Use of Yammer grows, fostering collaboration in the classroom and office

Derek Gittler
May 28, 2013

A University-supported communication and collaboration tool is helping people across Penn State accomplish goals and build connections in ways beyond what is possible through traditional email. Yammer is available to every student, faculty, and staff member, and all that is needed to sign up is a Penn State Access Account.

Since January, more than 7,600 Penn State community members have already begun to use the social media tool to enhance classroom and office communication across the University.

Looking for ways to "provide collaborative research spaces and real time homework assignments," Suzanna Linn, professor of political science, used Yammer successfully in her PLSC 429: The Analysis of Elections course. With the class running concurrent with the 2012 U.S. presidential election, Linn was able to create assignments in Yammer as the news of the day developed.

"The students conversed, shared files and chatted with each other. I had access to files they posted in Yammer and could troubleshoot problems with data they collected by downloading their Excel data files and finding the source of the trouble. I could also then pull up graphs or tables they produced in their groups to share in class, which helped to easily and seamlessly share student work," said Linn.

Students tend to find the use of Yammer in their courses a positive experience, according to Information Technology Services (ITS) research project manager Bart Pursel, who helped analyze student reactions to Yammer.

"This class is definitely the class that I connected with the most," said one student respondent, adding, "I feel more part of the class because of Yammer and the way the instructor used it to conduct class."

Matt Soccio, ITS system and network security analyst, found that Yammer helped save meeting time while still keeping people involved and informed. "For our previous security conferences, we would hold regular meetings with a large planning committee," said Soccio. "This year, we are trying some more ambitious training sessions and we knew we would need to work effectively outside of those monolithic meetings," he said.

"Yammer provides a perfect platform for collaborating with our committee sub-groups and our external volunteers. We have cut down significantly on meetings, our meeting time is far more effective because all sub groups are informed and cross pollinated, and we are months ahead of schedule," said Soccio.

Yammer is also helping people at Penn State manage large projects, such as the University's entry into massive open online courses (MOOCs) and its partnership with Coursera.

With so many people involved, traditional one-to-one communication through email would not be sufficient according to Anthony Robinson, lead faculty member for the Online Geospatial Education Program in the Department of Geography.

"We needed a solution that would allow a large group of folks to coordinate materials, share our progress and acknowledge major issues outside of dozens of email chains," said Robinson. "Yammer has worked very well for those tasks," he said.

"Whenever I'm ready to check in on how things are going with my other MOOC group colleagues, I can go right to Yammer and see what's happening. And when I have a problem or something I want to share, I can do the same," said Robinson.

Erin Long, learning designer and lecturer in the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, who collaborates on Robinson's Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC, agreed. "Being able to have a group set up where I can see what others are doing, what questions they have, what innovative ideas they've come up with is just excellent. If I have a question, chances are I'm not the only one, but chances are also that someone else in the group knows the answer," she said.

Yammer's effectiveness in both classroom and office use is part of its appeal. Cole Camplese, senior director of ITS Teaching and Learning with Technology, explained this aspect of the service. "For those of us who spend time thinking about social computing, there was a sense we could support a lot of interesting things: things like project teams, organizational communication, as well as new forms of spaces for teaching and learning. The whole idea of a social space for our campus has proven interesting, and I think it will ultimately be used by thousands of people daily," he said.

To sign up for this communication tool, visit and follow the simple instructions in the "Getting Started" section. Those who have already joined Yammer can expand their knowledge by contacting ITS Training Services at 814-863-9522 or by emailing Community-based support is also available for current users in the Yammer Users Group.

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Last Updated May 28, 2013