Facebook at Work; Really?

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Have you ever gotten frustrated with answering dozens (or hundreds?) of emails? What about losing a document attached to email? Hit the pesky “reply all” by mistake? While probably not the favorite part of anyone’s day, email is critical to the work that we do.

The widespread use of email in academia took off in the early 1990s. Partly due to emerging information and communication technologies there was a productivity explosion in the American workforce in the 90s and throughout the first decade of the 20th century. This coincided with a period of extraordinary growth in international education, both the numbers of foreign students studying at US and UK universities, and the numbers of US students on study abroad programs. The world was getting flatter and the complicated processes that international education requires were becoming faster and easier.

We now live in the world of machine learning search, intelligent social networks, website creation tools, and customer relations management systems. There are numerous business needs in professional international education that should spur us to make communication even faster and easier.

Much of the academic, logistics, operations, health & safety, advising, and marketing of international education are created for customized needs that allow an international education service to develop, exist, or be used by a partner or customer. Furthermore, the knowledge and services that we produce often involves multiple stakeholders who live in different countries, different time zones, from different languages and cultures.

Ideas and innovations happen when people are able to copy, mashup, and iterate on knowledge and work. Cities and urban areas with communities of participation around shared work are hotbeds of innovation and products in the knowledge and information economy. Likewise international education moves forward when we bring together work around shared projects and topics. For example, conferences like NAFSA, AIEA, FEA, and many others do this in the face-to-face world. What are conference “strands” if not attempts to connect work and bring collaborators together? Yet, follow-up is often difficult and the momentum of collaboration and ideas at a conference can fall victim to day-to-day priorities and the work that has to get done.

Social networks are nothing new in the world. It is safe to assume that almost everyone reading this has a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, and maybe even some of you are on Twitter.   However, the enterprise social community, and the organizational process of using an enterprise social community at work, is, probably, un-explored territory for most in international education.

Right now, how do you share information that is always demanded in your business, that is durable across time, and that is specialized and complicated enough to be known by only certain colleagues? An enterprise social community is something that:

  1. Everyone creates piece by piece.
  2. Offers instant communication with colleagues
  3. Contextualizes work information and documents

Jira, Facebook for Work, Salesforce Communities, Atlassian Confluence, Tibbr, SocialText, Incentive, Google Apps, or Samepage are all products that compete in the enterprise social community market. If you want a central knowledge-base, a straightforward wiki, or if you want a system to actually replace email communication, there is a product for you.

It turns out that people want to share and reciprocate sharing at their workplace and if designers build the collaborative social community with the right incentives and usability, the virtual workspace thrives. All you have to do is decide what your work culture, products, and processes require and you will be off to the races. The results may surprise you and certainly they will change the way you do business.


square_stephen-tippett-3Stephen’s background is in teaching and international education.  He currently coordinates IT services and systems at The College of Global Studies, Arcadia University and he worked for several years in Chile at the Ministry of Education and taught there at the university level.  His background is in the humanities and in pedagogy, and his interest in technology stems from the perspective that it empowers people to communicate and learn from each other.  His research and work interests include faculty led study abroad, open education resources and participatory learning, and collaborative digital networks.  You can contact Stephen on Twitter @SteveTipps or by email at tippetts01@arcadia.edu.

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