Sunday, January 13, 2008

Doing the Ning Thing

I joined my first Ning group almost a year ago and have been hooked ever since. It all started with classroom2.0 on Ning. This was my first social network and I wasn't sure how to play at first. I was just looking back at my first blog entry on Ning. I think I expressed my confusion and excitement pretty well. Over time I got the hang of it. I often find that I first have to discover the power of a Web 2.0 tool for myself before I can see its applications in the classroom.

Visit Classroom 2.0

Let me back up - what is Ning? Ning is an online application that allows you to create your own social network around any topic that you are interested in. The Classroom 2.0 group on Ning is a network of people interested in the integration of Web 2.0 Online tools in the classroom. There are networks about everything - baseball, Broadway, dancing, books and of course education.

Ning is a social network like Facebook, but in Ning the group comes first and your profile exists within the group. On Facebook, your profile comes first and you can join as many groups as you are interested in using the same profile. The downside of Ning is that you need to create a new profile page for each space you join. This can also be an upside, you can customize your profile to fit the group. You might not want the classroom 2.0 folks to see the profile you have on the BroadwaySpace Ning site for people who love theater.

I've been trying to think of a metaphor to compare Ning to Facebook. On Facebook the individual comes first, on Ning the group comes first. Capitalism vs. Communism... Republican vs. Democrat... But I digress...

I have set up Ning sites for several English classes at my high school. Students are reflecting on books and writing assignments through their Ning blog posts. I also created a Ning site for my TV/Video class so that we can upload and share our videos. All of these classroom sites are private right now, they are only visible to accepted members. I'm hoping to open them up soon, but privacy helps make people more comfortable. It is a good place to start. Ning has generously agreed to take the ads off of Websites used for 7-12 education. See this post from Steve Hargadon to learn more.

I created a Ning site for the faculty and staff at my high school. Several teachers joined at first, but it hasn't taken off. I think in order for a Ning site like this to work for teachers, there has to be a reason for us to go there, or else it just becomes something else to do. It might work if the agenda for a faculty meeting was posted on the site and teachers were asked to respond in a discussion forum. The more the site is used the more it will be used - if that makes any sense.

Most recently, I created a Ning site for my college graduating class. I'm hoping that we can use this site as a way to reconnect with each other, post pictures and share updates about our lives. We'll see how it goes.

Are you using a Ning site for your classroom? Do you belong to any Ning sites? What do you think of Ning? I would love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. Thank you to Patrick Woessner for inspiring this post.
P.S.S. Check out this wiki for lots of links to social networks used in educational environments.


Susan said...

I am a member of quite a few Nings. Our Media Center Guru thought it would be cool to have a staff Ning. About five of us really latched onto the idea, but it never took off.

I LOVE the idea of Ning. I even love some of what I've gotten out of it. Here's what I don't love:
1.) It takes FOREVER to load on our school's network - as of last year.
2.) It is now blocked by our school's firewall altogether - helpful, if you're trying to get a staff page up and running. We tried to get it unblocked, but they don't want to open up all of Ning.
3.) Part two is mostly because of the ads that Ning is choosing to run. While they are being more specific now with education Nings, I do have concerns that a few more could still leak out.

So how can we still take advantage of a social networking page in education? I think the answer may be that we may have to create one FOR education. At my school, all social networking sites are blocked for students. All by MySpace is blocked for staff (for now). Why don't we create one that would be FOR schools and *gasp* for students without yucky ads, computer-crashingly-slow-loading, and whatever else is causing filters to block it.

Because you're right - social networking is HUGE - and hugely important in our field. We just need to make it work for us.

Fabricio said...

Hi Elizabeth,

First of all, nice post! As someone involved with Ning it is always good to see the powerful and creative ways people use the platform for different purposes.

Now, if I may, I have to disagree/nitpick on one small particular point, your metaphors... comparing Ning with an ideology that gave us the worst killer and oppressive regimes in history is not very flattering :)

In my opinion, the Facebook vs Ning analogy is the other way around Ning being the decentralized flexible model who trusts the individuals/communities and give them the freedom and responsibility to care for themselves and make their own decisions in any way they think is better, while Facebook is the big one size-fits-all model where rules are dictated from the top by party members who think they know what is better for you and forced upon every one else "equally"(for example, what if I am a facebook user that don't like the blue layout?).

If you take recent FB related events, like the Beacon fiasco or the data-lock-in and the Robert Scoble drama, it shows a few of the drawbacks of when you trust too much power in a central entity and let they make your decisions for you.

While on Ning, network owners have full control over the options, down to the source code if needed, that's freedom right there :)

PS: this is my personal take, I don't speak on behalf of Ning inc or anything, and I understand that you post the comparison with the best of intents, I just want to complement your description and clarify the concepts here. Please dont take this comment as a flamebait.

Fabricio said...

@susan, regarding #2, you could maybe use a domain mapping on your network and have the firewall to exclude that domain from their blocking rules.

As for #3, you can remove the ads by using a premium service if inappropriate/inaccurate contextual ads is a concern :)

And finally #1, although there is lots to be improved from the Ning side on making latency time better(and it is incrementally getting there), there are a few tricks to make your network home page lighter as well, which might help with loading times.

Rashmi Kathuria said...

I am inspired from your ideas and realised the importance of being connected to like minded people in our professional fields.It is essential to know and share knowledge. Through ning network it is made possible.I am a member of classroom 2.0 and Passionate teachers.


Mr. Carls said...

Great post, I saw it on Twitter and it caught my eye since I too believe that Ning can be a great site for educators and professionals. I've been playing with it to set up personal family site (since we never seem to see each other). Thanks again for your thoughts.


Liz B Davis said...

Thanks for your comment. As I'm sure you realized, my metaphors were facetious. And, remember, I also compared Ning to the democrats, which from me is high praise.

But seriously, I appreciate your contribution. I'm not a big FB user, so I really can't get too deeply into the details of the comparison. Thanks for clarifying some of that for my readers (and me) The bottom line is I'm a big fan of Ning!

Anonymous said...

Found you through Classroom 2.0--professional development group. This post was really informative, particularly for ELA-types like myself. I'll be back...