Thursday, November 01, 2007

Big News from Ning: Ad-Free Student Networks

I've been working with Ning as an educational consultant for a couple of months now, and run their Ning for Educators network. I really like both their model of "creating your own social network," and their responsiveness to the education community. While the big public news for Ning this week is their participation in and support of Google's Open Social platform (will have to save talking about that for another day), yesterday they made a quiet decision which will greatly benefit the educational community: to provide ad-free student networks to K-12 educators. (Update: see new notes and procedures below.)

Ning has been a great example of the how Web 2.0 applications can be free to use, supported by the ubuiquitous Google ad network. There are several upgrade options, the primary one being the ability to run an ad-free network, or to host your own ads, for $19.95 a month. While this is a reasonable cost, most educators exploring the (great) uses of social networking in education have a hard time jumping through the administrative hoops to get this approved, and up to now have only been able to experiment with Ning by using the ad-supported version.

Yesterday, in a flurry of email exchanges, Ning's Gina Bianchini and Athena Von Oech, Flat Classroom superstars Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, and I worked out the details of a trial program to remove the ad component from any existing or newly-created K-12 student-centered networks. If we can show them ad-free networks are something educators really want (that won't be hard!), they will continue the program and create a more automated, stream-lined process--but in the meantime, here is what you can do: (no longer current, skip to below)
  1. Create your student network, if you don't already have one
  2. Go to http://help.ning.com/?page_id=27
  3. Use the subject line: "Ad Removal Request for grades 7 - 12 Education Network"
  4. Put in your network ID at the beginning of the "Describe your issue" box, then just give a one-sentence description of your network usage. For example, you could put:
    "flatclassroomproject.ning.com - a global collaborative project founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Qatar Academy, Qatar) in 2006 to use Web 2.0 tools to facilitate communication, interaction and collaboration between students and teachers from all participating classrooms."
  5. Email me at steve@hargadon.com if your network isn't ad-free within 72 hours (let's just say three *work* days!). [This is an update as of 1/18/08.]
  6. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings
  7. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
Huge thanks to Ning, Vicki, and Julie!

UPDATE 11/1/07 6:00 pm:

Ning has had to modify this program for the time being because of COPPA concerns. For the time being, Ning is not COPPA-compliant so it is intended for people ages 13 and up, and this ad-free trial program will only be for networks geared toward students between the ages of 13 and 18 (grades 7 - 12).

I've pored over COPPA, and am trying to decide the status of private networks, with no ads, where teachers create login accounts for student use, and that don't specifically ask for "personal" data. It would seem they might be in compliance. Any thoughts?

Also to note: while this program is a trial, and Ning may or may not decide to make it a permanent offer, Ning has assured me that any networks which qualify and are converted to ad-free will stay ad free. :)

Update 9/16/08:

Ning has upgraded their online help system, and so the instructions for requesting an ad-free educational network have changed:

  1. Please sign in to the Ning "Help Centre" first: http://help.ning.com/cgi-bin/ning.cfg/php/enduser/ning_login.php. This will also allow you to see the status of your "ticket" or request. You can submit a ticket without signing it (use the "skip" link next to the "sign in" link), but you won't be able to track the progress of your request.
  2. Click the "Contact Us" link at the top of the page.
  3. The "Ask Our Team a Question" form then appears.
  4. In the first field (“I have a question about”) select “a network that I have created.”
  5. A new field with a pull down menu will appear (“I specifically want to know”) and you should choose “General Question.”
  6. A window will appear where you need to choose a specific topic. Please choose “other” at the end of the list.
  7. You may skip the "I'm Feeling" field if you'd like.
  8. In the "Network URL" field please give the network address of the educational network you are asking Ning to make ad-free.
  9. In the message portion of the ticket, please specifically write that you are requesting an add-free network for education.
  10. Click the send button!
  11. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings.
  12. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
  13. If your network isn't ad-free within three working days, please check the status of your help request at the same web address under "View Tickets."

40 comments:

  1. Only for K-12,not all education area?
    What i mean is that if i am a master in an university,it is impossible for me to move off the ads. for free?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic!
    Thanks Steve.
    I really didn't like the "Pimp Your Site" google ad showing up in my classroom.
    Thanks for all that you do to support K-12!
    Dave

    ReplyDelete
  3. How about higher ed? How many K-12 students could actually buy anything from the ads anyway?

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  4. Well done, Steve. I didn't know you had the ability to influence it so. I felt kind of hapless in the whole twitterstream yesterday... I'm glad there was some point at which traction was possible. Again, bravo!

    (And those postsecondary-heads seem to be feeling left out... maybe you should talk to your 13-20 corollary and ask him/her to throw them a bone?)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Steve,
    We've been paying to remove ads, so I am hoping they will just stop charging us.

    This is great, but I'd love to see this extended to higher ed as well.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Major kudos to Ning for that! In my work at Discovery, we get major kick back for any pages that have ads on them. Many schools have a strict no-ads policy, so that's a major step forward.

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  7. Great work! What can those of us in higher-ed do to get the ball rolling for us?

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  8. Thanks for working on this Steve - it makes it another great tool to use with students along with Wikispaces. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. K-12 makes sense: it is also the range of Wikispaces.com educational offer. Because the problem with ads is their possibly inappropriate content for minors, as David Truss points out. Besides, such cases might lead school authorities to forbid/block the use of a service with ads.

    Whereas by the time students are at university, they usually are of age, and so the various children protection acts don't apply to them anymore. And as to precocious university students who are not yet of age, well, let's hope they are also psychologically precocious.

