University of Cape Town: UCT launches WhatsApp FAQ tool

A nifty new tool that answers frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the University of Cape Town (UCT) via WhatsApp offers prospective students the opportunity to access the information they need quickly and easily.

DestinationUCT is a collaboration between the Academic Development Programme (ADP) within the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), the Academic Advising Project, student support services from across the institution and external service provider Konobo.

Co-chaired by Associate Professor Lis Lange, the deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for teaching and learning, and Professor Loretta Feris, the DVC for transformation, the Class 2021 task team acknowledged the need to engage prospective students and to provide them with useful information in a centralised, accessible and easy-to-use format. Representatives from several student support functions from across UCT as well as the Academic Advising Project were asked to identify possible means to achieve this.

“A WhatsApp platform for FAQs seems like a natural step along the path to further developments in online student support.”

The development team at Konobo was then contracted to adapt their WhatsApp solution for prospective students to explore a range of FAQs within a few thumb taps.

“Staff and students are already interacting with the institution in the online space,” said Dr Riashna Sithaldeen, the deputy director of the ADP and project lead. “A WhatsApp platform for FAQs seems like a natural step along the path to further developments in online student support.”

Development process

The development of DestinationUCT took about three months and started with gathering information from various stakeholders across UCT and the university’s web pages. To ensure its integrity, information was carefully cross-checked by staff members across the institution and then formatted into a spreadsheet.

This was then handed over to the development team at Konobo, who transformed the data into a comprehensive WhatsApp FAQ interface.

“UCT staff have a tremendous amount of experience with common student queries and how to answer them,” said Dr Sithaldeen. “DestinationUCT is simply a manifestation of that knowledge in a new online tool.”

One of DestinationUCT’s greatest benefits is that information can be updated and added as and when required. New information is simply fed into the spreadsheet and changes are implemented in real time. This is of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic when changes happen swiftly and need to be communicated as such.

Launch and reception

DestinationUCT was launched on 7 January 2021 to prospective students in the Faculty of Commerce as part of a pilot programme called Commerce CARES – a subsidiary of UCT­_CARES. It was then rolled out to all 2021 applicants via the Admissions Office and the Office of the Registrar.

While the platform is still in its early days, it has already proved to be a useful tool for a substantial number of prospective students.

As of 12 February 2021, 10 600 users have accessed DestinationUCT and 28 300 questions have been answered.

The top two categories where most questions have been answered are:

Admissions and housing (9 906 questions answered)
Funding and fees (4 746 questions answered)
Other categories are:

COVID-19 protocols at UCT
Applying to UCT
International students
Orientation, student support services
Academic support services
Postgraduate students
Student life at UCT
Latest UCT updates

“Another benefit of a simple chatbot … like DestinationUCT is that it provides a way for us to help more people more quickly.”

Prospective students can simply navigate to the answer they need, without having to trawl through a complicated website, search for the right office on campus or wait for an email reply. Sithaldeen pointed out that this is a welcome improvement in accessibility, as data collected in the first phase of the Academic Advising Project showed very clearly that students were often frustrated by not knowing where to find the information they need.

“Another benefit of a simple chatbot [a computer programme that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats or both] like DestinationUCT is that it provides a way for us to help more people more quickly while at the same time reducing query traffic to departments that may otherwise be very busy,” said Sithaldeen.

How to access DestinationUCT

To connect to DestinationUCT, follow these simple steps:

Add the number 060 018 0288 to your contact list on WhatsApp.
Type “Hi” and the menu for DestinationUCT will pop up.
You can then type in a specific number to make a selection and explore the contents that you wish to.
If you are an international student, please make sure you add the country code for South Africa (+27 60 018 0288).

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