Tag Archives: NING

Please keep Ning free in education!

Jason Chmura on Change.org has written a letter to Marc Andreesen (Co-founder and Chairman of the Board, Ning.com) and Jason Rosenthal (CEO, Ning.com) with a petition to keep Ning free for educational purposes.

We, the nonprofit and educational community, urge you to make an exception in your plans to discontinue free Ning services. Since your founding in early 2007, we have been avid supporters of Ning.com and embraced your services as a critical component in accomplishing our missions. We’ve used Ning.com to unite diverse populations, inform individuals, confront difficult issues, and bring hope to those who need it most. For many of us, Ning.com has helped to bridge the communication gap between our organization and those we serve.

We understand that times like these often necessitate making tough decisions, and appreciate the situation that you’re in. However, we hope that you will consider the important role that Ning.com plays in the nonprofit and educational communities and allow us to continue using your free service to provide for those in need.

At a time when funding is scarce and organizations are fighting to keep their doors open, it is critical that these online support communities be allowed to continue without additional financial burdens. Please, be exceptional, and help the nonprofit and educational community at a time when we need it most.

The response to Ning’s free service phase-out is continuing through social media such as Twitter. I received the petition link through a comment in my previous post – it’s also included in the crowd-sourced alternatives to Ning Google doc – , and I’m assuming that, with 172 signatures at the time of writing this post, the link has not been widespread. That’s hard to believe, considering the massive Twitter response.

Checking the #ning updates on Twitter, I noticed the international response with all the non-English tweets (luckily I can read French and German and guess Spanish). Responses vary – some expressing disbelief and others accepting that services such as Ning could not, realistically, remain free. As for me, I assumed (naively?) that if so many educators were using Ning across the globe, then an organisation wouldn’t tick so many people off at the risk of turning them away and seeking other Web 2.0 educational platforms.

Despite the bad news, I’m reassured by the collective strength and wisdom of educators globally. The power of the network prevails.

So, where to from here? I’m going to look at how to export my ning data before it disappears or transfer it to another service.

What about you?

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Filed under 21st century learning, networking, news

What the! Ning isn’t free anymore?

This morning I read on Twitter that Ning would no longer be free anymore. Blink.

Can this be true?

TechCrunch announced the news.

Steve Hargadon was quick to send off a post; I was grateful.

Twitter has contributed various links, including a place to go to share how people are using nings in education. A Google document has been created for a collaborative space – already the number of participants is impressive (where’s Australia though? )Posterous has committed to building a ning blog importer. Somebody has thought of a way to save ning. Ideas are cropping up everywhere.

People are realising how valuable some of the networks are:

@RobertTalbert I agree and don’t care about my own Ning, but I am member of several large, wonderful networks (eg. English Companion) #Ning

As disastrous as this is, one thing is clear. Ning means a lot to many, many people. If you feel upset, you are not alone. This is a collective, global problem, and it will continue to receive a collective, global response and – dare I hope – solution.

Here’s a tiny part of the #ning Twitter stream:

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A teacher’s evaluation of ning

“The real problem is not adding technology to the current organization of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning”.
Alan November in “Curriculum21” by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (found on Flickr in Great quotes about learning and change)

I want to share with you a teacher’s evaluation of a ning as learning and teaching platform for a Year 12 English class. Although Catherine has only been using the ning for a couple of weeks, she has used the features of ning to their full capacity, enhanced student learning, and created a real  learning community. It’s a shame that the ning is private – otherwise I’d show you what it looks like and how it’s working. Instead, read Catherine’s excellent summary and description.

