Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Value of a Social Network?

David Warlick questions the need for a social network for those using the tools of Web 2.0 in the classroom. He says...

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Also, I’ve not had time yet to mention Steve Hargadon’s School2.0 social network. He’s using Ning, a social network builder, and there already seems to be a highly active Library20 network. I’m not sure how helpful these will be. Do we all really need a new place to go. It’s what I like about blogs, podcasts, and RSS, that the network is so organic and so boundaryless. It follows us around.
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Here’s why I think a social network, like Ning, could make a big difference. Yes, the blogosphere provides a fair amount of conversation and connectivity… but it isn't super-inviting to the beginner:

1. You have to learn to set up a blog
2. You have to learn to use RSS feeds
3. You have to figure out a way to connect with and to others who have the same interests
4. The blogosphere becomes an echo-chamber/selective-few-voices medium because of the limits of voices that can be subscribed to–note Will Richardson saying he is tuning out most of those voices and only listening to a few. To be heard in that environment is not easy.

Even for the technically savvy, this is not an easy way to get into the dialog.

Here’s what something like Ning offers:

1. Instant connection to others
2. Low initial technical understanding to do so
3. Quick access to the dialog of the community without RSS needed
4. RSS capable, once comfortable
5. Individual blogging built in, super easy to post and experiment
6. Socially-engaging

Seems to me this is why there are 700+ people in the Library 2.0 social network that can be mobilized and communicated with in an instant–while the blogosphere provides a much less coherent group. And I think a coherent group, that is inviting and easy, is needed for educational technologists using collaborative web tools in the classroom.

Since School 2.0 seems to be too theoretical, I switched to Classroom 2.0. The network is http://classroom20.ning.com.

2 comments:

  1. Kelly Christopherson1:54 AM

    Steve,
    I'm not going to dispute that you can access a whole bunch more people but, in reality, how many are going to listen to about a topic? My RSS reader is well over 250 and I've had to pare down because I cannot keep up with the information. My experience is that if you go out and look for ideas, they are there. I also wonder about the whole RSS thing and setting up a blog. There are so many easy systems that let you get started as a beginner. For that matter, EduSpaces already provides a somewhat similar format and function as you describe. For me, it means that, if I want to "meet" anyone from the community, I need to be with the community which then makes me divide my time even more. Also, I read people outside of education in order to get a balance that isn't all educational. When I first started, I thought that maybe something like the community would be nice, however, in less than 5 months I'm seeing the benefits of not being limited by a community. I can go off on tangents and find all kinds of people. Some I agree with and some I don't. I'm still a newbie to blogging but the experience I've gained I've been able to transfer to the classroom as I blog with my students. I'm not convinced that the community is the way to go. It may be easier but, my experience has been that sometimes easy doesn't give you the best learning.

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  2. I'm not sure this is an "either or" situation. I think we can see the value of how you have become initiated into the larger conversation, and still accept that there is usually a huge chasm between the early adopters who will do what you have done, and the great bulk of educators. And that if they are helped into conversations of value, of dialogs that didn't occur before being in the social network, that's a good thing--and it doesn't limit them from going beyond the boundaries.

    Please read this thread from an educator who was brave enough to confess how hard it was to even think about exposing her thoughts to others. http://classroom20.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=649749%3ATopic%3A2307

    I don't think she is alone. And it occurs to me that since there are 350,000+ signups to MySpace every day, social networking is a huge part of the read/write web. When I hear early adopter educators (condescendingly?) insist that the only "true" way to become involved in the dialog of the read/write web is to go through 5 months of something "not easy," I have to smile at the echoes...

    5 miles, each way, uphill, in the snow, right?

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