Ask Extension In Transition

Ask Extension (formerly Ask an Expert) has been an important national digital service and content asset since 2006. During the peak summer season this year, over 1100 experts handled about 11,000 questions per month. This year, eXtension launched two new projects with funding from its USDA-NIFA New Technologies for Ag Extension Cooperative Agreement:

  • Building an artificial intelligence platform that provides information from a wide range of Extension educational resources
  • Modernizing the current Ask an Expert system. 

The new Ask an Expert system, now rebranded Ask Extension, is live. Existing users need to take two steps (below) and we invite you to join us for a national webinar on December 2nd, 2020 at 2 PM ET:

Join from your web browser:

https://extension.zoom.us/j/97368020175?pwd=MFdCV0hEd3dueUhSMnJlSnFPR25sZz09

Join using your Zoom app:

Meeting ID: 973 6802 0175

Passcode: 991094

Join by telephone:

     +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)

     +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)

     +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)

     +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington D.C)

     +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)

     +1 646 876 9923 US (New York)

Meeting ID: 973 6802 0175

 

 

What to Do

The key actions that anyone serving as an expert in this system must do are outlined at https://askhelp.extension.org

  1. A series of “How-To” videos is available at that site covering various aspects of working with Ask Extension, but a key first step is for all experts to “claim” their login or user account.  That is the subject of the first video.  All experts who used Ask an Expert prior to August 12, 2020 should be able to claim or recover their accounts in Ask Extension.  Those who joined Ask an Expert since that time will need to request assistance from a colleague to create a new account–subject of How-To Video #5. 

  2. Because everything in Ask Extension is organized through groups, another major action is to assure that your groups are enabled and ready to receive questions. In doing so, be aware that the group names do appear in the list of groups to which customers can submit questions. So check your group names to be sure they are sufficiently descriptive.

What’s New?

  • Experts can provide responses through email. As questions are submitted, the system generates an email notification to the assigned expert. If desired, through a simple email reply, the expert can provide the answer.
  • Names and email addresses of clientele are available to the experts.  This allows experts to conduct offline follow up with these clientele, perhaps to invite them to other Extension events, to conduct impact surveys, or otherwise include in their institution’s CRM database.
  • Clientele can create login accounts through which they can retrieve an entire history of all the questions they have ever submitted.  And these include the questions they have previously submitted to Ask an Expert.
  • Widgets come to the owning groups unbranded, allowing each group to call the widget what they want, put it where they want, and use their own institutional branding if they wish.
  • Experts can reassign questions only to other members of their own groups, or other experts within their own states. They cannot assign questions to experts in other states, but can assign questions to national groups that might have members in other states. Further, experts cannot view open questions submitted to groups for which they are not a member.  Except for the crossover of groups declaring themselves to be “national” groups, each state operates independently in the use of Ask Extension.
  • Experts cannot filter questions assigned to them based on geography or subject. While groups may constrain incoming questions to a specific state, national groups cannot.  This means that anyone belonging to a national group is subject to receiving questions from anywhere in the country.

Where to find out more and get help

See the website at https://askhelp.extension.org or email to askhelp@extension.org.  

Background

eXtension’s Ask an Expert system began in 2006 as one of the core services provided to all Land Grant universities.  From the beginning, the underlying technology has remained the same, although a number of enhancements were deployed over time. For many Extension programs, this has served as a key educational outreach tool in responding to specific individual educational needs. In the past 14 years, this system was created, hosted, and serviced by eXtension application developers. This has resulted in the creation of a repository of a half-million questions, answered by more than 7,700 experts. Many of these questions are available to the general public to search. In 2019, ask.extension.org received almost 10,000,000 unique pageviews, and for the peak summer season, 1,160 experts handle about 11,000 questions per month.

To leverage this important national digital asset, eXtension launched two new projects with funding from its USDA-NIFA New Technologies for Ag Extension Cooperative Agreement:

  • Building an artificial intelligence platform that provides information from a wide range of Extension educational resources
  • Modernizing the current Ask an Expert system. 

The new Ask an Expert system, now rebranded Ask Extension, has gone live. After all prior questions and answers were copied from Ask an Expert in August, several pilot testing groups began using it in mid-September, providing very valuable feedback that resulted in significant improvements to the system. 

The Transition

All website widgets used with the legacy Ask an Expert system have now been deactivated, and are being replaced with the widgets for Ask Extension as soon as the groups that own the widgets can get them installed.  Further, on February 1, 2021 the ability to submit questions at https://ask.extension.org will be shut down, with users being urged to go to https://ask2.extension.org to submit their questions.  Experts will maintain access to the Ask an Expert system for several months in order to retrieve reports or other historical information. And all questions asked and answered on Ask an Expert between August 12 and February 1 will be copied to the Ask Extension platform to complete the transition and populate the database with the entire history of Ask an Expert data.