A couple of weeks ago I began a ning with my Year 12 English class. After their initial disappointment that this ‘wasn’t facebook’ and once they worked out how to post a blog and replies to discussions, the class began to embrace their ning, and I have been thrilled with the results!
Our ning contains the following:
1. Photos of our class. Once a week, I bring a camera into the class and the boys take turns with being the ‘class photographer’. They capture moments from the class and ensure that everyone in the class has a photo. We have also added photos from college activities such as the Athletics Carnival where all the boys dressed up. These photos have been placed in albums in the ning and have been great in inspiring a sense of class spirit and unity.
2. Videos related to the text: I have been able to upload a number of videos related to the text we are currently studying – ‘Maestro’ – at the moment there are videos of Cyclone Tracy, Wagner, Peter and the Wolf, and Vienna.
3. Notes: I am able to write notes that highlight upcoming events / work that is due etc. I have arranged the format so that this is the first thing the boys see when they log on.
4. Groups: I have made groups for each of the texts we are studying, so all of our comments, quotes and resources can be located in easy to find areas.
5. Discussion Forums: Each group has discussion forums. At the moment our discussions are taking place in the Maestro group. As a class we have decided to pool all the quotes we find into these areas so that when writing a text response, everyone knows where to find the resources.
6. Chat facility: this enables everyone in the class to be online at the same time in the evenings and ask questions that everyone can contribute to, if they wish.

At the moment my class is preparing for their first text response, and I have found the chat facility to be extremely useful. A number of boys over the long weekend asked for help with their introductions and were able to place their work on chat and receive feedback from other students as well as myself. It was wonderful to see students help each other, as well as to see the particular student edit and re-edit their work. We have missed a number of classes in the past week due to public holidays and college activities, so it was wonderful to be able to assist students in this way in the lead-up to their assessment. It has also been good to see students ask each other for help with specific quotes and to see other students provide answers.

The ning has given students a central place to go to, when finding their resources for English, and has also allowed questions to be asked and answered very quickly. One of the boys told me this afternoon how much he loves being able to use the ning and how helpful it has been for him. I have also enjoyed seeing boys who never contribute in class, feel confident using this technology to voice their opinions. One boy in particular has become a ‘guru’ when it comes to knowing specific quotes in the novel, which has been wonderful for his self-esteem. However, without a doubt, the best part of the ning is the fact that students are discussing and analyzing the text outside of school hours – of their own volition! What more can an English teacher ask for?!

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How do you explain a ning without sounding silly?

This is cross posted from my other blog, English@wfc

 ningvideos

Following our school’s involvement in Powerful Learning Practice, our team has been asked to present to the whole staff next Monday. Maria and I will be talking about the ning in our English classes. We decided to present collaboratively, with Maria doing most of the talking and me driving the ning tour. Our idea was that teachers would find the ning more relevant and convincing if a classroom teacher presented. Sadly, I think that they would be less likely to listen if a teacher librarian was presenting, because we’re associated with the library (which means we’re seen as chained to the library circulation desk and focus on books).   Today we got together to decide how we were going to proceed.

The most difficult thing is deciding what is essential – we don’t have more than 10 minutes or so. We don’t want to overwhelm everyone but if we don’t present in some detail, it won’t make much sense to anyone.

For me, the essential part of the ning in supporting the English curriculum has not been the technology, but the possibilities for discussion and interactions. Within online discussions, every student gets an equal chance to participate in discussion at his own pace. The authentic audience and connections with others form a community of learners. Instead of responding to the teacher, students interact with each other; their learning is social. Although it’s not exactly Facebook, the ning has provided a Facebook-like platform for classroom learning.

What we’d like to stress is that the teaching is more important than ever. Yes, the ning is technology, but that’s not the focus. The ning is not some technical textbook with multiple choice questions and answers making the teacher redundant. Scaffolding the learning process is even more vital than ever to ensure rich discussion and push students’ thinking towards  critical and reflective responses.

During our planning session,  Maria and I focused on identifying the way the ning enhanced teaching and learning beyond traditional teaching methods.  We anticipated teachers wanting to hear why they should tackle the technology, what was special about the ning. That’s a fair enough question: there’s no point in using technology for its own sake. So let’s see…  Well, as I’ve already said, there’s the authentic, peer audience, and the interaction within that, and secondly, there’s the threaded discussion. When students are asked to write down their thoughts in class, it’s normally just the teacher who collects and reads them. Perhaps a few might be read out in class. The ning provides the transparency for all students to read everyone’s contributions, but also to reply to a specific one. Students can read every other student’s ideas, and respond to any of these.

Apart from the connection to the other students in the class, our class was joined by The Kings’ School boys in Parramatta. The ning has also provided an opportunity to bring in an expert, in our case,  our book’s author, Allan Baillie, who was able to answer specific questions of each boy individually. We provided authentic, engaging learning. The boys got a kick out of having their questions answered by the man himself.

