York’s 24/7 student info service has more answers than ever

This fall, when York students return to classes, they’ll be able to have their questions about enrolling in courses, weather emergencies, exams, their fee statement or how to access a particular student service answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Ask A Student Services Expert information resource can be accessed from any computer located anywhere simply by clicking on the information tool located on the York Web site.

The highly popular online service, which was first launched in 2005 to answer questions future students had about York, has been tweaked and enhanced with an expanded information base for current students. Now fully operational, the Ask A Student Services Expert information tool can be found on the Current Students Web page in the right hand navigation bar.

Above: The team in the Registrar’s Office who are the experts behind "Ask A Student Services Expert". From left: Jillian Oinonen, assistant registrar, information technology & publications; Esther Boaron; Lucy Bellissimo, associate registrar, systems & communication; Astra Avens, business & statistical analyst; Susan Chisholm-Milligan, customer service representative; and Mohini Nemdharry, business & statistical analyst.

The resource is simple, quick and very easy to use, says Lucy Bellissimo, York’s associate registrar, systems & communication, and a member of the development team. "The Ask A Student Services Expert gives York students a way to get the information they need any time of the day."

Developed with students in mind, the tool is intuitive and offers an alternative to lining up for service. "Sometimes it is not always feasible or desirable for students to line up. With this option, they can get answers to their questions any time of the day, even between midnight and four in the morning," says Bellissimo.

Since its introduction, Ask A Student Services Expert has averaged about 1,000 questions a day from different Internet addresses, says Bellissimo. "The system works best if you enter a full sentence versus one or two keywords. The service then seeks the best matching response in our knowledge base. Many times the responses will also provide a URL that contains existing information."

Developed for York by staff in Student Services and the Registrar’s Office, the system uses a customized version of a program called Intelliresponse, which is used by many large educational institutions across North America. "Here at York, Admissions was the first to use it for future students, and now the Registrar’s Office is making use of the tool," says Bellissimo. "The Current Students’ version contains an updated knowledge base and is regularly reviewed and enhanced."

What are the most popular requests?

"We get lots of requests during bad weather from students who are wondering if the University is closed, or if their exam is rescheduled," chuckles Bellissimo.

York students were quick to realize the tool’s potential and the variety of requests keep those working behind the scenes on their toes. "We added a more prominent graphic to the Current Students Web page to advertise the service and received more than 4,000 questions in a very short period of time. We found there was a large spike in unanswered questions. Diving into our reports, we found a pattern whereby students were asking about Moodle at York. We quickly formulated a reply with a link to the appropriate Web site to access Moodle." (Moodle is a Web site where students can access supplemental materials and course information posted by their instructors.)

Although the service is geared to questions about registrarial and financial services, York students are using it for all kinds of requests, sometimes even those that relate to faculty or departmental business, says Bellissimo. "Where there is a commonly asked question, we will approach other departments to contribute a reply."

"We did have something before this tool but it was not as robust," says Bellissimo. The system is constantly "learning" from the questions posed by students and staff has been learning with the system. "It teaches us by showing the unanswered questions and people’s responses," she says. "Students are able to rate the responses on the degree of help they received and this helps us to improve the service. If the answer still does not provide enough detail, the student can then send us an e-mail and they’ll receive a personal reply."

The tool is successful because of the team behind it who not only launched the knowledge base but are committed to keeping it current and constantly improving it to add the information students need. Bellissimo says the results have been worth the investment of time and resources. "Whether a student needs information on how to access their grades or a weather emergency happens, the Ask A Student Services Expert is there any time of the day to help."