A Suggestion for creating a “safe” social networking environment in the classroom

October 3, 2009

I have spent the last couple of days thinking about George Siemen’s presentation on Connectivism (which was actually the second time I’ve heard it.. the first time was at a Tlt conference in Regina, I think) and the theoretical backbones he covered were familiar to me, as I am entering the last stages of my degree and I’ve researched almost all of the theories and theorists presented in some capacity or another.

I have also read my fellow classmates’ blog posts for this week (the ones posted so far) and they, as well as George, gave me some things to consider. A theme I am noticing in several threads are issues of privacy and safety, particularly for instructors and learners who are part of public school divisions. Liability and safety concerns are naturally an issue for everyone, but I think everyone would agree that these concerns are especially prevalent when one is entrusted with the social, emotional and educational health of young people.

Some instructors have said they’d like to employ more social networking tools, such as blogs and wikis and the like, but they are hesitant to do so given these safety concerns.

I have a suggestion to make to all of those instructors (and I will link this blog into a comment into each of their posts that I find). There is an online CMS (course management system) called Moodle that is an open source software program that you and your school division can use to create a “closed circuit” learning network, one that can be restricted to a single school, or class even, and there are a lot of social networking features that could be successfully employed. Moodle allows instructors to create Group Discussion Forums, and Wikis and also has an instant messaging system embedded within it that would allow students to communicate with their classmates and the instructor both during school hours and out of class as well. Instant messages that aren’t received instantly (when someone is offline, for example) get routed to the person’s email address they used when signing up for entry into the system. Some people might be hesitant to employ an instant messaging system with their class, for fear students will chit chat when they are supposed to be on task (I would personally call this “social network learning” myself,  just an informal model of it) or passing answers to one another, etc. but Moodle allows message histories to be saved so past messages can always be viewed.

I know there are other sorts of “closed circuit” tools out there, (and maybe you’d like to share them with me?) but I just happen to know about Moodle myself, since it is the system I work with everyday. It’s one way for instructors to start small and safely with their classes. Enrollment into a Moodle based course can be by invitation only or it can be open to the public, much like the EC & I 831 class is.


9 Responses to “A Suggestion for creating a “safe” social networking environment in the classroom”

  1. Thanks Michelle. The U of R actually uses Moodle, in fact I helped to bring it here. However, because of the way it is set up at the U of R (entirely closed, no guest access), I chose not to use it because it is easier to teach about open education when students actually experience it. However, it is a good suggestion for schools who want to keep things closed. However, administrating it would be an issue as, in most cases, teachers would not have the expertise to actually set it up and administer it.

    I do wish our province would go toward Moodle however. Blackboard is still the tool at the provincial level. It is an unnecessary expense when a great free tool like Moodle exists.

    Thanks for your post.

    • rmunkler said

      I’d be curious to know how many active courses Blackboard has this year. It sounds like a lot of school divisions are going to Moodle.

  2. Oh, one thing I should add, I don’t find Moodle to be a great social networking environment, but as you say, it’s a CMS. If you want a closed social networking service, check out Ning or grou.ps.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Ohhh! Thanks Alec! I had forgotten about Ning. I was introduced to Ning at the last Tlt conference and I think I even signed up for it, but, like so many of these other social networking technology tools, I haven’t had the chance yet to truly experiment with it. I’ll have to re-investigate it again, as well as look into grou.ps, which is totally new to me.

      • rmunkler said

        Ning, eh? I’ve never heard of it. I just had a quick look, and it looks like it is setup around friends and networks, like most social networking sites. I assume you can create a private network? But there are still pitfalls to using a social network site that is setup around friending as mentioned by Danah Boyd in the video we were to watch a couple weeks ago.

  3. Amy said

    Hey! We are starting to use Moodle with our school system, and I do have to say it is way better then the very OLD set up we had before. So far it is great, I’m just working on helping set it up. Do you have any tips or insight?

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Oh boy.. all kinds of stuff comes to mind. I’m not sure even where to begin with suggestions.. I just know what Parkland has done and what has worked well for us. Something I really love about Moodle (from an instructor’s perspective) is that it allows me to set up automatic email notices for assignments and this lets me know when someone has submitted something for grading. I’ve found it is critical to give timely feedback to students as quickly as possible after submitting an assignment, particularly with the go-getters who may race ahead and complete a lot of assignments (without benefiting from any feedback I had to give them on previous ones).

      A lot of what you do will depend on how you utilize Moodle. Will it be synchronous? Will it be a blended sort of thing, with some classes taken face-to-face and other portions at a distance? Parkland has their system set up to accommodate individualized learners’ needs and everything is done asynchronously with continuous intake throughout the year. That means the Parkland program will look quite different from other programs with different needs/visions. Regardless of the set up you use though, another feature I really like is the course messaging system. It is really helpful if a student is working on something on the course and has a question. S/he can send me an instant message and if I’m online I can respond right away. If I’m offline then an automatic copy of the message is sent to my email. There are SO many things you can do with this CMS, really. A lot of it will be end up being based on your own preferences/styles.

      I could maybe give you some more tips if I knew what your particular situation was. I’d be more than happy to talk about it with you 🙂

  4. amhwrites said

    I’ve been teaching in Moodle for the last 2 years and while I like it well enough for the course I teach (a ministry packaged Planning course on careers and life skills) I’m not sold on using it for social media purposes. I am quite limited by IT services and our eSchool system over what I can actually do in Moodle – and I know I get a lot more flexibility than many others because I’m deemed trustworthy and technically able (to not screw the system up!). I do like it as an open source program and definitely prefer it to Blackboard/Vista – which I take course in at UBCO.
    The issue of social media and minors is a complex one and requires a complete re-thinking of traditional approaches – I know I’m struggling with this. As a parent I lean toward fairly tight boundaries that are gradually expanded as my child demonstrates judgment and understanding of the implications of using these tools. (Currently, my tween shares some of the social media sites with me, but does not have carte blanche.)

    • Michelle Clarke said

      I agree with all of the points you’ve raised actually. I only mentioned Moodle as an intermediary sort of step – sort of a halfway point for networking where the audience and participants could be controlled, and thus, perhaps some of the concerns surrounding safety could be addressed. As Alec pointed out though, there are superior tools to use other than Moodle for social networking purposes.

      I can see an application in my particular situation, where I have students from all over the province who will never see one another face to face. Group discussion forums can be utilized, for example, where everyone could read/comment on the entries there. Is it a “true” social networking tool? No, probably not, but it’s definitely more contact and interaction with others who are taking the course than they’ve had to date. It’s just a small step but one that could enhance learning for everyone.

      Thank you for your feedback! I appreciate it and as I say, completely agree with you on the points you have raised. (Those tween years are a killer, aren’t they? Sounds like you have things well under control though and I share your philosophy of gradually expanding boundaries!)

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