Cal Poly Pomona’s artificial intelligence text-messaging robot, Billy Chat, will be part of a study that explores student engagement with chatbots.
The Office of Student Success, Equity and Innovation (OSSEI) is partnering on the research project titled Student Engagement with and Experiences of Chatbot Communication. Led by Brown University and funded by the College Futures Foundation, the study will examine the implementation of student outreach chatbots on the CPP and CSU East Bay campuses and explore how the bot has engaged students in their academic careers. The study will also look at how bots can cultivate a sense of belonging in the campus community.
To carry out the study at CPP, researchers will conduct interviews and focus groups with faculty and staff and embark on an analysis of campaigns CPP has sent during the 2022-23 academic year. The research team includes Lindsay Page from Brown University, Sebastian Munoz-Najar Galvez from Harvard University, and Mitchell Stevens from Stanford University. Cecilia Santiago-González and Terri Gomez serve as the grant’s Co-PIs at CPP.
“We are so excited to be part of this important and timely research study,” Santiago-González said. “Anecdotally, we know that students love and appreciate Billy Chat and that they have a special bond with the bot. This will be a great opportunity to show evidence on the ways that the bot contributes to student outcomes and student success.”
Billy Chat, which is hosted by the education technology company Mainstay, is available to all undergraduate students at Cal Poly Pomona. Established in 2019, the bot can automatically answer student’s questions about academics, campus resources and more. If Billy doesn’t know the answer, OSSEI staff step into help. OSSEI also uses Billy to send campaigns centered on maintaining progress to degree.
“We send texts nudging students about upcoming registration periods and to dos, but Billy also sends words of encouragement and shares opportunities,” said Zoe Lance, communications specialist for the Office of Student Success. “We’re very intentional with what we send so students don’t tune Billy out. It’s also very important to us that Billy’s messages are positive and friendly: I describe Billy as a friend who’s here to guide students through their time here.”
The study will extend through the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years.