New collaborative learning app launches across Regent's faculty

A chat app aimed at helping new students connect with one another and settle into university life has been launched across Regent’s University’s Business & Management faculty

Differ – a chatbot-enabled messaging app – was rolled out across five Business & Management (BaM) undergraduate programmes, and one MSc programme, earlier this month. It is being piloted as part of a year-long trial.

It is hoped that the app will boost students’ engagement with their programme while giving them a safe space to collaborate and communicate with their coursemates and lecturers. The app can also serve as a ‘digital ice-breaker’ to combat student loneliness, according to Dr Steve Ellis, Interim Acting Dean, BaM.

Differ app trial launches at Regent's
Dr Steve Ellis explains the benefits of the Differ app for first-year students on Regent's' BaM programmes

Dr Ellis said: ‘By improving student relationships, we expect Differ to help more students find a friend and improve confidence to contribute in the peer learning community.’

He added: ‘Peer pressure can also act in a positive way to protect and support those who might be wavering, in addition to the formal support services.’

By signing up to Differ, new students become part of a ‘learning community’, through which they are able to: see who is enrolled on their programme or pathway, initiate contact with one another through direct messages and group chats, and create and find study groups relevant to their programme or pathway. They will also be able to direct course-related questions to their programme director and Regent’s’ Differ Community Manager, Dr Sylvie Studente, who is also a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at the University.

Using chatbot technology, Differ works by matching students with other students to initiate new private conversations. It also enables participants to find and create study groups relevant to their programme of study or pathway. The app could provide particularly useful for students on courses requiring groupwork or collaborative projects, according to the Differ website.

Those eligible to join the app and its ‘learning communities’ include all first-year students enrolled on Regent’s’ BA in Global Management (all pathways), its BA in International Business and Business Foundation programme, and the University’s MSc in Digital Marketing. To join a learning community, students must sign up via an activation link sent to their Regent’s email account by the Community Manager, before downloading the app to their mobile phone, laptop or PC.

The app is currently being trialled over the academic term, and depending on its success, could be extended across Regent’s other faculty programmes in the future. Any queries about the app can be directed to Dr Studente at [email protected].

Dr Studente and Dr Ellis have co-authored a book chapter on the Differ pilot and the benefits of chatbots in Higher Education, which will be available to read in the Studente, S & Ellis, S (In Press) 'Enhancing the Online Student Experience Through Creating Learning Communities: The Benefits of Chatbots in Higher Education' and S. McKenzie, M. Mundy, F. Garivaldis & K. Dyer (Eds.) 'Tertiary Online Teaching and Learning: TOTAL Perspectives and Resources for Digital Education'. Springer-Verlag.