A Look at Ning

There is a great deal of research which points to the benefits to a group when the members have the opportunity to engage in another level of collaboration beyond the face to face meeting. Positive results can be achieved if the members have a common purpose and clear goals. The availability of Ning can be a wonderful opportunity for creating on online community. Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks, which is a way for people to connect and collaborate together, working toward the same goals but perhaps different contexts. For example, administration can implement a Ning when they are looking for ways to network and collaborate across all schools in a large district. Collaboration in a professional learning community is one of the essential features of this online tool.

The value of the tool is only as good as the participants make it. Members will be compelled to participate when there is good information available that will help them do their job better or consistent interaction such as comments to a blog post or responses to a forum post. In order to really understand it’s value, members shouldn’t view it as “just another thing to do”, but as an extension of what’s already being done. When groups are already meeting face to face on a regular basis, specific goals emerge and follow up becomes important. That’s when the asynchronous nature of communication can really enhance the development of ideas and making plans for follow up.

This tool is not without it’s issues, although the issues are not so disruptive as to discourage the users from participating. First of all, it’s important to note that Ning is not Facebook, but it’s open to any group of people, not just educators. Some content or subject matter may be offensive to some. In addition, Ning is open to spam in the form of unwelcome requests for membership from people who are trying to gain exposure for commercial purposes. Access to the content and membership can be carefully controlled by the privacy settings, invitation only, and the ability to moderate by the Ning organizer. Finally, unless the organizer pays for premium service, Ning includes Google ads on the right column of the page. Some find the ads distracting.

Check out these rich communities that utilize Ning to collaborate with educators all over the world that have been set up by an organizer to share resources or help facilitate support for it’s members to enhance their teaching practices:
Smartboard Revolution – share tips and resources on using interactive whiteboards in the classroom
ISTE Commnity – The International Society for Technology in Education organizes this site for it’s members to collaborate
Teacher Librarian Network – developed for teachers and school library staff
The English Companion – very active community of English teachers who are there to help others
Classroom 2.0 – extremely large group of teachers who interested in using technology in the classroom, a great place for beginners
Fireside Learning – an opportunity for anyone to reflect on teaching practices and anything about education
Gifted Education – a community of teachers who are intereted in helping each other when working with gifted students
Art Education 2.0 – a global community of teachers who use Ning to facilitate the use of new technologies in Art class

What Twitter Means to Me

A recent article shows that 11% of online adults are on Twitter. A bunch of my face-to-face friends and colleagues have signed up for twitter accounts as a direct result of my influence. I’ve promised them that I’ll help them find a way to maximize their use of the Twitter so its a valuable tool for professional development. For the longest time, I’ve been working on a post that will provide my friends good tips and tricks to get started. In addition, I want to offer encouragement to stick with it, since it takes some time to find a rich group of people to follow and to feel like you are making a real contribution to the community. I’ll admit that I can’t write a blog post that’s any more effective than the ones written by members of my personal learning network. So guys…read the posts by Liz Davis and Willis Whitlock. Check out the wiki Twitter for Teachers and take a use this spreadsheet. What the heck…if you not overwhelmed already, here’s all my delicious links tagged Twitter.

I joined Twitter about a year ago I have a clear intention on why I use it. I want to be engaged with a group of educators who are generous with their time and effort to improve the educational experience of students. In my position as technology integration specialist, I am convinced that I need to know everything. I think that my position demands that I’m aware of new tools, trends, and research about not just technology, but curriculum, teaching strategies, NCLB, social media, and internet safety. With regard to my engagement with Twitter as a professional development tool, I have a set of guidelines that have worked for me and not to add to the numerous “rules and regulations”, I call these my “twitter habits”:

