SVSU Chatbot answers your COVID-19 questions

On March 18, SVSU released to all undergraduate students a Chatbot called Coop to answer questions about the coronavirus.

Cara Deschermeier, assistant director of the Academic Advisement Center, said the Chatbot was funded through a Title III grant to support students in  “…financial literacy, knowledge of markets and economics, knowledge of higher education financing and repayment or other skills aimed at building personal financial understanding and responsibility.”

Deschermeier said the ChatBot was launched in August 2019 and initially targeted to freshmen and new transfer students.

“We have been discussing the expansion of the Chatbot to all undergraduate students since December of last year and recently received approval to do so,” she said. “However, we were not planning to expand until July of 2020. Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak and closures, we wanted to ensure students had a way to stay connected with SVSU and Coop the Chatbot provides that opportunity.”

Deschermeier said the ChatBot helps SVSU communicate with its students, who are used to texting as a main form of communication.

“Coop is a unique way to provide information about SVSU to our students,” she said. “It’s also a unique way for students to ask questions and often receive a response immediately.”

Deschermeier said former associate provost David Callejo Perez and Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness Nick Wanger helped spearhead the project. They worked with Cardinal Solutions, an interdisciplinary program that provides students with real-life clients.

“Blake Johnson and his Cardinal Solutions team assisted with the early development of the Chatbot,” Deschermeier  said. “I was brought on in mid-July to be the Chatbot Manager and get the bot up and running. Now, it is myself, Nick Wagner and [Director of the Academic Advisement Center] Gary Brasseur who work directly with the Chatbot.”

The Chatbot is designed to answer questions about SVSU. SVSU recently updated it to include several COVID-19 questions, which is why it was expanded to all undergraduate students earlier than originally planned.

“Coop often gets question about the Ryder Center hours, campus map, information for offices on campus, dinning hours and so on,”  Deschermeier   said. “If Coop can’t answer the question, he lets the student know that. He will then get help from a human (often me) to provide the right answer.”

Deschermeier  said the Chatbot’s knowledge base is always growing, and it will continue to do so as more questions are asked about COVID-19. When Coop the Chatbot cannot answer a question, Deschermeier  or another manager is notified. They can then answer the question for the Chatbot.

“ I’ve been working with the Chatbot for the last seven months and have seen a lot of what it’s capable of,” she said. “ I always try to encourage students to stay opted-in, but of course, it is up to them. Coop only sends out about 1-2 messages per week and he uses target messaging, so you’ll only receive information that’s relevant to you.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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