I also love the simple fact that the ning contains everything so neatly – from a teacher’s point of view, assessment is made easy because everything that has been written is easy to find. I imagine it will be easy to see development in the boys’ writing as the year goes on.

Using videos to spark discussion has never been so easy. I embed videos when I come across them (handy for on-the-spot activities), and all the discussion following the viewing is neatly recorded underneath. Students regularly practise literacy without even realising. Somehow they think that discussion of a video isn’t real work. Videos are great for visual literacy -something I’ve noticed doesn’t come easily to young people regardless of what is said about the internet generation. They need lots of practice ‘reading’ visual clues, following visual narrative and interpreting and critically analysing visual messages. Of course, audio is also important, and our class has also enjoyed videos with music.

We plan to show teachers the variety of resources that can be included in the ning. Our videos cover many subjects – even grammar, information literacy (eg. evaluation of websites) and responsible online behaviour. I’ve started embedding TED talks which I think will be suitable for this age group. I’ll be looking to include more TED talks because they’re so inspiring.

I hope our presentation will demystify the ning and similar technology and open up practical suggestions for the use of such technology in the classroom. As long as the internet connection works! Keep our fingers crossed.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0, writing

Live stream from ELH09 Lorne – Jenny Luca’s talk

Steve Collis was kind enough to livestream (not sure if that’s a verb) Jenny Luca’s presentation at elh09 technology and learning conference at Lorne today. Brilliant for me for two reasons: firstly I couldn’t afford to go, and secondly it’s my day off so I could watch it. Well done, Jenny! As always, Jenny has presented an engaging, informative and inspiring talk about nings, social networking and participatory learning.

I’ve been lucky to get to know Jenny well since my involvement with Powerful Learning Practice, and anyone else who knows her will appreciate that Jenny speaks from experience, not hiding behind jargon or titles, but saying it how it is. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to reach a wider audience in the conversation about 21st century learning and teaching.

One of the most powerful messages Jenny transfers, both verbally and in terms of modelling, is that she is a learner first and foremost, and that this has given her the wings she needs to fly as an educator (I’m paraphrasing). Listen to Jenny. Read her blog.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, network literacy, networking, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Don’t bag technology – ask what it means first

I’ve been feeling discouraged lately in my conversations with people about education. Maybe I’ve been talking to a small sample of people, but I’m feeling really peeved at the moment (and it may be because of lack of sleep).

I’m not sure if the endless circular conversation – between those who see the value of technology in education and those who dont’ – is even worth the effort. Yes, I’m not in a very positive frame of mind currently. I don’t find I have the energy or patience to continue, but I still want to reflect on what the problem is.

It’s not a problem that centres on technology at all. It’s a problem that centres around the very human aspect of dialogue. Dialogue which depends on two (or more) people listening to each other and making a real effort to understand what the other person is saying.

I’m sick and tired of entering into a conversation where I’m asked to justify my belief that technology is an important aspect of transformed learning, learning that has to change with the times in order to prepare us all for the way the world works and the way it will work in our students’ future. Most of the time I find that I’m cornered into petty justification because the other person is coming from a personal conviction and will, at all costs, aim to knock me off my beliefs to prove an ultimately negative point. This is not a dialogue. Cornering someone so that they desperately try to stick up for their beliefs while ignoring the larger argument is not dialogue. It radically narrows the scope of information which would otherwise offer a larger, more informative picture.

An example:

Me: I believe that technology offers new possibilities in learning (*very aware that this is a broad and ambiguous statement which needs comprehensive explanation*)

Other: What’s all the hype about technology? Does it really teach ‘them’ anything? Or is it a just a gadget, the latest fad?

Me: Technology offers possibilities for creating and connecting with others.

Other: I know all about that. It’s been proven that kids no longer have personal skills because they are using technology too much.

Me: They are learning the skills of online interaction

Other: I read/saw on TV how dangerous online involvement is, and how it isolates kids, how it takes them into dangerous zones which their parents don’t know about, how bad it is.

