Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) Microtasking FAQ - Employees

This help section is a resource for State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) employees accessing the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) microtasking site, VSFS Sparked

General

  • What is the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS)?
  • What is microtasking?
  • What is microvolunteering?
  • Is the participation and access to the site restricted to students only? Can we recruit other Americans to tackle our challenges?
  • Does the VSFS eInternship program still exist or has microtasking replaced it?
  • Can students participating in the VSFS eInternship program also participate in microtasking?
  • Which office in the State Department manages this site and the VSFS program?

Participation

  • Who, employee-wise, can submit tasks to the website?
  • This sounds awesome! How do I join/sign up?

Initial sign-up

  • What email address do I use to sign up?
  • Do I have to enter a website when I sign up?
  • What website do I enter when I sign up?
  • During the on-boarding process, when I am asked, "What is the primary focus of your work", what do I select if my focus is not listed?
  • During the on-boarding process, I am asked, "What are your top 3 needs?" Is there an "other" option? Can I post a challenge that requires other skills from students not listed in the "needs" section?
  • Can I post a challenge even though my email address has not been verified and I have not been approved?

Students

  • Who are the micovolunteers that complete my challenge?
  • Do student microvolunteers have security clearances?
  • Do student microvolunteers have access to OpenNet?
  • Do the student microvolunteers receive payment or financial compensation after completing a task?

Password and Login

·       I forgot my password – how can I reset it? 

·       How do I change my password?

·       I’m having trouble logging in – what do I do?

Email Notifications

  • I'm not receiving emails from Sparked.com or the emails are going to my Junk E-Mail folder.

Your Profile

  • How do I find/edit my personal profile?

Office Profile

  • What is my office profile? Who can see it?
  • How do I find/edit my office profile?
  • I'd like to invite my colleagues who work in my section/office to join, can I?

Challenges

  • What is a challenge?
  • What kinds of tasks ("challenges") can I delegate?
  • How do I post a challenge?
  • What kind of information should not be included in a challenge?
  • Can I upload a video or Word document as part of my challenge?
  • Who clears on my challenge?
  • After I post a task/challenge, who actually completes it? Who are the microvolunteers?
  • How specific do I have to be when submitting my challenge?
  • What kind of language should I use when submitting a challenge?
  • What is a ‘thumbs up’?
  • Do I need to provide feedback to students who respond to my challenge? How do I do this?
  • How many challenges can I post at a time?
  • How long do challenges last for (i.e. number of days)?
  • I posted a challenge and it closed, although I did not receive any results that met my expectations. What are my options on rewriting and reposting?
  • Can I post a challenge in an area that is outside of my job function or outside of the focus I selected during the on-boarding process?
  • Can I post a challenge that requires a student to complete a task that is outside of the skill set that I identified initially during the on-boarding process?
  • After I post a challenge, a pop-up asks if I want to share it with friends on Facebook. What does this mean?
  • How do I close a challenge?
  • How can I thank students who respond to my challenge?

 

General

What is the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS)?

The VSFS program is part of a growing effort by the State Department to harness technology and a commitment to global service among young people to facilitate new forms of diplomatic engagement. Working from college and university campuses in the United States and throughout the world, American citizen college students can engage with State Department, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) domestic offices and US diplomatic posts overseas through nine-month virtual internships (eInternships) and through crowdsourcing via microtasking. This introductory video provides an overview of the VSFS program.  For more information please visit www.state.gov/vsfs.  

What is microtasking?

Any short (between 1-4 hour) task that can be easily defined and delegated to someone else, in this case American college students.

What is microvolunteering?

Watch Sparked explain it. Microvolunteers for the State Department's microtasking site are American college students.

Is the participation and access to the site restricted to students only? Can we recruit other Americans to tackle our challenges?

The intended audience for the site is American college students.

Does the VSFS eInternship program still exist or has microtasking replaced it?

The VSFS eInternship program is still up and running. With eInternships, students apply to a specific project created by an employee (or team) and engage in a nine month commitment to intern virtually. Go to www.state.gov/vsfs to learn more.

Can students participating in the VSFS eInternship program also participate in microtasking?

Yes!

Which office in the State Department manages this site and the VSFS program?

The Office of eDiplomacy (IRM/BMP/EDIP), founded in 2003, is part of the Bureau of Information Resource Management and manages the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program.  eDiplomacy combines the expertise and experience of Foreign and Civil Service Officers and contract professionals and is divided into three branches: the Diplomatic Innovation Division, the Knowledge Leadership Division and the Customer Liaison Division.

