Academic Advising by a Bot

December 18, 2007

Recently, while doing some Internet research on the curriculum of programs that might compete with ours, I found myself on a Web site that refers prospective students to a variety of online degree programs. I won’t use its real name here, and will instead call it COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM, but you’ve probably seen the services of entities like this when you use search engines. Since this was not what I was looking for, I closed the browser window, only to be offered the chance to chat about my educational and professional goals with a “live agent:” “Wait! A live agent is here to assist you with any questions you might have about online universities.” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for free advice. Here is the full transcript of that conversation with the purportedly live agent, the epicene-named Morgan:

Morgan: Hey wait! We hate to see you leave! It only takes a minute to fill out our simple form, and you'll receive information about degree programs designed to meet your needs as a working adult. CLICK HERE to return.

Morgan: Just type 'HI' or 'Hello' in the space below to let me know you are there.

Me: Hi Morgan. I'm hoping you can help me.

Morgan: Hi, thanks for chatting with me.... to return to COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM, just CLICK HERE.

Morgan: E-learning is driven by student-centered learning-so you get to decide how you work best.

Me: Do you have those degrees where you just pay your money and get your Ph.D.?

Morgan: Maybe you want to study at the same time each day for a set time. Maybe you need the support of other students via online forums and e-mail.

Me: That's not exactly what I asked.

Me: What programs can I do online?

Morgan: We have the following major categories of degree available: Business, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Teaching, Engineering, Graphic Design, Healthcare, Hospitality Management, Legal/Paralegal, Liberal Arts, Nursing, Religious Studies, Science and Math, Technology.

Me: Culinary Arts? How do you teach cooking online?

Morgan: Earn your degree while you work. Distance learning is tailor made for busy working adult [sic]. You can now study on your own time, at your own pace, and out of the convenience of your own home.

Me: What e-learning platforms do you use?

Morgan: If you want a career in the culinary world, a formal education is the ideal way to get started. CLICK HERE to see all Culinary Degrees.

Me: Is there a hands-on component to the culinary arts degree?

Me: Morgan?

Me: Hello?

Morgan: With technology and current events constantly changing, college textbooks become quickly outdated. Online education has the advantage -- it's constantly on the cutting edge. For students and teachers alike, the Internet is their resource.

Me: I have a lot of questions--please try to keep up.

Morgan: Can I provide you with a link back to COLLEGEFORNOTHING.COM?

Morgan: This whole process is quick and easy to get going, so why not start right now?

Morgan: Discover the best way to pay for your online education. Our search service will find the schools that fit your needs.

Me: No, I have specific programmatic questions that you're not addressing.

Me: Can I just give you some money and you'll give me a degree?

Morgan: I'll try my best to answer your question. If the question is regarding a specific degree program or school, please fill out a short form for that school.

Me: Also, what religions are covered in religious studies?

Morgan: Remember if you looking to advance your education and jump-start your career then let us give you FREE college information! CLICK HERE to return.

Me: Can I become a minister?

Morgan: A religious studies degree program, whatever its focus, has the purpose of intellectually challenging its students -- of guiding you in the study of the diverse tenets and traditions of faith around the globe. As the world grows, so does the need and opportunity for the study of religion. CLICK HERE to see all Religious Studies Degrees.

Me: This has been illuminating--I hope the faculty is as well informed.

Me: Thank you for all your help.

Morgan: The process is short, simple, and free, and an enrollment advisor from the school will be better able to answer your specific questions and find the perfect degree program for you. CLICK HERE to get started or ask away.

Morgan: You're very welcome :)

Me: I feel I have the tools to take the next step in my educational journey.

Morgan: Or maybe you find you can really express yourself using chat boards and instant messaging, whereas you were too shy to speak up in a classroom.

Me: You're a great counselor -- can I hire you away from your job?

Morgan: With technology and current events constantly changing, college textbooks become quickly outdated.

Morgan: No this is not a scam. We have helped out many people in the past, let us help you out!

Me: Clearly.

Morgan: Online education has the advantage -- it's constantly on the cutting edge. For students and teachers alike, the Internet is their resource.

Morgan: Simply CLICK HERE to get started!

I decided to share this transcript because it would be perfect for this time of year as we wade through piles of papers to grade. But I leave more troubled than amused. In our online world, how many prospective students are reassured, comforted or directed by Morgan’s college advising?

Bio

Jonathan Deutsch is assistant professor of tourism and hospitality at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York.

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