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KIP & CAF Projects

Questions Anyone? AU's Enhanced FAQ Service Has the Answers


Ask AU Enhancement Project

A sleeker, more intuitive, and more comprehensive version of AU’s automated FAQ service is about to launch.

With a myriad of new features including the capacity to pull up information you might be looking for before you even finish typing your search terms, the enhanced service will make it much easier to find information about AU’s academic offerings, student services, and administrative processes.

The FAQ service, known for most of its life as askAU, has been around since 2002. Its ability to respond to questions written in natural language with answers written in natural language has won AU awards, and the concept itself was ahead of its time. In recent years, for example, Google has improved its own ability to gather search results for questions written in natural language.

After several years, it became clear that askAU needed to be brought up to date with advancements in search technology. Funding provided through KIP has provided resources for a major overhaul.

The enhanced service, now known as Questions? Ask AU (Ask AU for short), will be available on the home page of the myAU portal for students and staff and the Contact section of the public AU website. The launch date is March 1.

Here are some of the new features of the service that promise to put it at the forefront of AU’s innovations again.

Creates a drop-down menu of questions you might be trying to ask by analyzing what you’re typing into the search field. “We weren’t sure if people understood this system works best when you type in a question,” says Hume. “So we’ve set it up so that when you type in the search field, the system starts pulling up questions from the knowledge database that contain your key words,” he explains.

“So, if you type in ‘how,” the system pulls up a list of questions for you that start with ‘how.’ You then select the question that best describes what you want to know, and then you get your answer.”

Not only does this feature help people understand how the system works, but it also fast-tracks them to the information they’re seeking.

Performs searches based on words as well as questions. The nature of the above feature means that the system also provides you with search results (questions and answers) for single words or phrases such as “transfer credit.”

Incorporates freshly updated content in its knowledge database. A big part of this project has been improving the accuracy, quality, and scope of the content in the knowledge database. All the content has been reviewed, updated, and edited. New answers have also been added based on user demand and stakeholder consultation.

Communicates more clearly what the service is for and how to use it. It’s important that the FAQ service is easy to figure out for new users—particularly current or prospective students.

So, in addition to the new intuitive search capabilities described above, the project team has added a couple pithy sentences at the top of the interface explaining how to use the system.

The team has also changed the name of the service from askAU to Questions? Ask AU (Ask AU for short). The new name more clearly explains the purpose of the system to those who are new to it.

Improves usability with new visual design. The look and feel of the interface has been updated to align with AU’s front webpages. The most frequently asked questions are displayed more prominently in a column on the right. And other features such as increased column width and font size should make the system’s answers easier to read.

Integrates more effectively with the website’s other search service. Ask AU focuses on information most relevant to students and prospective students—student services, policies and processes related to students, and so on.

To help users find AU information beyond the scope of Ask AU, the general search service is accessible from Ask AU in two places: in the top right-hand corner of the interface and in a tab underneath the column where answers are displayed.

Gathers enhanced web metrics that will help staff continually improve Ask AU. Hume says staff have always used web metrics, data about how people use the service, to monitor its performance and improve it. For example, the service has always given people an opportunity to rate the quality of the answer they got for their question. Staff would then analyze the question ratings regularly.

Now this rating is more prominently displayed underneath the answer column. “We’ve made it a lot easier to rate questions because we want to get more people rating,” says Hume.

Hume and his team will use this metric and several others to evaluate and improve the performance of the new Ask AU on a regular basis. Ultimately, the hope is these metrics will demonstrate that more people are using the service and having a helpful experience when do.