64: Saint Louis University Puts Amazon Echo Dots in Every Dorm Room w/ David Hakanson & Jay Goff

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

David Hakanson, Vice President, CIO & Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Louis University and Jay Goff, Vice President for Enrollment and Retention Management at Saint Louis University joined the podcast to talk about their ambitious Amazon Echo Dot initiative and custom voice AI skill, and how institutions can better leverage technology when it comes to scaling student service.

What we're going to try to do is do different pilot projects where we employ and test different types of technology and see what works and if it really helps improve the student satisfaction level. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud number of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with David Hawkinson, Vice President Cio and chief Innovation Officer at St Louis University, and friend of the PODCAST, Jay Goff, vice president for enrollment and retention management at St Louis University. David, welcome to the show and Jay, welcome back. Good Beer. Really excited talk with you both today about how institutions can better leverage technology when it comes to scaling student service and specifically you're ambitious Amazon Echo dot initiative. But before we dig into that, can you both give the listeners a little bit better understanding of St Louis University and your roles. They're beginning with David David Hawkinson, Vice President Cio, chief innovation officer. I've been here at the university for a little over five years. I oversee all of our technology operations for our academic, research and healthcare units, and I'm Jay go off. I'm the vice president for enrollment and retention management. I've been at St Louis University for almost eight years and I oversee the R K twenty strategic enrollment management operations, everything from our pre college programs, admissions, financially registration, orientation, international programs, grant programs, basically really trying to manage our student pipelines. Really...

...excited to talk to you today about this really ambitious initiative. Jay, what were the original goals behind the development of slews Amazon, alexas skill? Well, you know, many of us get involved in retreats and brainstorming sessions where we talked about, you know, what should we be doing, and we when we developed our strategic enrollment plan, we set a vision where we wanted St Louis University as a Catholic, Jesuit University that's celebrating its two hundred at the anniversary we wanted to be committed to being a global leader in the best student enrollment and success practices and we recognize that each year we needed to be able to engage with our students and innovative ways and find ways to use the technologies that the students were using, not just the technology that we had previous viously invested in, and that led us to do some assessment work which we looked at social media trends. You know, we found things that I think probably most of the listeners are familiar with. Less of the traditional students are using facebook and twitter, for seeing huge increases in snapchat and Instagram, and that made us kind of ask the question of what is the technology, not that we should be working with today, because that's what everyone's doing, but what is the technology that we should be looking at that would help us serve students better in the future? Love it, love it. And so what does that look like today in terms of this Amazon Echo dots? I've read articles say they're in every student dorm room and apartment. What does that presence of Alexa look like? I'm campus today, so sat Louis University. We've placed an Amazon Echo dot in every living space on campus. So That's over twenty three hundred devices. That's available to every student who who lives here. That echo dot is branded Sain Lois University and it has a custom sainlois university skill on it called the ask blue skill, and with the blue skill you...

...can ask around a hundred and thirty questions such as building hours or what channel ESPN is on our cable to calling the registrars office. There over a hundred thirty functions that can be asked of that skill now. But not only can they use the echo dot for the sluice bill, they can also use it for all the other normal purposes you would use and echo for. So you can ask you a general purpose questions, how many teaspoons in a cup or what's the weather today? So all those functions are available. All trying to focus on the purpose of trying to get faster access to information to our students, help them be more productive and their time so they can continue to be very active, increase in activity inside and outside of the classroom. David, you mentioned these echo dots are all over campus. Do you happen to have one nearby that you can try fielding a question to so we can hear how students interact with that skill. I do, let me. Let me give it a try. So Alexa ask flew what time the library closes. Pious Memorial Library Stays Open from Sundays at ten am through Fridays at nine PM, and it's open on Saturdays from ten am to six PM. The library will have modified hours on holidays and during fall break. I love it. There's some novelty here, but there's there's some true utilitarian benefit here. I'm curious if you've experienced that yet, where your student service support team, who is often fielding the same fa q's every day? Our students more empowered to to at least first turn to these devices to get their most basic questions answered? Yes, and we know that the devices have been used. And so just in the first week, over seventy five percent of the devices have been used by our student well, and in the first month we had over fifty eight thousand uses of the devices. And and that can be questions to the blue skill, that can be general purpose questions like I mentioned earlier, or it...

...can be other functions that come with the device, but over fifty eight thousand uses of the twenty three hundred devices. David, you mentioned already the Alexis skill can can answer over a hundred questions. How does your team manage and add questions to this skill over time? To build the first set of questions, we worked with a variety of offices across the university. We worked with Jay's team and the registrar's office, we worked with residents life, we worked with students to try to get a list of what are the things they think would be the most common questions to ask. We took that and that became our list of a hundred and thirty. There were some questions we expected and then there are other questions that we didn't. An example is what channel is Espano or or whatever station? The reason why I didn't expect that and the reason why it became important was because when our students come they don't necessarily know our channel lineup and we don't have that sheet of paper right next to where the the TV will go, and so they would have to search for that information. And now, instead of searching to find the website, the list the channel lineup, they're able to ask the the Alexa, a echo device, and get that answer in five seconds. So it has been very beneficial to get this information to our students from a normal care and feeding and adding more questions. We send a email to the students that have these devices every few weeks and what we tell them is here the new features we've added and the new features that Amazon has added and at that same time, we provide them with a link so that they can provide feedback on future questions that they would like for us to add to this skill. Love it so creative. David, talk about how your team addressed the potential privacy concerns that come with a voice assisted device that's always on listening for student questions. Absolutely so.