 

VISION: Innovative diplomacy powered by knowledge leadership, superior customer support, and collaborative technology.

 

MISSION: Advancing diplomacy by providing effective knowledge-sharing initiatives, guidance on the convergence of technology and diplomacy, and first-class IT consulting.

Formed in response to recommendations from the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel that the State Department improve its ability to communicate and share knowledge, eDiplomacy hosts a variety of platforms that equip State Department employees with innovative tools for collaboration, an initiative that closely aligns with Secretary Clinton’s call for 21st Century Statecraft. Through the support and advocacy of new technology like blogs, wikis, professional networking and virtual student interns, eDiplomacy promotes an organizational culture for innovation that allows Department of State diplomats to lead in the foreign policy process at home and abroad.

 

Participation

Who, employee-wise, can submit tasks to the website?

Any State Department and USAID employee and contractor - anyone with a state.gov or usaid.gov email address.

This sounds awesome! How do I join/sign up?

To join the site, go to https://vsfs.sparked.com and click on “offices start here”.  At the end of the on-boarding process, you will create your account with your state.gov email address.

 

Initial sign up

What email address do I use to sign up?

You must sign up with your state.gov, usaid.gov, or usda.gov email address.

Do I have to enter a website when I sign up?

Yes. You can enter www.state.gov if your office does not have an external presence. 

What website do I enter when I sign up?

You must use an external (i.e. not iNet) website such as your office's internet address or your Embassy/Consulate's homepage. You can use www.state.gov as a default.

During the on-boarding process, when I am asked, "What is the primary focus of your work", what do I select if my focus is not listed?

Try to pick the focus that most closely resembles the work you do.  When you post a challenge, students who have indicated your focus as an area of interest will receive an email notification so it is important to try to select an existing area of focus.  If you cannot, you can select "Other" and manually enter it.

During the on-boarding process, I am asked, "What are your top 3 needs?"  Is there an "other" option? Can I post a challenge that requires other skills from students not listed in the "needs" section?

There is no "other" option for selecting the needs you have. Your "needs" are the same as the skills that students select and indicate. Each time you post a challenge, you indicate the "skill" that most closely meets your need. You can post a challenge that requires a skill not listed, however you will still need to select a similar skill.

Can I post a challenge even though my email address has not been verified and I have not been approved?

You can create and post a challenge; however your challenge will not be visible-- will not display--until your email is verified.

Students

Who are the micovolunteers that complete my challenge?

Our intended microvolunteer audience is American college students. Student users create an account with an ".edu" email address.

Do student microvolunteers have security clearances?

No. Do not post information that is Classified, SBU, NOFORN, or FOUO; information that contains Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of other people or sensitive PII about yourself.

Do student microvolunteers have access to OpenNet?

No. Students do not have access to OpenNet.

Do the student microvolunteers receive payment or financial compensation after completing a task?

No, microvolunteers are unpaid. It is important for employees to offer feedback to students on the work they contribute. VSFS microvolunteering should be a win-win program for employees to have students complete tasks and for students to feel that the work they contribute is of value and that they have a meaningful experience with the State Department.

Password and Login

 

I forgot my password – how can I reset it? 

Email support_vsfs@state.gov (support_vsfs) and ask to have your password reset.

 

How do I change my password?

Log in at https://vsfs.sparked.com and click on "settings" in the top right corner of the screen. Then select "change password" on the left side of the screen. Enter your current password, and then enter your new password and verify.

 

I’m having trouble logging in – what do I do?

 

If you are having trouble logging in to your vsfs.sparked.com employee account, you may want to try one of the following: 

1. Make sure you are using the correct email.

Use your state.gov email address to sign in.  If you need help remembering what email you used for your employee account, contact us at
support_vsfs@state.gov.  We can look up your account information. 

2. Reset your password.

If you can't remember your password, you can reset it.  Click the "forgot your password" box below the sign-in field or email
support_vsfs@state.gov.

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You will then be prompted to enter your email address and will receive an email from us that will allow you to reset your password. Please make sure to check your spam folder if you think you didn't receive the reset email.

If you can't remember what email address you registered with, or if you need further assistance, contact us at
support_vsfs@state.gov.  

