Deakin and IBM unite to revolutionise the student experience

8 October 2014

Deakin IBM Watson
Deakin University will be the first university in the world to utilise IBM Watson to transform the way students get advice and answers to questions.

Deakin University will be the first university in the world to utilise IBM Watson to enhance the quality of the student experience, developing with IBM a breakthrough system that will transform the way students get advice and answers to questions.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander said Watson would deliver instant online access through the web and mobile devices for Deakin's almost 50,000 students.

"Our new partnership with IBM and the introduction of Watson exemplifies how Deakin is driving the digital frontier," Professor den Hollander said.

"Deakin is already the highest ranked Victorian university for overall student learning satisfaction," she said.

"Students constantly tell us they want accessible, accurate and immediate information that they can instantly find for themselves, and Watson ticks all of those boxes.

"Last year we introduced an online, one-stop hub called DeakinSync, with personalised tools and information. This has since become the 'go-to' space for our students, but we want to make information even quicker and easier to access.

"IBM Watson will help students to find information easily and put answers at their fingertips, 24/7/365.

"New students naturally generate the most questions and will enjoy a smoother start to their university lives. International students and mature aged students returning to the books will also get maximum benefit from this initiative.

"Watson will revolutionise and simplify student problem-solving: the more questions it is asked, the more informative its answers will become."

Professor den Hollander said the new student advisor application would be rolled out from early next year with a focus initially on new students.

"We're delighted to be the first University to recruit Watson to help students navigate their way through their university experience – it's creative, cutting-edge and represents thinking right on the edge of the digital frontier," she said.

"Deakin is pushing the digital boundaries because we want to make the student experience the best it can possibly be.

"We operate in a bewildering, unpredictable new environment of digital change and shifting global economy, and IBM is exactly the partner Deakin wants on this journey."


Watson, named after its founder, Tom Watson, is a ground-breaking cognitive computing platform.

It represents a new era of computer technology through its ability to read and understand natural language, process vast amounts of disparate data and learn from each interaction.

IBM Watson was put to the test and achieved notoriety when it won the top rating US game show Jeopardy!  by beating the two most successful contestants of all time.

Jeopardy! was considered the perfect test for Watson because it required IBM's computer to understand a question expressed in everyday language, search its memory bank (it had ingested the entirety of Wikipedia) for relevant contextual information, and express its answer in common English – all in a faster time than its opponents.

There are a number of different applications for Watson and Deakin will be the first university to implement the Watson Engagement Adviser as a key part of student self service. 

Because IBM Watson is cognitive, it learns and it will keep on learning the more questions asked and interactions it has.  It represents a new era of computing, in which apps and systems interact with human users more naturally, augment knowledge with Big Data insights and learn to improve how they assist us.

This means that when it is implemented at Deakin the focus will be on questions asked most commonly, particularly those asked by new or commencing students who can sometimes be the ones who most need the quick and ready answers to their questions.

Watson will be used at Deakin to provide answers to student questions starting with a range of topics such as admissions; enrolment (courses); tuition and fees, financial assistance, student housing, extracurricular skills development, health and wellness, facilities, job placement, employment preparation, job skills assessment and academic help.

Watson will answer questions about courses but will also be able to help guide students through the maze of decision-making about their future careers to enhance their employment opportunities.

Over time every student who asks Watson a question can expect tailored information and personalised advice and information based on their individual profile.

Students will be able to pitch as many questions as they like to Watson via text on any device connected to the web.

Watson holds a vast quantity of contextualised information to enable it to quickly answer student questions in a language students can easily understand.

It will use maps and graphs, images and tables to simplify explanations for students.

In its first phase, Watson could be asked general and 'how to' questions: What do I need to do to enrol? What social activities are available at Deakin? Where do I find the biology building?

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