Introduction of new communication platform aims to solve old issues


Yammer is a part of the Microsoft Suite — meaning Calvin could adopt it without any new financial investment in software.

Communications and IT staff are in the process of rolling out a new campus-wide communication platform — Yammer — to replace current Calvin News, Student News and other listservs managed through Outlook. 

In Director of Communications Tim Ellens’ 12 years at Calvin, he’s often heard complaints about Calvin News — a listserv that delivers daily emails with announcements, updates and events relevant to the Calvin community. Like Student News, Calvin News won’t accept formatted text, pictures or links, but anyone subscribed can contribute. The platform itself, according to Ellens, was “something out of the ‘90s.”

Ellens and others in communications and CIT have been looking into alternatives for a while, but a conversation with university President Wiebe Boer jumpstarted the transition to Yammer, a platform Boer used in his previous role as CEO of Shell All-On. 

Joining forces

The conversation with Boer took place in late July. Ellens has spent much of the weeks since learning the ins and outs of Yammer, researching how it has been used at other institutions and creating a SharePoint page of resources to help people learn how to use the platform well.

Because Yammer is part of the Microsoft Suite — a set of apps, including Outlook and Word, that Calvin already subscribes to — adopting the platform didn’t require any new financial investments, Ellens said.

Meanwhile, Student Body President Nain Miranda has been on a mission to revamp Student News — the student-specific equivalent of Calvin News. 

“I’ve wanted to fix Student News … since the beginning of my college career,” Miranda told Chimes. After a conversation with Boer about issues with the existing Student News system, Miranda partnered with Ellens to think creatively about how Student News could operate on the new platform. 

The new Student News has launched as a Yammer community — the rough equivalent of a Facebook group — but still has some kinks to be worked out, according to Miranda. “We’re still working on implementing it. It’s up and live, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be yet … It’s not fully fleshed out,” Miranda said.

Currently, any student can post in the Student News community. But that will soon change; according to Ellens, his team has relied on Student Senate to create a list of administrators for the community — students who will have access to posting functions. That list is expected to include student organizations’ communications leaders, among others.


“This campus has had its share of technology fatigue recently,” Ellens told Chimes. He hopes Yammer won’t add to that; unlike other recent changes, such as the transition to Workday and the email domain unification, Yammer shouldn’t require much of users, according to Ellens.

Ellens has already fielded concerns about the transition to Yammer. He told Chimes faculty and staff’s main concern so far has been that it feels more overwhelming and requires more engagement than the old listserv system. “My team, after engaging with it for a while, really feels that if you just choose to engage with it for a while and embrace it for a little while and give it a chance that you’ll start to figure it out,” Ellens said. “Figure out a little bit about how you can make it work for you — how you set up your notifications, things you look for, that type of thing. But I’m not saying it’s gonna please everybody.”

Miranda said feedback from students has been largely positive. “It’s very user-intuitive,” Miranda said. “Students I don’t think will have any problem adjusting.”

All student Outlook accounts have been automatically added to the new Student News Yammer community. If students only want to use Yammer to access Student News, they don’t need to do anything other than logging in — Student News posts will be on their main feed automatically. 

Several student-organized communities have already sprung up on Yammer, including Calvin Memes and Conservative Club News. Unlike Student News, these communities are public; they do not have a limited set of administrators but are open for anyone to post. Users can use the join function on Yammer to add themselves to public communities.

To receive a daily email update on posts in communities they are a part of, students can set their notification settings to include “Email me when … there are updates from my communities (daily).”

All Yammer communities will be subject to community guidelines, according to Ellens. “There is guidance there on expectations and how to behave within those communities,” Ellens said. “And while we won’t be hovering over every community and reading everything, we — at least here at the start — we’re kind of keeping an eye on … all the communities.”

Communities that don’t abide by community guidelines will be shut down, Ellens said.