Email Notifications

I'm not receiving emails from Sparked.com or the emails are going to my Junk E-Mail folder.  What can I do?

First, check your Outlook Junk Folder to see if the emails are being delivered there.  Then, to mark a particular message as ‘not junk’, follow these steps:

 

1.     In Mail, click the Junk E-mail folder in the Navigation Pane.

2.     Right-click any message that you want to mark as not junk.

3.     On the shortcut menu, point to Junk E-mail, and then click Mark as Not Junk.

 

To quickly mark a message as not junk by using the keyboard, select the message, and then press CTRL+ALT+J.


When you mark a message as ‘not junk’, you are given the option of adding the sender or the mailing list name to your Safe Senders List or Safe Recipients List.

 

Your Profile

How do I find/edit my personal profile?

When logged in, go to "settings" at the top right. From this page, you will be able to access your personal settings, access your office settings, change your password, and change your email address.

 

Office Profile

What is my office profile? Who can see it?

Your office profile is visible by other offices and also by student volunteers when they are logged in to the site. When you post a challenge, it appears under your office profile. Each challenge is attributed to an office and students can elect your office as a "favorite" so they can be notified when you post a challenge. Others in your office/section should post under the same office name. For example, if you are creating an office profile for your Public Affairs Section at Embassy X, you may consider an office name such as: Embassy X Public Affairs. As part of your office profile, you can link to an external website such as a state.gov site about your office or your post's website.

How do I find/edit my office profile?

When logged in, go to "settings" at the top right. From this page, you will be able to access your personal settings, access your office settings, change your password, or change your email address. Click "office settings" and you will be able to invite a colleague to act as an account administrator to join your office group, enter your tagline, enter a summary of the work your office does, link to an external office/section website, and change the "focus" of your office's work.

I'd like to invite my colleagues who work in my section/office to join, can I?

Yes, click "settings" at the top right, then go to "office setting" and under "Account Administrators" there is a link that you can send to colleagues which will add them as members to your office.

 

Challenges

What is a challenge?

A Challenge is  a special kind of  task for microvolunteers to work on that reflects these criteria:   

·       Consists of work that can be done entirely online

·       Can be completed in a short amount of time (roughly 2 minutes to 2 hours)

·       Has a clear deliverable and a deadline   

·       Explains to students why the challenge is important

·       Is non-sensitive and Unclassified and does not require students to have access to OpenNet

Post a challenge when you want student microvolunteers to complete tasks for you. Provide feedback and comments to students who submit work. Students want to know that their work is appreciated and can learn from the feedback you provide. While it is not mandatory to respond to every student response, you will need to close your challenge at the end of the deadline and thank student microvolunteers at that point. Responding to individual responses will elicit better results, so it is highly encouraged that you engage directly with students.

What kinds of tasks ("challenges") can I delegate?

Just about anything that can be easily described, is non-sensitive and unclassified, and does not require students to access the intranet or sensitive documents. 

How do I post a challenge?

If you have an account, go to https://vsfs.sparked.com/ and click ‘log in’ at the top right. Once logged in, click the "post challenge" tab at the top. When posting a challenge, make sure to:

  • Give some background on the task/challenge
  • Tell why completeing the task is important to you/the Department/your post/section
  • Tell how the work that students submit may be used
  • Give ‘thumbs up’ to responses you like (students like feedback)
  • Comment on students’ responses – even a simple “The colors you chose for the chart are really vibrant!” will do.

What kind of information should not be included in a challenge?

Employees will not contribute information that is:

 

·       Classified

·       SBU (Sensitive but Unclassified)

·       NOFORN (Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals)

·       FOUO (For Official Use Only)

·       PII (Personally Identifiable Information) of others or themselves

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Can I upload a video, image, or document as part of my challenge?

Yes, you can attach documents such as pictures, videos, PDF files, Word documents, etc. when you create your challenge. You can also attach documents to templates. 

Who clears on my challenge?

No one – no clearance is required. It is your responsibility to post appropriate materials and share only Unclassified, non-SBU, non-PII information with students.

After I post a task/challenge, who actually completes it? Who are the microvolunteers?

American college students (undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate) with a variety of backgrounds, interests, and areas of study can complete your challenges. Students do not have security clearances or access to OpenNet.

How specific do I have to be when submitting my challenge?

The more specific the better. Students will probably only have the information that you supply them with and what they can find online or through their own resources.

What kind of language should I use when submitting a challenge?