Me: You have to look at the real evidence. The media is often one-sided and sensationalises a small part of the picture

Other: But I heard an interview about it and these people are reliable; this information is authoritative.

Me: There are many wonderful connections kids can make to the real world and real people outside the classroom to make learning relevant

Other: (confused look) What are they learning by talking to each other? Is there any academic value?

And then the conversation reverts back to All Things Negative in terms of Any Kind of Change with regard to What Is Considered Sacred about Education, and it’s Sacred because That’s The Way It Was, and That’s The Way It’s Always Been, so all of this new stuff is Bad. We should probably go back to Grammar and stay safe teaching Facts. Numbers, Dates. Like my own education where I studied the Victorian Year Book and copied out fascinating information about how much rainfall and wheat we had in Victoria in  a certain year (the one that had passed). Fascinating facts about sheep and sewerage, I’ll never forget that (except for the facts themselves).

Ok, so now you’ve fully realised how down I am about this argument. I just have to point out that the worst thing about that kind of ‘discussion’ is that you never end up saying what you want to say, but you end up sounding like a crazed evangelist, ready to die for your cause – and I hate that. I’m not a crazed evangelist, I have much more to say and show you if only you would listen. The problem is about listening and wanting to hear, not about technology itself. It’s an age-old problem of failure to listen.

If I had a chance to talk to the ‘other person’ without being pushed into a corner, I would question their negative association with the word ‘technology’. I think this is a wide-reaching association. Technology = computers, dangerous  online involvement, unhealthy focus on what is not real, and therefore what takes you away from real, people-to-people contact.

But technology is also TV. Do you watch TV? Does it stop you from going out of the house? (If so, then it’s your personal problem) Or does it offer a window into the world?

Do you use a telephone? Does it stop you from seeing your friends and family in person? Or does it offer you an opportunity to chat more often in between visits?

All technology!

Yes, it changes the way we live. Some of us held off getting a mobile phone in the early days (we didn’t need it? we’d lived without it), but now we can’t imagine going out without it? Good or bad? It’s something worth investigating more deeply. But it’s here to stay, and it’s technological capacities are growing fast. Change is difficult; some of us jump on the bandwagon and others yell insults at the bandwagon from afar. What we need to remember is that, like it or not, the way we function in the world is changing, and we would be wise to jump on so that we know what we’re dealing with. So that we know what kind of support and education we need to give our kids. So that they’re ready for their world. Are we thinking about this? Are we looking forward or backward?

This morning I followed a link posted by @scmorgan on Twitter which led me to an article on the Edutopia website:

Kids create and critique on social networks.

The first couple of paragraphs grabbed my attention.

In the common conception, kids plus social networking equals an online popularity contest conducted in grammar-free instant-messaging lingo — not exactly an educator’s dream world. But the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network, a digital-literacy program funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has tapped into the networking phenomenon to encourage creativity and learning.

The Digital Youth Network runs a private Web site called Remix World, which is modeled on popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

This ning works like Facebook where students can create a space (their page) which is their own style, and where they can post their work and receive feedback from their peers, take part in discussion, and give and receive constructive criticism. Sharing with the class (or other classes) is more engaging because they care more about what their peers have to say than what their teacher has to say, and they want to show what they can do. They develop confidence in themselves when they realise they can help out or contribute to a discussion. It’s all there for the class to see; their contribution amongst everyone else’s. They don’t remain invisible or unheard. They have a place, a voice, a unique style.

When students are motivated to create work that they share online, it ignites an independent learning cycle driven by their ideas and energized by responses from peers.

That’s the theory, but let’s hear it from the kids

Twelve-year-old Jalen (also the subject of an Edutopia video profile) is among those who’ve taken their work to a larger audience on YouTube and elsewhere. “I post online because I don’t want it to just be on my computer, where nobody can see it,” Jalen says of his work, which includes graphic art, videos (both remixed mash-ups and some using original footage), and computer games. “I get positive and negative feedback, but it helps me get better and better,” he says.

“One guy on YouTube told me it was a good video, but the timing was off,” he remembers of one project that got mixed feedback. “So I went back and edited it.”

The article also talks about another student who created his own social network. He didn’t follow a prescriptive set of teacher-created instructions.

