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From chatbots to immersive learning, innovative technology used to enhance experiences across ASU

August 18, 2021

The upcoming semester is one for the books as Arizona State University gets ready to welcome a record-breaking number of degree-seeking students this fall semester.

And at this month's University Technology Office town hall gathering, which brings together the department's 500-plus team members to highlight shared successes and what's to come, teams from across the organization showcased some of the remarkable work being accomplished in service of improving the experience of students, faculty and staff as they gear up for a new semester.

Let’s take a look at the five teams who participated in the Back-to-School Five-by-Five showcase: 

1. Experience Center Chatbot and Tech Studio provide automation at scale
Presented by Ty Harned and Art Hernandez

The showcase started strong with a two-for-one presentation by Ty Harned and Art Hernandez of the Experience Center. Together, they presented efforts underway to enhance the center's services during the upcoming fall semester, their busiest season.

Up first, Harned shared how the team is using artificial intelligence to enhance chatbot services. Both the financial aid chatbot and Amazon Lex voice bot assist in providing personalized information and responding to frequently asked questions, bringing automation to scale. For example, the conversational Lex bot is built to listen and respond to the most frequently asked financial aid inquiries, allowing for expedited service.

person on Zoom meeting

Hernandez followed by sharing how the team has reenvisioned the university's Tech Studio. Designed as a physical hub on campus, the studio now provides a wide array of services geared toward enhancing technological functionality and literacy for the ASU community. Support services include general troubleshooting, installation of software and hardware, mobile device setup, wired/wireless connectivity assistance and more. 
Up first, Harned shared how the team is using artificial intelligence to enhance chatbot services. Both the financial aid chatbot and Amazon Lex voice bot assist in providing personalized information and responding to frequently asked questions, bringing automation to scale. For example, the conversational Lex bot is built to listen and respond to the most frequently asked financial aid inquiries, allowing for expedited service.

The Tech Studio will open this fall at the Creativity Commons on the Tempe campus and will be scaled to additional campuses in the near future.

2. Natural Language Processing offers data-informed actions 
Presented by Elizabeth Reilley, Paul Alvarado, Hailey Stevens-Macfarlane, Jinjing Zhao 

In order to improve the speed and quality of answers to students' financial-related questions, ASU wanted more clarity on two key points: 1) who is calling, chatting and emailing and 2) what sparked the outreach. The next team to present showcased how they applied natural language processing — which combines machine learning and artificial intelligence to allow computers the ability to understand text and spoken language — to identify the most common topics surfaced by students in regard to financial services. 

By using historical data to train the natural language processing models to identify the top contact drivers (which is the "why" or reason(s) a student is reaching out), the team was able to help the Experience Center, Financial Aid and Student Business Services staff drive data-informed actions to further improve the student experience. 

Outputs focused on more proactive communications, including a suite of video explanations on how to complete and submit various documents, messaging via My ASU to communicate time frame expectations for financial aid and more.

3. Enabling impactful learning experiences
Presented by Allison Hall

Up next, Allison Hall shared the ongoing work of UTO’s Learning Experience team. With the theme “into the future by going back to the basics”, the team of 11 instructional designers have been working directly with faculty to prepare for the new semester.


Completing over 330 engagements in July and offering 68 workshops throughout the summer, the team is helping faculty more effectively integrate technology tools into the classroom to further bolster innovative teaching and learning. One example shared was the creation of Experience Kits, which are plug-and-play modules in Canvas that allow faculty to explore how they can use collaboration (i.e. Slack) and creativity (i.e. Adobe Cloud) tools in their courses to further student success.

Hall closed with an overview of the Sync Studio, which are spaces where faculty can engage via Zoom and create the natural feeling of the classroom experience that is untethered from the lectern.

4. Immersive experiences created by learners, for learners 
Presented by Robert LiKamWa, Anthony Delphy and Olivia Hernandez 

Student workers play a major role in the success of UTO — just ask Robert LiKamWa of Learning Futures Collaboratory and director of the Immersive Creation Studio (ICS). LiKamWa and his team hired 120 ASU students this summer to participate in the first cohort of the ICS. To showcase the breadth of this work, students of the ICS took the stage to present how they are using extended reality to create immersive experiences across campus.  

What better way for students to familiarize themselves with a campus environment than embarking on their own adventure. Anthony Delphy shared how his team designed the ASU Scavenger Hunt app using augmented reality to provide a fun, engaging experience for fellow students to explore the campus and discover the many tools and services available.

Olivia Hernandez came on next to talk about the Career Arcade in virtual reality. This virtual exploration experience uses interactive media and simulated experiences for students to learn about potential career pathways. For example, upon entering the eSports room, a visitor learns more about the industry and the variety of careers available, spanning skills and expertise. “We want to create an experience where students can explore and imagine their future careers through the act of creation,” Hernandez said.

5. On the road to ASU Web 2.0 standards 
Presented by Itzel Morales 

Revamping a web presence as robust as ASU’s website is no small task. Over the past six months, Itzel Morales has worked alongside a dedicated team of developers and partners from across the university to find creative solutions to ensure they meet the upcoming timeline to be compliant with the university's new web standards this fall. 

“We had to reenergize our relationships within the web community at ASU. In doing so, we were able to regain the trust needed to move forward on such a major undertaking,” Morales shared. And the results thus far paint a promising picture: launching a new enterprise content management system, creating a series of training videos, developing a Jira Service Management portal and more, the team is now better equipped with the resources, skills and mindsets needed to meet the upcoming October deadline.

Revisiting UTO's commitment to maintaining a work-life balance

Each project demonstrates how UTO teams are enabling change through the innovative use of technology. And central to this success is ensuring employees feel empowered and supported in sustaining a healthy work-life balance.

The town hall closed with a panel discussion, facilitated by Kasey Kautenburger, featuring Nathan Wilken, Mike Sharkey, Dawnyce Schutz and Amanda Kennedy, to reinforce UTO’s commitment to work-life balance and share best practices. 

“Work-life balance looks differently for individuals, but having a general set of guidelines to follow and model behaviors is important to ensure the overall health of our teams,” Schutz said. “Our work, life and balance is ever evolving and our models need to be flexible to align with the evolution … the end state needs to be keeping these conversations open,” she continued. 

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