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.