Live blogged: Please excuse spelling errors or awkward phrasing!
This session was presented by Elizabeth Perrin and Amanda Jost from Houston ISD, Educational Technology department.
Communication is a huge challenge for a district the size of Houston ISD (200,000+ students) and they were looking for a way to create a network of collaborators. Some options considered were: email, listserv, wiki, blog, ning, skype and video conferencing.
Why a ning? A ning was chosen due to cost (free with ads), personal presence of members (social aspect), voice, multi-dimensional (can do much more than just a wiki or blog – it is a true social network that is targeted to specific groups), easy to use, can be private/secure.
Amanda did graduate research on using a ning to create a valuable professional learning community with teachers in the the district. Background research told her that members needed direction and motivation to participate in the ning. Members would come when the site was first launched for the novelty, but need motivation to keep visiting.
In order to increase usage, the facilitators redesigned the ning, used it to provide links to new resources, discussed issues, and made site visits to campuses. Usage stats show that people used the ning when something was posted. Email reminders and other members posting encouraged ning visits. Lack of participation by members discourages use.
Recommendations for building a ning:
Design – keep it simple and user friendly. Have a prominent spot for announcements, district news links, videos, forum. Have personal pages for members to post photos and other info. Members can have personal communications, chatting, uploading of files.
Resources – Keep resources organized, accurate and updated. Provide RSS feeds for news, district resources, links to safety resources and web 2.0 tools. Ask members what they want.
Gathering feedback – Plan for feedback in advance: how will you get it and what will you do with it? HISD uses Google Analytics, questionnaires and their own observations.
Promoting the ning – Talk about the ning whenever you get a chance!
Things to think about:
Determine what you will post. Have a clear purpose for the ning. Enlist the support of your IT department in keeping the ning open and not blocked by your filter. Post a usage policy for the Ning: what can be posted and who can join.
Maintenance – answer unanswered posts. Review the ning daily and check membership at least yearly. Check how the ning looks to members and how it works in various browsers. Work at developing the ning but give it time to grow.
Future plans – Looking for ways to deepen discussions on the ning.
handouts posted at amandaj.wikispaces.com