Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Little Dream - Sharing a Ning

I have a little dream, and it goes like this: the K - 9 school I taught at last year in Winnipeg would be transported to Vancouver Island, and I would continue on as Teacher-Librarian with the most amazing staff and the most incredible and diverse kids on the planet. In that same dream, the blockade (restricted internet access) on several of the Web 2.0 tools we've learned about this term would be lifted, so I could proceed with a plan to integrate these powerful tools into the school. I would begin by setting up a school Ning where each class would be a member (note, not each student, but each class) and have their own page on which to post various learning activities. I envision teachers modeling reading, writing and participating in the Ning. I imagine class-to-class discussions and inquiries, and students becoming excited about sharing what they are learning with other classes. It's a nice dream.

Why I chose Nings instead of Blogs as my First Tool to Share

This weeks blog assignment was to pick only one Web 2.0 tool to share with our staff and create a plan for keeping the momentum going with that technology. It wasn't easy to choose just one tool, but I narrowed it down to either Blogs or Nings. I like both as a platform to teach/learn the other Web 2.0 tools (they are both great vehicles for podcasts, voicethreads, photos and videos to ride in). In the end, Nings won out because the social networking atmosphere fit best with my dream.

I discovered a thoughtful comparison of Nings and Blogs on Steve Hargadon's blog:

The threaded discussion forum is really the key, more than anything else, and it's part of what makes Ning and other social networking platforms in eduation so significant. While blogging, it can be argued, is very much a "look at me" medium, a threaded discussion is much more egalitarian and more conducive to "good" (tempered? thoughtful?) conversations. On a blog, the main author is on a pedestal, and blogs tend to favor posts which reflect the self-importance of the blogger or comments which tend toward extremism--likely because these are often the ways to get attention in a mass of information. The threaded discussion allows the asking of questions without the need to appear authoritative, the giving of responses that can be part of the answer, and where the contributions
of many will ultimately produce a more nuanced, and thoughtful, outcome.

Well said! The idea of creating a space for our school to come together as a community engaged in a thoughtful conversation about their own education is exactly what I want to create. The blog could work too, but there would definitely be a sense that someone is more in charge than the others. Ideally, the Ning would invite participation and ownership in a way that the blog could not.

Bringing the Ning to School

I would start the process by getting a Ning committee together to work out the logistics of how we would use the Ning in our school. The committee could consist of teachers/administration/support staff/students/parent volunteers. I would approach individuals whom I knew were eager to develop and use Web 2.0 tools in their teaching. Now, why would I start a committee to do something I could do myself? Because, I think it's important to invite participation even at the start-up level. Staff and students will be more likely to make use of this tool if they play a part in its creation.

The Ning Committee would:

  • Name the Ning - this seems trivial, but is it? What the staff and students call this space may just be as important as the space itself. After all, people won't go to a space they can't pronounce, or visit one that doesn't sound inviting. The name of the Ning is the first impression of the ning itself.
  • Create a team vision of what the Ning can become. I imagine each classroom could write a weekly entry on their page about their week of learning. It would be exciting to create classroom challenges such as: Name that Picturebook, Riddle Me This, If our Class took a Magic Schoolbus Fieldtrip, What is your Class Reading? Does your Class have a Dream?
  • Decide how the ning will be introduced to the rest of the staff. I would suggest sharing the vision at a staff meeting first. Then, have students on the committee create posters: "The Ning is Coming!", or something along those lines. Over the morning announcements, I would have someone ask: "the question of the day is what's a Ning, and why do we need to know?"
  • Come up with a plan to encourage reluctant teachers. This might include offering to model posting on the Ning, or asking student volunteers to assist the teacher during posting.
  • Work out the logistics. How often will classes be expected to Ning? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? My suggestion would be to start out weekly with some school-wide Ning challenges to encourage participation immediately, trying to make it a healthy habit. Perhaps every Friday could be "Ning Day," where the classes check the Ning Discussion Threads.

To [N]in[g]finity and Beyond!

I hope I have clearly shared my dream of a school-wide Ning with you. I think this plan would be a very good starting point for many of the teachers, as the Ning would allow them to get as creative with the technology as they are comfortable. It would be an excellent tool at promoting community-building. Furthermore, by using Nings as a whole class, teachers may then become inspired to create their own Nings where each student would be a member. The possibilities seem endless. To Ningfinity and Beyond!


Carol said...


Power to the Ning! I enjoyed reading about your little dream. I think of dreams we all have is available access to all the Web 2.0sites of our choosing.

Keep the dream alive!

carol t

Jo-Anne Gibson said...

Loved your dream. I hope that some day there will be a staff that will be able to benefit from all your new-found knowledge.

I tried to convince our music coordinator today to give a Ning a try. I agree with you that a Ning is a great place to create a social network where everyone will feel a part of it. I've given him a few nings and blogs to look at so he can compare the two. It will be interesting to see if he goes for either.


Joanne de Groot said...

Thanks, Carol. I think Ning could be a really powerful tool to introduce staff and students to and I love the way you have outlined how you would approach this, too. A committee to set the stage, so to speak, is a good idea. How would you ensure that the Ning is used and checked regularly? That is the problem I am having with the Ning that I created for our provincial associaiton.

Carol N. said...

I think posting student work would get some excitement on the part of the kids.

Variety and routine intermixed might be helpful too.

I believe there definitely has to be a solid purpose for the Ning, otherwise people won't go to it, and it becomes just another thing on the web. I was thinking that every Friday, the morning announcements could be done via podcast or video on the Ning (each teacher had a LCD projector in their room making it very easy to share with the class).

Definitely students are a captived audience (we can also remind them over the PA or via posters, etc) for the Ning. If we create a routine for it, then it will most likely become a natural part of their day.