The Ning’s the thing

I’m part of a group from my school participating in the AGQTP Building the  Capacity of Professional Learning Leaders program (PLLP).  Our project is based around improving the study habits of our year 12 students and we’re focusing on two strategies.  One is to promote the use of John Munro’s Study Skills resources by teachers in their classes and the other is to set up a Ning to be used by students and teachers as a Virtual Learning Community.

My main focus will be the Ning.  The idea came from Adrian Camm’s Physics VLC which I wrote about earlier.  This Ning will differ in that it will only be for students at my school but will eventually (hopefully) cover all subject areas.

It is my first experience of setting up a Ning although I am a member of several others.  The setting up process was very straight forward, with only one or two surprises, although I’m sure there will be more hiccups along the way.  I’ve started by inviting the three other members of the PLLP group.  It’s been gratifying to see how quickly they have found their way around and started posting discussions, uploading avatars and customising their pages.  The first surprise came when I discovered that Anne had invited another colleague to join the Ning and she had accepted…and I had no knowledge of this.  I’ve now changed the settings so that I do have to moderate new members.  One thing we don’t want when this is opened up to students is them inviting friends who are not part of our cohort.  On the upside is the enthusiasm of Kate who has gone from not knowing what an avatar is to regularly checking in to see what’s been updated.  She says she can now understand why the kids love Facebook so much!

One of the discussions I’ve started is whether we should use photos or avatars on the site.  On one hand I think that given it is a closed community, just for our students and teachers, we should use photos to assist us recognising each other around the campus (900+ students on site).  On the other hand I think one of the goals of the ning is for us to promote safe online behaviour by modelling good practice – that would suggest that avatar’s are preferable.  What do you think?

I emailed the Ning team and asked to have the ads removed as we are an educational institution and they responded quickly and positively so that was very pleasing.

I’m still figuring out some of the structural stuff.  I’ve enabled chat but it doesn’t appear to be working from school although from home it does.  How do you add the Welcome page material for example.  Do we need all the sections – events, videos, photos etc.  What profile questions should we use to ensure the users are authentic?  Will we insist on using full proper names not nicknames?  How will we organise students getting invited to join? Etc, etc…

Love to hear your opinion on any of this, watch this space for further developments.



  1. Hi Heather,
    Congratualtions on setting up your own Ning – I have only done a couple and it is quite fun to create something like that from scratch! I used one (sporadically) with a Year 11/12 Environmental Science class and a year 7 class last year, and thought I would mention a few things to be aware of.

    One of my students uploaded a photo of another student, without his permission and it was very difficult to remove the photo, without banning the member and creating a whole new identity, with a new email address.

    I disabled the chat function with my Yeart 7 students as they were not using it for constructive purposes and wasting time, together with a high risk of bullying in that particular group.

    I think you need to have a ‘critical mass’ of active participants to make it a dynamic, vibrant place worth visiting regularly. I’m not sure what that number is, but Classroom 2.0 has gone SO big, I think there are some spam problems.

    Best of luck and look forward to hearing of your progress!
    Best Regards, Britt Gow

  2. Thanks for your thoughts/advice Britt.
    It is going to be interesting how we manage inviting the students and ensuring that they behave appropriately. I think we’ll be insisting on them using their school email addresses and real names so that we can easiy track any problems.
    So far it appears that the chat won’t work at school. We’re hoping to use it from home in the evenings for study sessions hosted by teachers; I may be being a bit optimistic about how that will go but I guess time will tell.
    We have a finite number of potential participants – 300 students plus teachers. Hopefully that will provide the critical mass we need.
    Thanks again for your input.

  3. Hi Heather,
    We have a ning for our Yr 9 classes. We don’t specify that the students should use avatars. Some have chosen to but others have put up their own photo. I don’t think it’s necessarily unsafe online behaviour to have a photo displayed provided it is a photo that presents your students in their best light.
    We have found that the ning needs work. You can’t let it languish; fresh content needs to go in there on a regular basis to keep the community coming. It’s been a wonderful experience for us this year; I feel like a real learning community has formed.

  4. Thanks for your input Jenny. We’re still on the fence in the photo v avatar thing and you are quite right, a real photo is not inherently unsafe. Thanks for the advice re the ning needing regular input..the interest we already have from other teachers makes me fairly optimistic on that score, but as with anything, time will tell.

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