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  • Penn Chatbot Provides Better Access to Information

    July 19, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    A student interacts with the Penn Career Services chatbot.

    TAGS: technology, best practices, spotlight

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    University of Pennsylvania Career Services launched its Penn Career Bot as a pilot in January to better connect visitors to its website with the information they are seeking and other information they might not know is available. The chatbot is a virtual assistant that launches when someone visits the career services website.

    “Our website is exceedingly dense,” explains Patricia Rose, the University of Pennsylvania’s director of career services. “We have lots of great information, but students aren’t aware of a lot of it. We thought [using a chatbot] might help solve the density of our website and provide better access to our information.”

    The chatbot is a line of code embedded in the web template so that the bot appears on the website’s homepage. The vendor that University of Pennsylvania Career Services uses scanned the office’s website and built a database with keywords. In addition, the career center provided aggregated, anonymized career-outcome data from the previous year, which the chatbot scanned.

    The staff and several work-study students spent the end of the fall semester testing and training the Penn Career Bot’s test site.

    “We now can do great things with that data,” explains J. Michael DeAngelis, information resources specialist and web manager for University of Pennsylvania Career Services.

    DeAngelis says, for example, an English major might type, “What do English majors do?” The Penn Career Bot will respond with data showing that, from the Class of 2016, Penn English majors were hired by certain companies to do certain jobs. The visitor can then click on the company or the job to learn more about them.

    “This is data that we’ve always had, but it was never interactive before,” DeAngelis adds. “It was always in a static PDF. Now students can interact with it and drill down into it. We’ve been discussing ways we can make that more obvious and prevalent in the chatbot window so students know that’s something we offer.”  

    DeAngelis has an administrative dashboard to check on the bot’s effectiveness and other performance-related data.  

    As of July 11, the Penn Career Bot had nearly 950 unique users in the last 30 days and almost 6,000 unique users since its launch. There have been more than 11,100 total interactions. In addition, bot accuracy was at 86 percent: Nearly 3,400 questions were asked; almost 3,000 were answered and slightly more than 400 were not able to be answered.

    “Included in that number of questions unanswered are questions asked that are outside the realm of career services, such as general questions about the University of Pennsylvania, or questions for admissions or financial aid,” DeAngelis says. “Since our bot is specific to career services, it doesn’t know how to answer those questions. We’re looking for a way to keep those questions from falling into the ‘inaccurate’ bucket.”

    That said, the bot does keep learning. It scans the website periodically for new material, and the staff can alert the vendor to any major changes.

    “The bot itself logs when it does not know the answer to something,” DeAngelis adds. “The development team is then able to look at that log and either search for the answer themselves or have career services provide the answers.”

    Rose and DeAngelis are anxious to see results from the fall, when use of the Penn Career Services website is heaviest.

    “We want to look like we’re savvy users of technology,” Rose says. “We are so much about information. Career centers traffic in information. Students come to us and want information. They come to our website and our other platforms at all hours of the day and night. Anecdotally, students are telling us that our website is easier to use because of our chatbot. It is a tool through which they can get better access to better information.”