Learning to Develop Your Virtual Presence

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Learning to Develop Your Virtual Presence

Universities are constantly trying to find ways to help their students gain a competitive edge in today’s global workforce. Classroom projects may help students build teamwork and develop leadership skills, but they don’t always paint an accurate picture of a globally integrated, highly social and culturally diverse workforce.

Click for animated tile.

Click for animated tile.

To solve this common gap between academia and business, professors from the University of Southern California, the University of Arizona and Aalto University in Finland, partnered together to host a six-week virtual research project and competition for their students. IBM Business Partner Jim Anderson with Social Student provided IBM Connections as the digital platform for the teams to collaborate. Students were grouped into teams of three and four with a member from each university. Their task was to choose and research a company’s social and digital presence. At the end of the six weeks, the teams submitted a written report along with a video presentation. The faculty from all three universities narrowed down their top selections and the Social Student and IBM team chose the winning team, whose members then presented their experiences in Orlando at IBM Connect 2016.

Meet the winning team:

Connect16-Riehle-WingerJamie Winger
University of Arizona
Eller College of Management



Connect16-Riehle-MayerBree Mayer
University of Southern California
B.S. Business Administration/Psychology



Connect16-Riehle-Sheih2Franklin Shieh
University of Southern California
B.S. Business Administration



In an environment where students typically have a choice of collaboration tools that they are already comfortable using, the winners expressed strong feelings about learning and working on a new platform, IBM Connections. Both Jamie and Bree prefer using IBM Connections because of the connection to their team. The transparency of working in IBM Connections also provided both of them with a stronger sense of accountability and trust.

Once I learned how to use SocialStudent it was very simple. The platform was very effective in managing all aspects of our project because everything was in one place. I enjoyed using it more than other tools because I didn’t have to jump around to multiple sites.

Jamie Winger

The results are more than positive experiences. Professor Peter Cardon, USC Marshall, shared a comparison of this 2015 research project with IBM Connections against the same project in 2014 without IBM Connections. Surveyed students using SocialStudent with IBM Connections ranked happier with the way their team interacted, the way their project was conducted, and their relationship with their teammates. They also reported only 12 percent participation problems, as opposed to 44 percent for the 2014 class1.


Aside from allowing students to complete a research project and learn to use IBM Connections, this experience helped them develop and hone their virtual presence. They were exposed to an environment that many will see in future careers, where work is done virtually and teams are spread across multiple countries. With this six-week project, students helped close the gap between academic and work experience.


Learn more about SocialStudent’s platform and the team that supports academic projects and competitions. Learn about the IBM Open Badge all participating students earned for completing the project with SocialStudent and IBM Connections.

Thanks to the professors who helped build this competition:

  • Robyn Walker, University of Southern California
  • Sky Marsen, University of Southern California
  • Mikel Chertudi, University of Arizona
  • Minna Logemann, Aalto Universty
  • Marketta Majapuro, Aalto University
  • Peter Cardon, University of Southern California
    • Professor Cardon has worked extensively with IBM over the past several years to help students use enterprise social networking tools as they develop their collaboration skills. Learn more here.


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