  • I find almost all of the people I follow from the people I follow. I click on their “following” link and scan their list for educators, and click on “follow”. I follow plenty of people, but I like to find new members of my group by following those who get “@” messages on my list of tweets.
  • When someone follows me, I look at their picture (they better have one – although a lot of my PLN have silly avatars), their profile, and recent tweets. I won’t follow a newby unless I know them face to face. I’m looking for contribution and commitment.
  • With a couple of specific exceptions (more on that later), I only follow people who are connected with education – past or present, from early childhood teachers to university professors. I block marketers, goth bands, or anyone who uses the word “sexy” in their profiles or recent tweets. I don’t block educational products’ tweets, but I rarely follow them.
  • I limit my tweets to questions, compliments, answers to questions, and links. I occasionally write “going to walk to dog” or “anyone want a free teenager” and other “life” tweets because I think it helps develop relationships with the people in my network. I respond to the “life” tweets of others because I also think that showing interest in someone’s life is important to relationship building.
  • I follow news and media sources because I’m really interested in what’s going on in the world. My favorite is BreakingNewsOn  – because…well, I love to know about breaking news.

The question I get from people is “How do you have time?”. I found a strategy that works, but it helps that I’m ADD, I sit in front of the TV every evening, and I never read books that don’t directly relate to the impact of technology. Just to prove a point, I spent a little time tracking how Twitter has made me smarter in the past 2 weeks:

I attended a mini-conference that I forgot was taking place in my area, but I was reminded by fsinfo (On the morning of the conference twitter helped my find the right school entrance)

I virtually attended a graduate class taught by Alec Couros

I bookmarked the following in various ways for sharing with my staff, my PLN, the general public, or keep “just in case”:

  • 25 tools, resources, articles, and studies relating to teen online behavior and Internet Safety
  • 24 sites that had specific or a collection of K-8 student projects using various web2.0 tools
  • 10 resources, lesson plans and tutorials for interactive whiteboards as a result of posting a tweet about needing some
  • 8 resources that can be used to enhance instruction in Social Studies, including history, geography, and government
  • 8 tools, resources, articles, and research that will help me prepare for a presentation and the preparation of an information literacy curriculum
  • 8 resources relating to copyright issues
  • 8 links relating to social networking (other than internet safety)
  • 7 new Web2.0 tools
  • 6 YouTube or media converters/video search engines
  • 6 Articles of interest from national media sources such as the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times that I may need to refer to sometime
  • 4 resources that can be used to enhance instruction in Language Arts including reading, phonics, and writing
  • 4 Blog posts that I want to refer to later
  • 4 resources about cell teen phone trends and cell phone etiquette
  • 3 resources that can be used to enhance instruction in Art
  • 3 new tools that I could use for professional development of the staff in my district
  • 2 resoruces relating to the program Scratch
  • 2 wikis similar to the one we use for our district
  • 1 resource that relates web 2.0 to Marzano
  • 1 Tutorial site for Google Sketchup
  • 1 portal of university professor lectures/open courseware

My response is….”How can I not take the time to tap into the rich knowlege and professional generosity of hundreds of colleagues on a regular basis.”

EtherPad – Collaborative Writing Tool

I’ve been promoting GoogleDocs everywhere I go lately. My school district is using GoogleDocs as a kind of “share point”, putting curriculum materials and other files that is shared among the staff and administrators. The potential for collaboration is amazing. With my friends on Plurk, I’ve tried a new tool that is a great deal of potential. As GoogleDocs has proven to be problematic in our district because users are not getting emails from google on our district email, this tool might be a way to introduce teachers and even students to collaborative writing, without the need to join, log on, and verify email address. Etherpad allows for a number of people to type into the same document simultaneously. This tool has great potential for students as well because the users do not have to use an email to log on or sign in to the document. 
http://etherpad.com/  

EtherPad: Realtime Collaborative Text Editing via kwout

Here are a few ideas we came up with:

 

  • Book reviews
  • Meeting minutes
  • Small group writing or brainstorming
  • Newspaper club submit articles for proofreading
  • Daily Oral Language
  • Peer Editing

Take a look at this site. Can you think of any other good uses?