Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Social Networking: The Ning’s the Thing

What’s a Ning? What’s a social network for that matter? And how can a teacher use them? All important questions. I’ll start with the most general and move to the most specific.

What’s a social network?
You have lots of social networks, even if you are rarely online.

  • You might have a group of friends from college you stay in touch with.
  • Maybe you participate in a local book club that gets together every month for discussions.
  • The colleagues you teach with may work with you in a teacher-study group.

All of those scenarios describe social networks. Online, social networks connect people who share common goals or interests. Facebook and MySpace are general social networks. Specific networks might connect family members, fans of a television show, or people who have the same hobby.

The Common Craft Show video on social networks, which I mentioned last month, is a must-see if you’re unfamiliar with social networks and how they work:

So how does all this connect to Ning?
Ning is an online social network platform that allows you to create your own customized social network.

You can decide on who is invited, what they can see, and what they can do. You can create a Ning site for anything. There are a number of features available, and a basic site is free.

NCTE has created a Ning site for the 2008 Annual Convention. You’ll see the NCTE logo, links to the convention website, and information from NCTE members. There are videos, photos, and podcasts.

If you join the 2008 Annual Convention Ning, you can post information about your presentation, chat about sessions you want to attend, and connect with friends before you arrive in San Antonio, during the convention, and after convention is over.

So Ning is just another social network, like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. What makes it different is the ability to customize the features to meet the needs of a specific group of people.

How can a teacher use a Ning social network?
Use a Ning to connect students in a private social network! What could you do for language arts, writing, and literature classes?

  • Set up discussion forums based on literature circles, peer writing groups, different class periods, and so forth.
  • Create groups based on student interests—book clubs, favorite genres, other content areas.
  • Upload alternative book reports created as podcasts, videos, or photos.
  • Ask students to write their reading logs or journals online, using their own personal blogs.
  • Post information for students and their families in a shared space.

And unlike Facebook, a Ning network can be set up so that it is private and open only to invited members. Using the network tools, you can invite only the students in your classes. You can monitor the members in the administrative tools on your Ning network. The network can also be set so that you can approve people before they join.

That’s not all. You can control many of the features, so that the social network meets the needs of your students. You can do all of the following:

  • Create all groups yourself, or leave it open to members
  • Approve groups, so that nothing off-topic shows up
  • Approve all photos and videos before they are posted
  • Delete any groups or discussions that are inappropriate
  • Ban members from the network if necessary
  • And reverse any of these decisions with a click of a checkbox!

In some scenarios, you can leave the site more open. It’s nice to know, however, that you can lock things down if you need to. Try to do that on MySpace!

Join in and Explore the Options
If you want to see more, please join us on the 2008 NCTE Annual Convention Ning. Whether you plan to go to San Antonio or not, you can sign up and join in the discussions! If you have any questions, my member name on the Ning is tengrrl. So logon and friend me!



Lisa Huff said...

Check out Literacy Lighthouse, a ning for high school English teachers. We'd love you to join us to share resources and ideas.

Anonymous said...

The Literacy Lighthouse link does not work. Use

Mrs. Stansbury said...

I am in love with my ning site for my class. However, my school district which had previously approved the site has now deemed the site inappropriate due to the site bypassing the proxy that blocks sites such as youtube. (Which is hogwash because my youtube videos that I've linked in the site are not accessible at the school and can only be viewed at home.) Their reasons are not valid but that doesn't mean that I'm going to thumb my nose at the district and endanger my job.

I will tell you this my students LOVE the site. They use it and are now able to enjoy school in new ways.

I continue to use the site but only on a voluntary basis. Students will not be penalized for not being a member and I do not require discussions on the site. As the site was on my syllabus I'll be updating through this year. However, I need to find a new alternative. Any ideas?

Mrs. Hilland, Librarian said...

Our district has something called a "Moodle". It sounds like a ning but is fully approved and used throughout our district. The teacher has complete control over content, posts, and membership. That might be an option. My school district is Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in BC, Canada.

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