University Uses Messaging Apps as Chatbot

An innovative pathway for digital engagement

February 20, 2019

Last week's chatbot post was about the first bespoke chatbot app from a UK university. However, whilst ‘Staffs’ has gotten there first with an app, they aren't the first UK university to utilize chatbot technology to engage with students.

Recently, the University of Manchester's Timetabling Office shared on Twitter that their chatbot is now available on Viber.

Paul Briërley, Head of Timetabling & Resource Planning at UoM, has been thinking about using a chatbot to deliver basic timetable information to Manchester University students since 2017. Posting about a platform agnostic, messaging app-based approach in 2018, Briërley was focused on using existing messaging apps as conduits for chatbot-based responses.

The chatbot lets students ask questions like “where is the Beyer building?”, “how do I get to University Place 1.218?” or “when is the next lecture for CHEN10192.”

Initially, the timetabling chatbot tech was available within Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and LINE. Kik soon followed and as mentioned, Viber is now part of the chatbot messaging lineup. Briërley plans on rolling out versions of the chatbot on Twitter and Google Assistant in the near future.

Additionally, WhatsApp hasn't gotten back to the Timetabling Office even though they have requested to host a bot on the popular messaging platform. Although Instagram might not have been on his chatbot messaging radar, he says that some students have suggested that they would really like to see the bot on the photo/video/story app.

Whilst a platform agnostic chatbot strategy versus a separately downloadable app can have a lot of benefits, there are some downsides. According to Briërley, “the bot can't respond to personal questions (e.g. ‘when is *my* next lecture’) because we decided not to involve any personal data to minimise GDPR risk since the data is passing through 3rd parties.”

The most popular messaging app for the timetabling chatbot is Facebook Messenger and its use is increasing.

There are definitely pros and cons for using either a standalone bespoke app or a chatbot that syncs up with messaging apps. Essentially, this is still the beginning in many ways for higher education's foray into chatbots. We will definitely be seeing a lot more chatbots from universities as well as from solutions providers.



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