Staffordshire University is to become the first university in the UK to launch a digital assistant for its students.
The smartphone app, called Beacon, will be hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform and help students in their daily lives on campus by supporting their learning, checking their mood and recommending groups and societies to join, among other things.
Staffordshire Uni believes that its 15,000 students are comfortable using technology and are more likely to initially reach out for help and information via their mobile phone or another device, rather than talk to a lecturer. Staff who have experience in a particular area can then email or message the student to resolve any issues once Beacon alerts them.
Beacon will also be a digital coach, proactively contacting students to ease them into university life and continuing to support them throughout their course, with the aim of reducing the number who drop out.
“Over time, we expect that students will have more daily interactions with Beacon than anyone else the university, so it will be one of our most important tools,” said Andrew Proctor, Director of Digital Services at Staffordshire University, which is based in Stoke-on Trent.
“Going to university can be stressful and is often the first time a teenager will move out of their home to live somewhere new. 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 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.
“Beacon is helping staff be more productive when they’re with students.”
A leading university for digital technologies, Staffordshire has a strong reputation for computer games courses and has a strong computing heritage, becoming the first UK university to move to the cloud. The move away from costly and inefficient data centres has become the foundation for a digital transformation that has culminated in Beacon.
Last year, Staffordshire University announced plans to build a multi-million-pound apprenticeship hub at its Stoke campus, amid growing demand for digital skills in the region. Supported by companies and organisations including Microsoft, the aim is to deliver more than 6,500 new apprenticeships over the next decade to equip people with the digital skills 21st century employers are looking for.