Staffordshire University is set to become the first university in the UK to launch a digital assistant for its students. The smartphone app called Beacon, which is hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud, will act as a digital coach for pupils, supporting their learning and recommending groups and societies for them to join.
The university believes that students are more comfortable asking for help through a device than speaking to a member of staff. As such, the app will ease students into university life and support them throughout their course, with the aim of reducing the number who drop out.
Beacon will alert staff with relevant experience so that they can contact the student to resolve any issues.
“Going to university can be stressful and is often the first time a teenager will move out of their home to live somewhere new,” said Andrew Proctor, director of Digital Services at Staffordshire University. “Beacon is there to help them, it’s not just a Q&A bot. In ‘Welcome Week’ it can recommend societies, which will help them make friends, and will eventually guide new students towards services if they need more support during the first few months. It will ask them how their lectures are going to ensure that, if they are struggling, we can help them more quickly and in the best way.”
Staffordshire was also the first university in the UK to move to the cloud. Last year, it announced plans to build an apprenticeship hub at its Stoke campus and, with the support of organisations including Microsoft, aims to offer over 6,500 new apprenticeships over the next 10 years to equip people with the digital skills necessary for 21st century employment.
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