“I didn’t learn from anywhere particularly,” Mosea says about creating his network. “I just experimented.”

Experts say that, even more than the digital world in general, collaborative Web 2.0 tools in particular can motivate self-directed learning.

Students creating and publishing online within their own community is the first step to compelling learning, but the deepest learning takes place in the commenting and conversation which follows:

“While the ability to publish and to share is powerful in and of itself, most of the learning occurs in the connections and conversation that occur after we publish,” argues education blogger Will Richardson

Of couse, this kind of learning is not automatic or without its problems. But this is where the teaching part of it comes in. Teacher support is more important than ever for these new experiences to be successful. It’s not a matter of handing over to technology, stepping back and expecting self-directed learning to naturally take place. Nothing could be further from the truth, as teachers who have worked with online networks have discovered.

Researcher Christine Greenhow cautions that the virtual world can also present its own barriers to independent learning. “Students can get easily distracted,” she observes. “There are so many nonlearning paths, so we need to help them stay focused.”

And there’s the rub. If those against technology think that kids just jump in and need no supervision, they’re wrong. Wherever kids are and whatever they do, they need supervision and support. As parents, we shouldn’t leave them to their online activities without taking a real interest in what’s going on – and I don’t mean looking over their shoulders with a critical eye. I mean engaging in conversation where we learn what they’re doing, and why they like doing it. Or even trying some of these things out ourselves. As teachers, we shouldn’t leave them with the laptop and Google, and expect them to navigate a positive and successful learning experience.

To finish, I apologize for my rave – I think it’s something I needed to get off my chest to reduce mounting frustration.

Finally, technology is about the people who use it. Let’s demystify it, let’s try to understand it before we judge it, let’s acknowledge that it’s increasingly the way the world functions, and learn how to make the most of it.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, internet, learning, network literacy, networking, parents, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces?

On Twitter I read that Will Richardson was doing a day-long workshop on ‘How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities?’

Considering the deliberate and concentrated direction ‘out’ I’ve been following in the last year, when blogging through a Web 2.0 learning process took me out of the library and into the world, I thought it would be a good idea for me to ponder this question:

‘How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities?’

Well, the short and simple answer is easy: I never was a writer until I started a personal blog, and so that simple step in setting up a blog, like so many people did before me, has given me the gift of a space I can personalise with my thoughts. Over 30 years ago, when I finished secondary school, I lost my excuse for writing. Having enjoyed writing in English classes more than anything else at school, there was no reason or opportunity to do it anymore. So when I started my blog, tentatively at first, it was a joyful reunion with a process I had long missed.

And so, back to the question, ‘how have I changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities’? Blogging has not only given me the chance to write, but it has given me an audience, and it has connected me to people. When I say audience, it’s not a big one, but I’m not talking to the air either. If I have something to say or share or ask, it’s great when I get a response, a thrill when I start a conversation, and brilliant if it involves people from different parts of the world. If I’m thinking or doing the same thing as someone in another country, then the world is brought closer, the unknown seems more familiar, what was foreign becomes more friendly.

The online communities I’ve joined since – Twitter, wikis, nings, etc., have taken my writing into the interactive zone. I’ve responded, supported, elaborated, argued, bounced off others, shared people’s successes, empathised, and generally had a great time with people I didn’t know, or hardly knew, and now with whom I share a great affinity. To describe this affinity, I will just say that if I’m ever in need of anything – moral support, information, advice – then the people in my network will instantly respond.

And back to the question again – my writing has changed even in its sincerity, its authenticity; I think it has thrown off its carefully constructed facade, its attempt to impress, to sound correct, to please, to conform to the status quo. It’s become transparent and unselfconscious, playful and casual, flexible and possibly courageous.

If my writing has changed in these ways because of online spaces and networks, then it must be clear to all that it is a human, and not technological, development. It’s about me, not my technology skills. The technology has provided the medium, the connections, but it has centred on human interaction.

These are the reasons why I’m exploring and pushing Web 2.0 platforms for learning and teaching at school. Using online spaces and communities for writing will connect students to each other and to others outside the classroom. Writing will become meaningful, and learning enjoyable.

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