Tailor-made advice thanks to artificial intelligence?

Student vor einer Tafel

FAU research team investigates how AI can provide support for advising students

Can artificial intelligence (AI) provide useful advice to students for their further academic careers? How can universities introduce AI-based support systems that are easily accepted and that support students’ diversity? The FAU research project ‘Individually recommended? – How AI-based advisory systems affect student diversity’ (ADVICE) is hoping to find some answers to these questions. The project is being funded with around 145,000 euros from the Volkswagen Foundation as part of the programme called ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future’.

When they hear the term ‘artificial intelligence’, most people first think of the technology behind autonomous driving or intelligent robots. ‘We would like to use AI in a completely different area to offer students advice tailored to their needs,’ says Prof. Dr. Karl Wilbers at the Chair of Business Education and Human Resources Development. ‘Our research project focuses on the effects of this on students and their diversity, whether artificial intelligence is accepted in this area and which consequences this has for society.’

In conjunction with his colleagues, Prof. Dr. Sven Laumer, Schöller Endowed Professorship for Information Systems (Digitalisation in Business and Society) and Prof. Dr. Tobias Wolbring, Chair of Empirical Economic Sociology, Wilbers hopes not only to identify the opportunities, but also the acceptance of this field. Expertise in education, sociology and technology will be incorporated into the project using an interdisciplinary approach thanks to the collaboration of the three chairs.

The first phase involves machine consolidation of the existing large collections of data about students such as age, gender, number of examinations passed or ECTS credits gained to create anonymised academic progress profiles. ‘The next step involves matching individual characteristics with the profile,’ explains Prof. Dr. Tobias Wolbring. Any deviations are detected by AI early on, and the system suggests individual and personal recommendations for advice – in theory.

In practice, the researchers know it’s important to carefully consider when students are offered which type of advice. ‘We all agree that this cannot simply be an automated e-mail with an invitation to a consultation,’ emphasises Prof. Dr. Sven Laumer. ‘Ultimately, students should receive valuable tips for their further academic careers that are tailored to their current situation and thus support the diversity of students.’ ‘It’s also possible that different study programmes are very successful, which will lead to new profiles and additional reference points,’ adds Prof. Dr. Karl Wilbers. ‘This would be a very positive influence on diversity.’

To assess this, the researchers will have to clarify some other issues in their project, such as when are students willing to provide additional data, such as information about their learning behaviour, in exchange for personalised recommendations? How can they reconcile the conflict between confidentiality and gaining new information and which factors influence this? What is the best way to specifically design AI-based recommendation systems so that they are widely accepted by a broad range of students?

This is what the researchers are hoping to find out during the project, which is initially scheduled for one year. The first three sub-projects focussing on data quality, investigating academic progress analyses, and the acceptance of AI-based systems are due to start in March.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Sven Laumer
Schöller Endowed Professorship for Information Systems (Digitalisation in Business and Society)
Phone: + 49 911 5302 96476

Prof. Dr. Karl Wilbers
Chair of Business Education and Human Resources Development
Phone: + 49 911 5302 322

Prof. Dr. Tobias Wolbring
Chair of Empirical Economic Sociology
Phone: + 49 911 5302 950