Friday, May 21, 2010

Ode to Ning and Community 2.0

Ode to Ning 2 from Dr Van

Here is a list of some of the ways Ning (and Community 2.0) have changed my teaching, multiplied ways my students can interact with the each other and with me, and made my course more collaborative and less teacher-centered. Some of this may be obvious to the veteran online aficionados in this group but I thought it might be interesting and worth sharing—perhaps with faculty who are just getting involved:

1. Student Ownership: Anyone can start a forum or blog—students started doing this passionately about mid-semester as they got excited/angry (in a good way) about some of the material we were reading; result was more authentic voice and conversations that were less teacher centered;

2. Community: Students have a facebook feature so they can talk to each other on their own pages—this offers a semi-private space (you have to go into their pages to find it) and the various facebook features definitely made students feel more at home—they could personalize their pages, friend others, have conversations, comments with specific friends, post pictures—which they did—extensively;

3. Reflection: Students came back to earlier topics and continued conversations that normally would have a “shelf life” of one class discussions; this tipped me off about what topics were really “hot” and helped me adjust, expand, delete materials, sometimes modify assignments to connect with their passions;

4. Immediacy: Students could contact me anytime with a question (often a brief one) and I could answer quickly so they didn’t waste time going in the wrong direction (this takes a few nanoseconds compared to an email which now feels like snail mail; they seemed especially grateful for this feature—I had not previously thought about the anxiety a student has when he/she doesn’t know if the path is a good one and a draft is due the next class;

5. Synthesis: They can go back and expand/revise blogs for credit: I am using a portfolio system—they have to submit their top five for final grade—I am using Priscilla’s rubric—(the one she posted for us that is); this means they are doing more writing and reflecting on their writing—even in blogland; maybe for next iteration of C2.0 we should make this reflection/synthesis a regular part of activity—what did you get out of conversation—Scott set up pre-post for his students;

6. Collaboration and Research: The Groups feature enabled me to create “research” groups for each of the texts—the group had its own page where they could post things and divide up the work and even make plans to meet; their group research presentations, using the Ning page, powerpoint, and even in one case a short movie, were stellar—they went after research hungrily—they wanted to teach the class what they had learned;

7. Ownership and Authority: Bonus result I did not anticipate: students posted articles and films that not only helped them; they helped me! When they were relevant I could repost them on the Forum page so everyone could read them (with credit to the “scholar”—one student wrote “thanks for calling me a ‘serious scholar’”)—this means I could spontaneously modify my syllabus—inserting a new quick reading and plan to discuss for 15 minutes next class. (Two examples: Paola found an article on Breath, Eyes, Memory that only came out a month ago—I had not seen it and it was super relevant to our discussion; Dominick found a film “Aristide and the Endless Revolution” on Netflix—I screened it and ordered it for the class). So the course—thanks to Ning— is becoming a true collaboration; currently as they are doing research papers, I have encouraged a few students to pursue avenues of research that will help others as well as themselves and to post them with annotation;

8. Voice: The spontaneity of Ning enabled me to hear more of students real voices—not the artificial ones that assignments often generate; I was able to capitalize on this and suggest ways they could direct some of their energy/passion towards writing topics that would be most meaningful; in Community 2.0 they blogged with students in other classes quite eagerly; with pictures posted, it felt something like speed dating (only kidding)—they did focus on the topics (crime, identity, race, hybridity); this step needs refinement and focus—with advance common readings—we could even bring them together for field trip or screening if we had common time: this is worth a conversation in initial meeting for Fall group;

9. I am looking forward to our next Community where we can layer this collaboration. In this pilot the benefits as I saw them were about student connection and dialogue—my students enjoyed conversation with two other classes; there were some glitches in making sure all got in to the other class Ning easily—solution to make public; Ximena showed me a better way to organize the conversation so each student had a specific partner. Finding that partner was a little tricky for some (simplest way—advanced search—put in name). Scott said his students benefited from conversation with mine because they are entering and mine are graduating—raised the level of discourse—I shared that with my students and they were proud. Bricolage conversation with Ximena’s class also went well—students were really interested in writing their own complex “collage” of their identity and history (what do you disavow; what do you stress) and some of the conversations had multiple entries. Next step is to see if this blog work can lead to deeper dialogue and perhaps some joint projects connected to major themes and assignments in each of our courses. This will be the work of our next iteration of Community 2.0.

1 comment:

  1. Whew! Where to begin...well that's easy: THANKS for the wonderful and useful post.

    Comments: I think the blog portfolio idea is PURE GENIUS and will say so to whoever stands still for 5 seconds. The "voice" part is one the aspects of all of this that has me hooked; I think it partially happens because we are willing to leave "our" territory (say, Blackboard) and negotiate a territory that is a bit more democratic, collaborative, what have you...

    Questions: 1. what tool were you using that made e-mail seem like snail mail? 2. Could students do the same work they have done in Groups in a Forum ?(I'm asking because Ning has designated Groups in their $$ category)