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.


SLAV Perspectives on Learning V2

Wow, what a great day.  I’m just back from the SLAV conference and I’m feeling newly inspired to blog so I thought the least I should do is write something quickly about why today was so much fun, so inspiring, so invigorating!

1.  Connections

I always love SLAV conferences because I get to catch up with people I have worked with in the past or had other professional dealings with and today was no exception (hi again to Raggsy, Marg, Robyn, Judith, Reina, Anne, Rick and Geoff).  Today was even better because I got to meet, face to face, with some of my Twitter network – hello Tania, John, Jenny and Adrian.

Today I took along the netbook I’ve been given to use and was very excited to find a wifi connection available.  I’ve been checking Twitter in the past when others have been at conferences and have been interested to see their take on what’s happening.  Today I could be one of them.  What a hoot!

2.  Inspiration

Network Literacy:  The ability to create, grow and navigate personal learning networks in safe, ethical and effective ways

Will Richardson is an inspiring speaker. His keynote on Network Literacy was fascinating.  He maintains that publishing is the easy part, it’s what occurs afterwards that matters – the connections, the conversations.  That it is important to find a diverse network; that learning within a network is an ongoing process, not an event.

I love the notion of being “Googled well” – not how well you can conduct a search, but what a searcher finds if they Google your name.  What is worse: finding dodgy pictures of you or finding nothing?  Everyone, especially our young people, needs to understand how important it is that a google search of you locates a digital presence you can be proud of (and you’re not afraid of your nanna or a prospective employer seeing).

I love how he makes his ideas so exciting yet so do-able.  I love how it is firmly grounded in the learning, in the pedagogy, not the tools (although he’s got some great tips on using the tools).  His session on blogs and blogging this afternoon is what sent me here, the moment I got home.  He articulated what I realised I had been thinking – that you need to read blogs before writing one, that you need to write for yourself before blogging with students.  It gives me renewed confidence in the value of the Web 2.0 online course I’ve been developing for our teachers, and has confirmed my recommendation for participants to set up a blog for the purpose of learning and reflection.

Adrian Camm & Leonie Dyason’s session on creating a Virtual Learning Community was equally inspiring.  Adrian’s use of a ning to engage, not only his own physics students, but students from around the state is a terrific idea and it is fabulous how he has got the textbook writers to come on board.  He has helped me crystalise a couple of ideas that I have for the Professional Learning Leaders program I am involved in.  Our project is likely to be based around study skills for our VCE students, a ning might be the answer.

3.  Confirmation

I’m not sure if confirmation is the right word here, or whether it should be affirmation.

Anyway, I just want to touch on why the fact that today left me inspired is such a good feeling.  There seemed to be a number of people in the audience who are scared or can’t see how to find the time to learn new things…I’m so glad I’m not one of them.  I am very happy that most tools and sites mentioned I have heard of, if not actually used.  I am very happy to be inspired to continue exploring and sharing what I find.  I’m happy that the online connected world has allowed me to be better at my job, to find new ways of doing things, to be part of a network.  It feels great to understand that all this is not “more work”, it simply is my work (and quite a bit of my leisure too, but that’s another story).

Another confirmation/affirmation: today a former colleague (who I worked with when I was a first year out) asked me if I’d be interested in travelling to Gippsland to present to their SLAV group.  They want to learn more about Web 2.0 tools and some of the practical applications I’ve found.  Of course I said yes, now to figure out the logistics!