National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State Commits $1.8M to Morgan State University to Study Benefits of AI-Enhanced Classroom Chatbots
University will Leverage the Resources to Pilot Chatbot Technology Aimed at Supporting Students in Critical Undergraduate Math and English Courses
BALTIMORE — The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded the National Institute for Student Success (NISS) at Georgia State University a $7.6 million grant to study how chatbots can improve student outcomes in foundational college math and English courses, the university announced. Building on previous studies that demonstrate AI-enhanced chatbots increase grades and retention rates among lower-income and first-generation students, the NISS is investing $1.8 million from the grant to deploy chatbot technology in first-year math and English courses at partner school Morgan State University as part of a pilot initiative.
The ED’s highly competitive Postsecondary Student Success Program supports innovative approaches with the potential to improve national student outcomes. The NISS grant will fund the piloting and scaling of text-based chatbots in these critical first-year courses and support an evaluation team of national scholars to assess the work. In addition to Morgan, Georgia State and its associate degree-granting institution, Perimeter College, the University of Central Florida will also benefit from the pilot program.
“Far too many of our students find themselves struggling in gateway math and English courses,” said Dr. Ryan Maltese, associate vice president for Student Success and Retention at Morgan State. “By incorporating faculty-driven assistive technology directly into the classroom, our students will be able to engage their course materials at any time, in digitally native spaces that they have come to expect as a part of their everyday lives. Morgan State University is proud to partner in this innovative work that will help shape the future of higher education, and we look forward to working with our colleagues at GSU and UCF on this trailblazing initiative.”
At Morgan, the pilot project will investigate whether course-integrated chatbot communication can improve students’ academic experiences, particularly in areas such as feelings of connection with course instructors or sense of belonging, and select inputs (e.g., study time, take up of supplemental academic supports, assignment completion). It is expected to translate into meaningful outcomes including improved course performance, retention, and graduation. Through Technology Enhanced Academic Communication to Help in Math and English (TEACH ME), text-based chatbots with AI capabilities will be adapted to provide course-specific, proactive outreach and support to undergraduate students in first-year math and English courses.
Over the next four years, the resources designated for Morgan will cover the costs of faculty course buyouts, stipends, grad assistant support, and hiring additional staffers, including a project director, data analysts, and other needed support. Funding will also cover the costs of a chatbot vendor, who can provide the technology and its implementation.
The goal of introducing chatbots into these courses, according to Tim Renick, the founding executive director of the NISS and the project lead for the grant, is to provide more personalized and timely support for the students in the courses. The chatbot is designed to complement the efforts of course instructors — answering basic student questions about course material, reminding students of upcoming assignments, and offering encouragement and tips when they struggle.
“Because of their schedules, students with jobs and families currently are less likely to attend after-class tutoring and study sessions,” Renick said. “The chatbots we are developing can support students 24/7, answer questions after hours and keep students on track in these challenging courses.”
Georgia State’s use of artificial intelligence-enhanced chatbot technology dates to 2016 when it piloted a program aimed at reducing “summer melt,” a term describing the phenomenon of high school graduates accepted to college failing to register for fall classes. By communicating with students over the summer through text message reminders and two-way question-and-answer capabilities, Georgia State reduced summer melt from 19 percent to 9 percent. During the first summer, the Pounce chatbot interacted with incoming first-year students 185,000 times, an impossible feat for even the most robustly staffed admissions office.
The NISS and its partners at Morgan State and the University of Central Florida hope to show that chatbots integrated into core math and English courses result in higher grades in those foundational courses, setting students up for better performance in later courses and, ultimately, a degree.
By fall 2024, researchers will begin piloting the chatbots in courses at each location with the aim of demonstrating the effectiveness of the tool across a variety of demographic profiles served by each institution.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering more than 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.
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Andrea Jones, for Georgia State University PR