MISHAWAKA – Freshmen or transfer students to Bethel are probably familiar with Wilhelm, who is not only Bethel University’s mascot but also the name of the automatic text-messaging software, a tool designed to aid students and to help staff gather information over the course of the year.
The Wilhelm texting software was introduced to Bethel in the fall of 2019. The software itself was designed three years ago by EdSights, a company that focuses on “non-cognitive data” collection, according to its website. The system is built to take information based on the responses given by students and send it to both Bethel and EdSights. However, all the messages from Wilhelm were specifically created by and for Bethel University’s use, and all of the responses are marked as Bethel’s once they arrive at EdSights. If any of the responses are potentially worrisome, EdSights receives the message, flags it, and sends an email to Bethel almost instantaneously. This allows staff on campus to react quickly to any possible issue that someone is having and start trying to resolve it.
If students have received confusing messages, here is a possible reason why: the system searches the responses to Wilhelm for certain keywords, like “sad” or “good,” as well as responses to yes or no questions. The system also reflects on the information provided in a survey that all freshmen and transfer students took at the
beginning of the semester. Using these methods, it determines the best response to give the student. Longer answers, though innocuous in a student’s intention, could prompt an undesired response if any conflicting keywords are present.
For example, if a question is asked about how well a student is adjusting to life at Bethel, the student could give a three-sentence response talking about how great everything is while mentioning offhandedly that the accommodations were “bad.” What the system will do is look specifically at the keyword “bad” and Wilhelm will deliver a response based off of that one keyword, not the entirety of the message.
To avoid that kind of confusion with Wilhelm, stick to shorter responses or make sure the response is clearly leaning one direction and ommit conflicting terms.
The team at EdSights has been having a great time seeing all the responses from Bethel students. They’re enjoying all the funny responses, jokes, and even memes that the new Pilots are sending their way. Occasionally, Wilhelm will even respond in kind, sending a funny picture or gif in return.
The Student Coordinator and Academic Specialist, Susan Matteson, in the Center for Academic Success, said that Bethel University has been one of EdSights’ favorite student bodies to interact with; the friendly and welcoming nature of the incoming class has really impressed them, and, for that, new students should give themselves a pat on the back.
A staff member of the Center for Academic Success is acting as an ongoing test subject for the software, trying different responses and answering questions
unorthodoxly in an effort to see how Wilhelm will respond. While there will be consistent new responses, the system will learn and adapt to Bethel University and continue to help new students adjust to life on campus.
Any students experiencing problems with Wilhelm or with further questions on the program should contact the Center for Academic Success, located in the basement of the Academic Center, just down the hall from the Learning Commons.