: Any campus has a lot of technology solutions focused on student learning, student engagement. How does EdSights compare and contrast to other more traditional campus technology, can you compare and contrast it.
Orscheln: From my experience, most retention solutions employ more of a big data approach, analyzing years of institutional data to build predictive models for each student. While I definitely see the benefit of that method, I believe assessing a student’s risk levels in real-time and directly involving them in the conversation is a much more personal and relevant way to identify what exactly they are struggling with right now and to provide immediate interventions. It is also quick and easy to implement, which has not been my experience with other solutions.
Freedman: Any anecdotes you can share with me from the faculty or students – positive, neutral or negative.
Orscheln: Feedback has been incredibly positive. For example, after reaching out to students who were identified as having a high financial risk we discovered there were many who hadn’t even completed the financial aid process yet. We were then able to work with each of them individually to help them complete additional paperwork. We were also able to deploy some of our student mentors on students who indicated a high risk for belonging, which allowed our mentors to reach out individually to each student who was struggling. Additionally, here is a recent interaction one of our students had with Max, our chatbot:
“Max” (the WMU EdSights Chatbot):
Student: Hi, is there a place on campus to talk to someone regarding my mental health?
Max: I am sorry to hear you feel this way. I am not the best one to help, however, help is always available. If you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at +18002738255. They will give you free and confidential support.
Student: No, I'm fine at the moment
Max: Okay, thank you for your answer.
Student: Ok cool
Orscheln: The system notified us immediately of the conversation and our counseling center was able to reach out.
Freedman: Will you continue to use the solution; do you think it will continue to grow, and do you think its use will become part of campus culture?
Orscheln: Absolutely. I’m a firm believer in both the method and the research that backs this approach. Given the ease of use and immediate access to student risk data, I believe this will be a more integral part of the campus culture in no time.
Freedman: What would you say - or have you said - to other campuses about trying EdSights.
Orscheln: I’ve recommended EdSights to many other campuses, and have really focused on the real-time nature of the product. It helps us determine both when and where we need to focus our limited resources to help meet students where they are. Also, the models they have designed to assign risk factors have been incredibly accurate.
Freedman: In general, how do you see student engagement, student "fit" with the campus, and student retention software changing over time.
I think “fit” will become more and more part of the retention conversation in the future. Most institutions are focusing on academic input data, student performance, class attendance, etc when trying to tackle retention. What we are finding is a student’s sense of belonging on campus is a tremendous predictor for student success.
Orscheln: What are your current statistics for EdSights looking like?
We had 609 students in the freshman cohort who engaged with the EdSights solution and 349 who didn’t. Those who engaged retained at a level 12% higher than those who did not.
Freedman: Do you think you could get some quotes, or I could, from students and from your provost or deans?
Elaine Bryant, Director of Advising and Student Success:
“The support and direction from the EdSights team have been immeasurable. They are more of a partner than they are a vendor and truly share compassion for helping our students as we went from the implementation process through to the data collection and follow-up.”
Dr. Mike Ducey, First Year Experience Coordinator/Chair, Department of Chemistry
“Having access to the EdSights data allowed our University Experience program to rapidly identify students who were struggling to connect to the University. Once identified, we were able to reach out to these students on a personal level from a variety of directions. It is this kind of personal attention and concern that makes it easier for the struggling students to find their place and connect to the people and programs of the institution in a meaningful way.