USP enhanced its Semester Zero programme with GPT-powered AI support

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*Photo courtesy of the University of the South Pacific

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) have successfully enhanced the Semester Zero programme of USP. This programme, designed to help prospective students transition smoothly into university life, now incorporates advanced GPT 3.5-turbo technology. This integration has significantly improved the learning experience, allowing students to learn from the safety, convenience and comfort of their own homes.

Semester Zero, known for its range of activities and games tailored to introduce students to USP – the premier institution for higher learning in the region and the host of PACFOLD, COL’s Pacific regional centre – now includes an AI-powered assistant embedded within the Moodle Learning Management System. This initiative, supported by COL and implemented with financial backing from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, aims to bridge the gap between secondary and tertiary education by developing literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

USP Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia expressed his delight at the programme’s adaptation to digital tools. “The integration of AI assistance into Semester Zero reflects our commitment to using creative solutions for enhancing educational accessibility and experience,” he stated.

Dr Rajni Chand, Director of PACFOLD and Centre for Flexible Learning at the university, presented the initiative on a popular television breakfast show and stated, “The introduction of SEM ZERO-GPT has transformed how students interact with our digital resources, making learning more accessible than ever.”

The programme notably assisted 2,588 active participants, effectively handling over 619 queries related to course content and operational information, demonstrating the potential for integration of AI in educational settings in the Pacific. A survey of learners revealed that the AI experience was highly satisfactory. This effort not only facilitates a smooth transition to university life but also encourages the effective use of AI tools among students in the Pacific region.

Dr Balaji Venkataraman, Vice President of COL who led the deployment of AI in learner support, said, “The GPT-powered helpdesk for Moodle is designed with a robust human-in-the-loop framework ensuring that, while AI significantly enhances support responsiveness and efficiency, the IT staff continued to play a critical role in  fine-tuning interactions to improve learning outcomes.”

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