Scenario: Communications for Event Planning

A large unit at Penn State, Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), organizes and hosts an annual professional development workshop called Learning Design Summer Camp (LDSC). The event is for the community of professionals at Penn State interested in issues related to the use of technology in education. The LDSC is a fairly unconventional event in that it is largely planned by the attendees. In the past, this planning has taken place via in-person meetings and via online collaborations on a Wikispaces page.

There is typically a “core” planning team consisting of TLT staff and volunteers from other units. This group oversees and guides the planning process for the event. Much of the actual planning, however, is done by the attendees. This includes anything from organizing pre-conference workshops to panel discussion topics to event-related social activities.

The event revolves around a particular theme that is chosen by the core planning group. Once this is selected, the event schedule is fleshed out, including a keynote speaker, panel discussions, presentations, lightning talks, “birds of a feather” dinners, and a few fun social events. The schedule is put together with help from the community.

Promoting the event is done in a variety of ways. One is to place announcements in Penn State Live and the TLT site. Word of mouth is also a big part of promotion. Once again, the community is leveraged for promotion.

The two days of the event include many of the usual aspects of any conference, including setup, reaction to “fires” that may come up like technical problems or a last-minute schedule change, answering attendee questions, etc. Also, attendees use social media to become “reporters” for the event. They tweet, write blog posts, take and post photos, and shoot video. This becomes an important part of event communication.

After the event, follow-up is important. Event surveys are sent out to attendees. In addition, this event is tied into other TLT events to create a dynamic educational technology community at Penn State. Communications obviously are crucial in building and maintaining this.

Yammer group page screenshot with search, collaborative document area, real-time communication channel, and group link areas of the page highlighted

Use of Yammer for the Penn State Learning Design Summer Camp

For the next LDSC, the core planning team decides to use Yammer as its organization and communication platform. Prior to the event, the program chair creates two Yammer groups–a public one for the community and a private one for the staff/volunteer committee. To encourage sign-ups for the public group, e-mails are sent to appropriate existing listservs such as ones for learning designers and librarians, and the Yammer group is mentioned in an announcement sent to Penn State Live and placed on the TLT website.

Private Planning Group to Select Keynote Speaker

After the initial LDSC meeting, minutes are posted in the private group and a discussion begins on the choosing of a keynote speaker. Several candidates are chosen and eventually one is contacted and agrees to speak.

Public Group for Event Promotion

In the public LDSC group, a “Save the Date” announcement is made, along with a request to tell others about both the event and the Yammer group. A few weeks later, an update is posted about the event, including the announcement of a keynote speaker and a call for individual-led session proposals. Also, a request for ideas for parts of the event such as panel discussion subjects and lunch ideas. is posted to the group a few days later, along with a community planning page.

Using Yammer to Self-Register for Event

Meanwhile, in the private LDSC committee Yammer group, a decision is made to actually have attendees register for the event on a Yammer page. This registration page is created in the public Yammer group. All attendees need to do is follow a simple template to register: select “Edit this Page,” enter what number attendee they are (to keep count of how many have registered), and indicate their name, department, campus, e-mail address, and Twitter user name.

Community Sharing Ideas for Event

The public community planning page soon becomes active with people posting their thoughts and ideas to the page. A discussion soon starts on the external page about a potential panel discussion on video in the classroom, and several panelists create a page in Yammer to solicit ideas for what the panel could discuss.

After individual session proposals are chosen and presenters notified, an announcement is posted to the public page, along with an announcement that an event schedule page has been created. The LDSC is now three months away.

Planning Committee Conversations: Lunch and Issue Resolution

In the private group, a concern about special dietary needs for several attendees at the event lunch is raised. One of the committee members volunteers to contact the caterer and makes arrangements for the dietary needs. This is reported back to the private group via a post to the group page. Also, a scheduling issue is discovered that needs to be resolved well before the next meeting. Via a Yammer discussion, a solution is worked out and the schedule change is then announced on the public group.

In the weeks leading up to the event, various updates, news, and other posts are made to the LDSC public Yammer page to raise interest and excitement. Yammer allows for embedded videos, and attendees begin posting simple videos that relate to the event them of “The Culture and Community of Teaching and Learning with Technology.” At the same time, presenters start posting helpful links and comments to help attendees learn more about what they are presenting on. Soon the event registration limit is met and a waiting list grows.

Community Final Pre-Event Activities

A week before the event, a request for questions for the keynote speaker is made and the questions are gathered together to be forwarded, via Yammer messenger, to the keynote speaker, a Penn State faculty member.

The day before the event, a problem with one of the projectors is discovered in Foster Auditorium, where the event is being held. In the private group, potential alternate solutions are discussed and it is then decided to ask the community whether anyone had any ideas to help resolve the lack of a projector, if needed. One of the attendees offers to help set up his department’s projector.

Day of the Event: Sharing, Collaboration, Feedback

The day of the event, the community is encouraged to post to Yammer thoughts, videos, audio, photos, and reflections. Several of the committee members give updates on what is being presented and also a last-minute scheduling change. This creates a constantly updated stream of the event that can be referenced immediately by those who cannot attend, and later by attendees.

After the event, thank-yous are posted, and the committee posts a link to a Google form with a post-event survey. A fun poll is created in the poll app, asking attendees for their favorite LDSC moment from five different choices.

Conclusion

Yammer enabled both internal (the core planning team private group) and external (the public group for event attendees) communications to happen smoothly and securely within the organization. Yammer served as a one-stop source for information leading up to the event. It also served as a way to help build community around the event itself–members of the public group could communicate with the whole group and to each other about event-related subjects and offer ideas on what they wanted out of LDSC.

An additional benefit was that the group enabled even those who could not attend the event to follow along during the event thanks to the updates, photos, videos, and more that attendees posted to Yammer.

While this scenario focused on event planning and promotion, Yammer can certainly be used for communication in other cases such as for departmental promotion, project teams, service promotions, and gathering customer feedback. Unlike many other forms of communication like e-mail or posting information to a website, Yammer allows large groups of people to communicate with each other in a very effective manner. The potential for community-building, event promotion, team communication/collaboration, and general promotion is significant with Yammer.

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