We take the security and privacy of our students very, very seriously, and so we spent a lot of time focusing on how to ensure that that we were addressed in any of those concerns. And so what we did was we worked with the Amazon web services team, who has an area of the organization called Alexa for business, and Alexa for business allows us to manage these devices without connecting a student to count and so what that means is the students did not have to connect any of their account to the device in their room. When they came for moving, the device was already in the room, it was already ready to go. It had no idea who who they were, and so if anyone asked a question to this device, it is not attached whatsoever to an individual and so we are not able to see any individual statistics. Also, because we use the lexcept for business, we don't see the statistics the same way someone would with their own personal device. We can see very high level information, such as what I mentioned earlier. We can see that seventy five percent of the devices have been used. We can see that the number one use maybe your music in the number two device maybe general knowledge. We can see those things, but we can't see it any individual device layer and the devices aren't connected to the to the students. The last thing I'll mentioned is that we put a flyer in every room and the fire told students how to use it and it also told students that if they wished to not use the device or had any concerns, that they could either press the button on the top of the device to mute the microphone or they could unplug the device and store the device somewhere if if they had any concerns, and so we felt that those areas of focus and those activities helped to address that any privacy concerns that we would receive Jay. What kind of early feedback have you re received so far from both new students and perspective students? Well,...

...so far that the feedback has been very positive. The students found it to be really exciting. I'll tell our current students saw it as that we were listening, that we were paying attention to what they were saying to us and building the type of institution that they want to be a part of and they really like the innovation pieces of it. The perspective students and the parents just said that's really cool. We haven't seen any place even think about trying to do something look like that. Yeah, and they were excited to try it out. So we've actually put one in our visitors center and all the visiting families get to test it out and and ask Alexa to use the askslew device and Jay in your outbound you know, marketing communication efforts moving forward. Given that positive feedback, are you optimistic about utilizing this this on campus feature as this potential opportunity to set slew apart in the market place. Absolutely, I mean that's that's our goal, to be quite frank, David, and I see this as a first step and what we're going to try to do is do different pilot projects where we employ and test different types of technology and see what works and if it really helps improve the student satisfaction levels, it can help us in terms of student persistence levels. We're going to do more of it, but we see this as the first step. You mentioned this continuous exploration toward innovation, David, when it comes specifically to Amazon skills or Alexa skills, we're even smart dorm infrastructure. Has This initiative, in the success of it so far, made you excited about the potential development of voice ai moving forward? It's loop. It absolutely has. We knew going into this project that voice technology had a very bright future to it and this is confirmed that. And and not only is the confirmed it, but we see a very, very bright future moving forward. We see a time where where our...

...students can ask any question, whether it's a public question related to ours that we have now, or whether it's a more private question around around things that connected to their account and then be able to get that that information for our staff and for our faculty as well, being able to use these as a productivity to device to be able to get access to key information very quickly. We're working on the next phase of this technology and while there is still work to do on on ensuring the security and privacy if we start connecting accounts, that is a big focus and we want to make sure that we continue to provide value to our students and our other stakeholders so that this technology can be something that that they use on a daily basis and that's providing value to them. Awesome. Finally, for you both. Let's begin with j any broad next steps, advice for other institutions, pursuing innovations at large, like you described, or specifically pursuing voice ai for student support moving forward? Well, I'll let David kind of address this voice Ai. You know, I our perspective is that we want to try to look at technology as way to enhance student success and that's going to drive everything that we're doing and and really how can we personalize things even even more so? And so what we're looking at is, can we take make an investment of about ten percent of our operating budget to do specific test projects like this, you know, every year, every other year. Right now we're developing about four other concepts. We're not sure which one we're going to go forward with, but I'll tell you all four of them are really exciting and it's the only thing that's holding us back right now is probably just the budget. And from my perspective, I would say there are two things for for organizations that are looking to implement this type of technology. First, collaboration is very, very critical, and so here we were successful because it enrollment management, student development and the students at large...

...worked very closely together under a common goal, and we're really excited about what was to come with that. And so an I organization or anyone unit trying to do this on their own, it's very difficult to be successful. So I encourage organizations focus on collaboration, getting stakeholder by in on an initiative such as this. The second piece of advice is really more on the the technology side, and that's around bringing in the right partners. We decided to take a partner strategy with this initiative and, as a result, we were able to go from concept to completion in three months. For most projects that's unheard of. But we were able to do that because we engaged Amazon web services, we engaged the skill development partner and powered and we worked with other partners that we have in our ecosystem to help bring this as a reality very quickly so that we could quickly assess is this workable, is that not? Work through those issues quickly and then bring this to reality, and so highly recommend organizations looking to do this. You may have those capabilities in house and if you do, that's great. If not, really focus on a partner strategy to bring in the right company, the right partner to help bring your ideas to a quick reality. Gentlemen, thanks so much for your time today and helping us all to think more creatively about what is possible when it comes to innovation at our own institutions. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? And let's start with David. So I would first encourage everyone interested in this initiative to go to the website www sluedu Alexa, and that gives a more of an overview of the program listeners are also welcome to contact me directly and my email address is David Dot Hawking, Sin Spelled h a k a n FN, at help dot flu dot...

ETU. And then, if you're looking to contact me again, this is j gooff and you can reach me at my email address, which is Jay Dot Geo ffs and frank at flu dot Edu. Awesome, David J thank you both against so much for joining us today. Thank you for having us. Thank you a lot of fun. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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