Put yourself in a college student's shoes - what would entice you to complete a challenge?  Use a catchy title, use plain language, tell students why it's important to complete your challenge (what are they contributing to, how they are helping the State Department, what impact completing this challenge will have.)

What is a ‘thumbs up’?

A ‘thumbs up’ is an award that any VSFS Sparked member (employee or student) can give to any other member. You should give someone a thumbs up when you think they have done a good job on the challenge.  

Just click on the thumbs up image, which is in the top right corner of a microvolunteer's response box. You'll see the number increase by 1.

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Do I need to provide feedback to students who respond to my challenge? How do I do this?

Students want to hear feedback on their responses to your challenge. Providing feedback not only shows students that you value their work, it also engages them and offers a positive experience with the State Department. You will also get better results, more in line with what you are looking for, when you offer feedback. You can respond to individual responses to your challenge by commenting on them. Once your challenge has closed, you can send a group message to all students who responded to your challenge and thank them.

How many challenges can I post at a time?

The number of challenges an office can post at a time is 25. Since each employee is a member of an office, the number of challenges is not tied to an individual employee, rather to an office.  Remember, it is your responsibility to check on challenges and review completed ones and submissions.

How long do challenges last (i.e. number of days)?

When you post your challenge, you can select to have your challenge open for 1, 7, 14, or 21 days. You can always close a challenge early (if you receive a result that meets your needs) or extend it. Remember to comment on students' responses either individually while the challenge is still open and/or as a group once the challenge has closed.

I posted a challenge and it closed, although I did not receive any results that met my expectations.  What are my options on rewriting and reposting?

Check your "Challenge Title" and "Challenge Brief"--Did you use a catchy title? Did you use plain language? Did you use too many acronyms? Did you write a very specific, detailed explanation of the challenge? Second, if you created your own challenge (i.e. did not use a template) make sure that you selected the appropriate skill. Was the timeframe/length appropriate (or was it too long or too short)? Did you provide feedback to students who responded to your challenge? If students do not feel that the work they are contributing is valuable or being considered, it may deter them from responding.

Can I post a challenge in an area that is outside of my normal job functions or outside of the focus I selected during the on-boarding process?

Yes, you can!  Of course, if necessary or appropriate, please ensure that to coordinate challenges with your State and USAID colleagues.   

Can I post a challenge that requires a student to complete a task that is outside the skill set that I identified initially during the on-boarding process?

Yes, you can! Selecting the three "needs" initially is supposed to help you think through what you are looking for, and to not be limiting.

After I post a challenge, a pop-up asks if I want to share it with friends on Facebook. What does this mean?

This feature is disabled while on OpenNet. If you are accessing Sparked from your own computer, you have the option to post your challenge to your personal Facebook account.

How do I close a challenge?

It's important to close your challenge and thank students for their contributions so that they will continue to respond to your challenges.

1.     Go to your challenge.

2.     Scroll to the bottom of the page and under "take action on this challenge" click "close and complete".

3.     If your challenge was a success, click "challenge was successful!"

4.     Write a ‘thank you’ note to responders telling them how their work will be used.

5.     Give up to two 'Awards of Excellence' to top responders. This is an important step to show students that their work is valuable--the time they spent on it was meaningful.

How can I thank students who respond to my challenge?

Showing appreciation for the hard work your microvolunteers have done is a great way to make it more likely for you to get their help on future challenges. Plus, it is the nice thing to do.

You can thank your microvolunteers in the following ways:

1. Give a ‘thumbs up’.
You can give a ‘thumbs up’ to any student who you feel has really helped you out on a challenge. You can give 1 thumbs up to any student for each challenge they work on (and other VSFS Sparked members can also give ‘thumbs up’ to any student whose work they like.) Just click on the thumbs up image, which is in the top right corner of a student's response box.

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2. Write a response with a short "thank you".
You can thank individual microvolunteers by responding directly to their postings. Instead of filling out the field at the very bottom of the challenge page, which creates a completely new response, you should use the button at the bottom of the student's response field that says "add a comment" (see below). They will receive an email with what you wrote, and it will be visible on the challenge page, making it clear to everyone that you are an incredibly gracious person to microvolunteer for.


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3. Thank all your microvolunteers when you close your challenge.
When it is time to close your challenge, you will receive an email from Sparked that will talk you through the process of both closing your challenge (which is important to do) and appreciating your volunteers one last time.

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