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UC teams up with Microsoft, a collaboration for innovation
Mon, 24th Jul 2023

UC has entered into a collaboration with Microsoft to enhance student experience, research capabilities and employability by being at the forefront of tech innovation.

"The collaboration is an important step for Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury's Strategic Vision, Tangata tū tangata ora 2020-2030, as an engaged, connected, and future focused university," says Keith Longden, Executive Director of Planning, Finance and Digital Services, Kaihaut Matua Kahu.

"With deep industry expertise in gaming, film production, cloud services and artificial intelligence we are excited about the joint opportunities that exist between both organisations," he says.

"Microsoft products are already in use across the university and this new collaboration ensures UC can make the most of those product investments, while exploring other avenues for advancement."

Longden says with Microsoft behing one of the biggest global game developers, having early access to gaming innovations and products means degree programmes including UCs Bachelor of Digital Screen (Hons) and Applied Immersive Game Design remain consistently relevant while producing highly employable, skilled graduates.

"Partnering with influential and innovative entities like this is integral to the success of future-focused initiatives driven by the university, like UC Digital Screen," he says.

Director of Digital Screen, Sam Witters, adds, "Our students are the future of creative media in Aotearoa and beyond.

"Our collaboration with Microsoft is a brilliant example of how were empowering commercial and academic worlds to coexist and work together to create the tools our students need to shape the future of digital entertainment," Witters says.

Chief Digital Officer Michael Oulsnam says a new UC chatbot will be one of the first exciting joint initiatives introduced under the collaboration. Unlike standard chatbots, this bot will use Microsoft Azure OpenAI technology to extract answers based on complex questions.

"Initially the chatbot is being enabled to respond to some of our most frequently asked questions and other publicly available information," says Oulsnam. 

"This could include asking where to find study spaces across the campus and how to book them."

The information fed to the chatbot is held in private UC data storage, meaning the bot wont take answers from other sources on the internet. Information will be sourced from UCs Library and Contact Centre teams, with a strong focus on ensuring it is accurate and well maintained.

"As the chatbot is used for more interactions, the Digital team will be able to improve its responses and continue refining the ever-expanding knowledge base that the chatbot has access to," says Oulsnam.

The chatbot is also given a clear job description, it is programmed to know what its role is and understand how to stay within those parameters this prevents the chatbot from answering questions it doesnt have the information for.

Vanessa Sorenson, managing director of Microsoft New Zealand, says she is thrilled to be working together to create even further opportunities for the University community through smart use of technology.

"The University of Canterbury has a really ambitious and innovative approach to technological transformation, from using technology to better support students along their learning pathway to investing in developing a screen industry on campus," she says.

"Looking at how the University drives these kinds of developments not just for the good of its students and staff, but for the good of Canterbury, is amazing."

The collaboration, and the upcoming introduction of the OpenAI powered chatbot, is the latest milestone on UC's digital transformation journey.