Written by Education writer Gerald Haigh

The Isle of Wight College is the major provider of further and general education for the Isle of Wight. At the last Ofsted inspection it was graded ‘Outstanding’. The recent introduction of ‘Yammer’ is already having a positive effect on communication and collaboration. Yammer also meets the approval of students, who see it as means of using their social media skills and to further their studies.

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Young people don’t just ‘use’ social media. More than that, it's embedded in their lives for both good and ill. It's that familiarity and expectation that has made Yammer popular with staff and students at the Isle of Wight College.

Pete Gallop, the College's Head of Technical Services, says,

‘We’ve noticed that having Yammer available has provide a medium for social interaction that is relevant to their work, their courses, with the look and feel of a typical social media site.'

As a significant side-effect, it's worth noting that there's been a consequent reduction in the time that students spend on the popular social media sites, a trend that Pete welcomes.

‘External social media sites are a real issue in colleges; students quickly become distracted away from their work,’ he says.

At the College the A Level Economics students are becoming keen and creative Yammer users.  Regular news updates, critical to their studies, are posted there, with students encouraged to post their own and make comments.  The site is fast becoming the most critical location for the course, with homework queries and progress reported there.  The students find it exceptionally useful and an engaging aspect of their studies.  “The teacher is burning with enthusiasm about it,” says Pete. ‘for instance, he will post suggestions about useful websites, and now students are posting suggestions of their own, and chatting among themselves. It’s proving highly successful and other student groups are starting up.’

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Importantly, though, Yammer is not being used to set or manage student assignments.

‘We don’t want to do that,’ says Pete. ‘It’s important to keep it social and fun.’

As is the case with many excellent technologies, the benefits that Yammer might bring to the College were not immediately obvious on first acquaintance.

‘Our IT manager installed it, and I had a look but didn’t do too much with it. My son works with a major mobile technology provider in Ireland, and he told me about what they do with Yammer. So I looked again and the Assistant Principal ran a private group for me to provide him with updates. Other groups soon started up – in technical support, senior management, and now, in the curriculum areas.’ We attribute most of the success due to its ease of use and the requirement to provide little or no training.

Currently, the College is using the public version of Yammer which is already proving its value. However, with the development of Office 365 in the College, the enterprise version of Yammer will soon be available, federated within SharePoint 2013. This will carry significant advantages for an educational setting in terms of integration with SharePoint, moderation and deletion of inappropriate content, and the ability to remove users as they leave the organisation. Early trials are showing extremely favourable results.

There’s evident excitement and enthusiasm for Yammer at IOW College. If it engages students, and motivates them to provide feedback and suggestions to each other and to their tutors, then it very clearly has a strong role to play in the education sector.

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