Thing 15 Diving Deeper Into PLN Waters: Nings & Microblogging!

Image by Will Lion on Flickr
Image by Will Lion on Flickr

Image by Will Lion on Flickr


Introduction


In Thing 16, you were introduced to the concept of social networking and more specifically to a PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). For some, the purpose of social networking is no greater than to keep up with the latest news from friends. However, social networking can serve a far more meaningful and productive purpose.

In this Thing we are going to dive "deeper" into the depths of social networking for professional purposes by exploring a few sites geared towards educators. You may or may not find something that fits your needs, but remember the experience is not simply to find your niche, but to also experience the potential of the tool itself. What we explore here can easily be used in the classroom at some (but not all) grade levels.

Remember....keep an open mind to the possibilities. You might just be surprised at what you'll find.

And as a little "aside" note:
If you've ever been interested in collaborating with other teachers and classrooms on a project (wiki based or otherwise), then making connections with other educators is THE most important step, and participating in social networks such as Nings and Microblogs can easily facilitate those connections.



Discovery Exercise #1

Explore the Uses of Social Networking in Education

¤ NOTE: You are NOT required to join the Classroom 2.0 network to explore its resources, but I hope some of you will. It's an amazing resource!!

Increasingly, educators are beginning to leverage the positive aspects of social networking to improve student learning. Ning is a service that allows anyone to easily create and manage a free (ad-supported) social network for any purpose. Last fall, Ning announced "ad-free" networks for educators using the site with students in grades 7-12. Ning sites may be private (viewable only to members) or public, and the site creator/administrator has lots of control over how users join and how they can participate/contribute.

In early 2007, Steve Hargadon created Classroom 2.0, a Ning social networking site for educators "interested Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in the classroom." The site currently has over 21,000 members (only 300+ when I joined back in 2007) sharing ideas and resources, asking questions and discussing ideas and concerns about using these new technologies to support teaching and learning. Exploring this site is a good way to learn more about Web 2.0, and to get a feel for how a social networking site can be used in education.

If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content, remember that you are not supposed to keep up with everything on a site like this, but rather to skim, explore and focus on those areas which are of real interest to you. In networked learning, the important ideas always come back around. Also, if you can't imagine managing this with students or colleagues, remember that you won't have 21,000 of them participating in your network, and that it's perfectly okay (preferable, even) to start small and limit the scope!

As you complete the exploration exercises, consider how you might incorporate social networking to benefit:
  • Your own professional development / lifelong learning
  • Classroom teaching and learning; Student learning
  • Personal interests, hobbies, community, family, social causes, etc...

PART 1

Visit Classroom 2.0. Have a quality look around (see tips immediately following). If you don't spend some time exploring, you won't really get a feel for the site or the potential for this type of tool in education.

‡ HELP: Tips for finding your way around Classroom 2.0
  • Forum - (click Forum tab at the top of the page). Here you will find discussion categories with threaded discussions under each. Find a couple of discussions that interest you and read some of the posts and replies.
  • Groups - (click Groups tab at the top of the page). Here you will find special-interest discussions and resource sharing. Members interested in the topic can join the group and participate in the discussion. Find a group that interests you and explore the discussions and other content for the group.
  • Tags - (right sidebar on Main page) Click a link to find all discussions tagged by tool, subject or area. Or click a tag anywhere within the site (e.g. at the bottom of a discussion post) to view all resources tagged as such.
  • Members - (click Members tab at the top of the page). Click any member's profile picture to view his or her personal page, including their groups, discussion postings, personal blog, comment wall, friends and other self-selected content.
  • Latest Activity - (left sidebar of Main page) See the most recent activity by all members of the site.
  • Videos - (click Videos tab at the top of the page). View videos uploaded and shared by site members.

PART 2

Check out this wiki-based list of Ning networks related to education. See if you can find one that interests you, or that applies to your subject area and take a look. (It is possible that a few of these may be private, especially those that are for students)

Further Resources (for your reference)



Discovery Exercise #2

Explore the Uses of Microblogging in Education

If you've ever text messaged someone, then you know what microblogging is all about. When microblogging, you're limited to 140 characters (spaces count as characters) to get your point across. Probably the most well-known microblogging service out there is Twitter, which really took off in the past year much in part thanks to the Presidential election. Although the tag question for most microblogs asks, "What are you doing right now?", you're certainly not bound to post an answer directly to that question.

