With record enrolment levels that have topped 28,600 students, it’s no surprise the University of Manitoba receives hundreds of requests for information every month.
Prospective University of Manitoba students are particularly curious. They want to know what types of programs the university offers, how much their tuition will cost, where they can live on campus and when they should apply. And, as predominately high-school students who have grown up with the world wide web, their queries often arrive via e-mail, with an expectation of a quick response.
For the university, the challenge is accommodating the sheer volume of requests. The U of M’s admissions office receives dozens of e-mail inquiries every day. Plus, students investigating their post-secondary education options don’t take the weekend off: it’s not uncommon for staff to find 300 messages awaiting response when they return to work on Monday morning.
The volume of requests often makes a timely answer difficult and an immediate response next to impossible. Now, however, admissions staff have a new tool, and prospective students are able to have many of their questions answered with a few mouse clicks.
The solution is called askumanitoba, a new web-based question-and-answer service geared toward prospective students. Found by following the “future students” link from the university’s home page, or directly at www.umanitoba.ca/ask, the online resource invites students to pose a question by typing into a text box.
In fractions of a second, the software scans the questions for keywords and generates an appropriate response. The askumanitoba tool can presently provide an answer for most of the common questions posed by prospective University of Manitoba students.
“Rather than having to wait for a response via e-mail, students who use this tool can have an immediate answer,” says Derek Wahl, a student recruitment officer in the enrolment services office and a coordinator of the askumanitoba project.
“It’s a better way for students to have their questions answered.”
The software also generates a top-10 list based on the most frequently asked questions, which serves as a quick way for students to find a response to common questions.
As well, askumanitoba provides guided navigation, which puts useful related information at students’ fingertips. For example, a student who inquires whether the university offers on-campus housing will receive a response that also includes links that profile each of the university’s five residences. A student from overseas who asks how to apply as an international students will be provided links to information on study permits, the university’s International Centre for Students and English-language proficiency requirements.
If the software is stumped, or if a student poses a particularly specific question, an e-mail option appears on screen, so students can still easily submit their queries directly to staff in the admissions office.
Wahl said the askumanitoba database is considered an open document, which means the project staff can continually update it to ensure most common questions will be quickly answered. The software can provide detailed reporting that allows the project's coordinators to gauge the accuracy of the responses given and ensure frequently asked questions are not being missed.
The project is presently in its first phase, said Wahl, which means it’s directed primarily at prospective undergraduate students, although an expansion is possible pending an evaluation of the new tool.
Check out askumanitoba at www.umanitoba.ca/ask.