Campus Questions: UNBSJ’s online crowdsourcing solution

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Students who find themselves with questions after hours, or who can’t seem to gather the nerve to ask an expert for help can now rest easy. The solution: “Campus Questions,” (Ask) is a crowdsourcing website that acts as an information hub where students can explore, ask questions and find answers and tutorials – fast.

Crowdsourcing, according to Wayne Hansen, manager of the Student Technology Centre in the Commons, occurs when a single person presents an issue to a group, who in turn provides the asker with multiple answers and solutions. Have you ever used “Yahoo! Answers” or “Wikipedia”? These two popular websites are actually forms of crowdsourcing in the sense that a topic or question is explained and edited by different people from all over the world. Campus Questions is UNBSJ’s very own version of those “ask and answer” websites and the best part is, your questions are answered by students who have experienced many of the problems you could be asking about. Students have this service at their disposal and it is paid for by the school.

Hansen says that the website, which some may have noted as the homepage for the computers in the Hans W. Klohn Commons, “provides answers to common questions about daily life on campus.” Currently, a majority of the issues posed by students already on the site have a lot to do with technology and the Commons, but they aren’t restricted to these topics. The school hopes to increase the fields in which Community Questions caters to.

Due to the fact that it is a community-based website, users can ask anything that they want and in return, provide advice in fields that they are familiar with. There are literally no restrictions to the information that can be shared; if a student has questions about early registration or faculty office hours, for instance, they can take it to the site and if someone hasn’t already answered a question similar to it, you can post the unanswered inquiry to be solved by other users.

Students aren’t the only ones answering questions on ASK, as the website is monitored by various experts on campus, made known by their titles encased in brackets next to usernames. When they aren’t providing answers themselves they, along with the students using the website for aid, are rating them based on accuracy and level of helpfulness, as well as marking which answers can be considered official. “We moderate ASK, so if there’s an answer that’s blatantly wrong, we can remove it, too,” says Hansen. This rating system allows students to see which answers—or sometimes frequent users—are the most trustworthy.

Campus Questions isn’t meant to replace the experts on location, but to act as another means of getting information. The website mainly caters to students who are a little bit too nervous to ask someone working for help, “One of the big reasons that we wanted to put this in place was that we saw a great deal of students in the commons who don’t want to ask,” says Amanda Allen, the Commons Assistant for Information Services and Systems, “You could see them struggling on their computers or with other things, but they wouldn’t come see us.” ASK was also put in place for use after hours, “We sometimes have problems at night, and [the Commons] can help you as long as we’re open, but when we aren’t, it’s nice to have the site to help you out,” says Allen.

According to Hansen, the beauty of crowdsourcing is that most of the time, your question has been solved already, “if a student is having problems, say, hooking up their iPhone to the wireless [internet], they can search it using keywords first. If someone has already asked that question, the answers will all come up in the results,” he says. The system can also recognize questions that have already been asked, and will suggest answers if it picks up on a familiar one.

There are also benefits to becoming a member of Community Questions. “Though you don’t have to become a member to ask questions, you do have to become one when you answer them,” says Allen, “but the site makes it really easy. You can sign in using your [UNB email] or Facebook and Twitter.” Community Members’ questions and answers are kept on their profiles, so you can see all of their activity on the website.

“The system is cheap, but powerful,” says Hansen. If you want to check out Community Questions to ask, answer or browse picture tutorials, visit ask.unbsj.ca or log on to one of the Commons’ computers.