Up until this point I've found very little use in the classroom for the popular social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Orkut, Plaxo Pulse and the many others. I've literally tried them all, and I've lost count with how many profiles I have on the internet. My running joke is after I've signed up for a new social network, I do a search for Alan Levine, and of course he's always there. I usually lose myself in the service for a few hours, playing, tagging, posting, and adding all kinds of fun widgets. Soon I realize that the site is just too distracting to have any use in the classroom. I can't even control myself enough to stay focused on the goal. My students would never make it. There's just too much to do and too many people to play with.
The biggest drawback is the inability to separate your personal profile on any give network from a professional or student profile. Students already networking in MySpace with their friends sharing videos and photos of parties don't want to have to share that with their English teacher or their classmates they barely know. And as a teacher, I don't want to be responsible for policing what students are doing on their social networking sites. There would then be a necessity for more than one account, but I still have no control.
The benefits of using social networking are there if there was a way to limit the distractions. It would be so neat if I could create my own social networking site, I could utilize some of these benefits in the classroom, especially for online courses. Here's my list of benefits:
- Building community among students
- Harnessing collective intelligence
- Centralizing communications (forums, email, direct messages)
TechCrunch took a look at some of the players in this field, including Ning. See their post:
Nine Ways to Build Your Own Social Network
We have taken a sample of nine of these companies - Ning, KickApps, CrowdVine, GoingOn, CollectiveX, Me.com, PeopleAggregator, Haystack, and ONEsite - all of which provide free baseline services, and reviewed them individually below. We have also included the chart on the right summarizing all of these companies’ offerings.I've only tried KickApps, CollectiveX, and Me.com in this group. They each have good features, but KickApps was way too complicated for me, and I didn't like the look and feel of it. GoingOn and some of the others will only let this "begging for free stuff educator" have limited users in a network before forcing me to spend $20 a month. That's just not going to happen. I'm a teacher. It should be free for education. Ning is doing a trial offer of removing ads from K-12 networks, so if you're teaching the youngins, that's a great deal for you. As for the college crowd, we're stuck with ads for now. At least they're not too intrusive. We'll see how that goes.