Using blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking as a professional learning resources is perfect for when you're not in a hurry for information, but when you've got a question that needs answering sooner rather than later, that's where microblogging with a well-established PLN can come in very handy. Yes, there is also non-educational related chatter going on, however that is also part of building a PLN. I'd like to think that I come to know the most active members of my PLN on a bit deeper level, which for me personally adds a new layer to the professional relationship that I have with them.

What's the point?

Why do educators use microblogs? Why do they turn to places like Twitter and Plurk? What kinds of information do they look for and what do they get out of it? Those are the very kinds of questions that I posed to my own PLN and here are some of their replies:

Twitter Replies:
Twitter_replies.png
Twitter_replies.png


Plurk replies
Click on the image below for the live page or use this link.

PLN.png
PLN.png

And there are also classroom applications for microblogging as well. Here's an example of how Twitter is used in a large classroom to facilitate a discussion. I don't know about you, but I was very impressed!! Granted, not for younger kids, but what about a discussion taking place like this over a week? Granted, cell phones aren't yet seen as a desirable classroom tool, but this video just may get you thinking about it.

Note: Using Hash Tags ( the # sign plus a specific keyword to identify the post) makes searching and aggregating all posts of a particular topic much easier. Look for the Hash Tag in the video when they show the screen.

The Twitter Experiment - UT Dallas 5:18
YouTube Direct Link



Interested?? Public microblogging communities can be extremely frustrating for beginners. I should know as I gave up on it the first time I tried using Twitter. It takes time to know "who" to follow and actually develop a large enough network to get a return on your investment. Instead of going into Twitter or Plurk and dipping our toes in there, I'd like for all of us to use a private microblogging community instead. Those exist? Yes, they do! Edmodo, which is designed specifically for education, will make an excellent experiment for our class. Should you become interested in it for yourself, you can set up your own microblogging community for FREE and approve the members. Best part of all, it is NOT blocked. I have set up a community for this class using Edmodo.

Now, if you would like to follow me on Plurk and Twitter, I would of course love to include you in my network. I tend to use Plurk moreso than Twitter these days, but I still find both platforms to be beneficial to me professionally.
My Plurk Account
My Twitter Account

TASKS

PART 1

Microblogging!

You've already gotten a taste of a few Plurks from the pages that I embedded in this wiki. But to truly get a feel for engaging in a microblogging community, you need to do it for real. Instead of using Twitter or Plurk, we're going to indulge in a private microblogging community that I have set up for this course using a site called Edmodo. Edmodois specifically designed for educational microblogging, and, as a result, has a larger tool set than your typical microblogging site.

#1 - Download our Edmodo Guide -
external image pdf.png Edmodo Registration Instructions.pdf
#2 - Go to Edmodo and follow the directions in the PDF file
#3 - Check the posts in our Edmodo community and be sure to reply for full credit!!


PART 2

Blog Post 17

Write a reflective blog post about the use of social networks and microblogging in education for professional learning and/or for classroom use. Be sure to title your post Thing 17. As you write, consider using the following questions to help guide your post. These are NOT required, just questions to guide your thoughts.

BE SURE YOU WRITE 1 - 2 SOLID PARAGRAPHS!!

Nings

  • What was your first impression of Classroom 2.0?
  • Was it what you expected? How did it differ from your expectations?
  • Did you find any discussions or resources of value?
  • Would you benefit from participating in a Ning related to your professional practices?
  • Were you able to find a ning at this site related to what you teach? If so, did you check it out?
  • How could participating in a social network such as a Ning improve your instructional practices?
  • For those of you who teach older students (middle school and above), would you consider creating a Ning for your classroom? Do you have any ideas for how you could use it?

Microblogging
  • What is your past experience with microblogging and sites like Twitter and Plurk?
  • Given the testimonials above from others who use microblogs as a part of their PLN, could you identify with any of their reasons?
  • Could you see microblogging becoming a component of your PLN? Why or why not?
  • For those of you who teach older students (middle school and above), would you consider using a private microblog community such as Edmodo in your classroom? How could you use it?