    Claude

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  10. Steve this is excellent news! Thanks
    Susan Tsairi

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  11. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Steve - thanks. Good work. I am feeling my way with both Wikispaces and Ning in the classroom. This is a helpful step.
    Mark Ellis (UK)

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  12. I am starting my network right NOW!! Thanks Steve!

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  13. This is absolutely wonderful news!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've added an update to the post this evening:


    UPDATE 11/1/07 6:00 pm:

    Ning has had to modify this program for the time being because of COPPA concerns. For the time being, Ning is not COPPA-compliant so it is intended for people ages 13 and up, and this ad-free trial program will only be for networks geared toward students between the ages of 13 and 18 (grades 7 - 12).

    I've pored over COPPA, and am trying to decide the status of private networks, with no ads, where teachers create login accounts for student use, and that don't specifically ask for "personal" data. It would seem they might be in compliance. Any thoughts?

    Also to note: while this program is a trial, and Ning may or may not decide to make it a permanent offer, Ning has assured me that any networks which qualify and are converted to ad-free will stay ad free. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is great, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Steve - I love you. :) Thanks, man. This is great. May take this thing school wide at this point.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous2:10 PM

    It would seem to make sense to unblock sites for K-12 teachers as well since they will likely access the networks from school where ads may be blocked.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Steve - on education ning Jo Rhys-Jones has added an annotated version of the COPPA regulation with how a private moderated ning with students signed up through dummy emails would comply
    http://education.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=1027485%3ATopic%3A10101

    ReplyDelete
  19. Let me join the chorus of others to say, 'Great work, Steve. Thanks for the efforts!'

    I also agree with elizabeth clark and others that expanding to higher ed - graduate programs and the like - might help bring these tools into the hands of future teachers and school leaders sooner than later.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Steve- Any reason I couldn't create an elementary site? I see 7-12 grades but I want to connect some 4/5 grade students... See any problem with that?

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  21. Great work Steve,
    I've created my first network under these terms (I hope) and come Feb '08 I'll load up another 2 or 3.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Loved to hear this.

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  23. I was thrilled to see the Google add sidebar addressed, however, I want to work with grade three classes. I read about the COPPA issues. I understand this is a concern. I hope that this can be resolved so that the under 13s can also social network safely.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I have just joined the Art of Engagement network and the first thing I noticed was the absence of Google ads. Caffyn told me they pay $20 a month to keep the ads out.

    ReplyDelete
  25. James:

    Thanks for the comment. Since Art of Engagement isn't a student-centered network, it wouldn't qualify for Ning's special program.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I was working with an upper-elementary teacher who wanted to set up a Ning network for his students (primarily so that he could be modeling how to act appropriately online in blogs, message boards, and through commenting features while celebrating student work). Here is what he did to make his network COPPA-compliant:

    If you set up your Ning so that you are . . .
    - not collecting private information (i.e. real name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child)
    - have children create their Ning accounts with the Gmail alternative (onlineconnections+name/alias@gmail.com) and not a personal e-mail and use an alias instead of real name
    - get parent permission on a form that provides full disclosure of how you will be using the private Ning as a way for students to share their academic work with others
    - moderating the content that is posted
    - maintain your network as private - invitation only

    Ning allowed him to create his network and removed the advertisements.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Regardless of the age I made the new users, I was unable to create student accounts using linked gmail addresses on May 22. I could create accounts with non-linked email accounts, but not with linked. I'll try again this weekend.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Susan:

    I just tried and didn't have a problem, unless I'm not understanding what you are doing. Are you talking about the gmail + method?

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous11:12 PM

    Does Google G-mail not have ads? Ads are not allowed on Ning but the kids can use another service with ads? Am i missing something? I don't know if anyone noticed but there are ads everywhere. Event on this website.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Anonymous: your point is well-taken--there are lots of other sites students use that have advertising. However, 1) there are still sensitivities to advertising by many schools, and 2) trying to explain "social networking" as an educational tool *and* having to deal with the ads issue can be too much of a barrier for some administrators.

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  31. Steve, I know this is an older post, but thanks for sharing this information because I just started using a Ning for one of my classes, and I wanted to know how the ads could be removed.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I wish Ning would consider higher education as well. I already pay high tuition for grad school, and now I pay $20/mo to remove the ads on our network as well.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hey, Steve. I just created a custom Tiny URL for this post and thought 'd share that here:

    http://tinyurl.com/eduning

    ReplyDelete
  34. Cengiz Yoruk5:20 AM

    Steve thanks for your tips but it's too late for me. I've found a better solution: http://grou.ps

    As a consultant, you might be biased and you might no accept it, but Grou.ps offers a better service for free - without ads! And the support team is much more responsive than ning's one.

    Give it a try by yourself. Cheers,

    ReplyDelete
  35. How do wikis for classroom use fit into COPPA?

    I understand wetpaint does not allow students younger than 13 to create accounts because of COPPA regulations - is that just because wetpaint has advertisements? Are pbwiki wikis (no ads, can set up student accounts without email addresses or any other personal information) compliant?

    ReplyDelete
  36. Abby:

    I'm not qualified to give advice on this. You'll have to read COPPA and the FAQ for yourself and determine what, if any, liability you might have. Services that don't require giving them an email to set up an account are probably a good place to start.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Steve, thanks so much for making this program possible and this information available. As of 3/8/09, the starting point is now the Ning help page, and the "contact us" link is now at the bottom.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous10:35 AM

    The directions for requesting an ad free educational ning are not working as listed. Has something changed?
    Do you have any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  39. Updated information appears here: http://blog.ning.com/2009/08/back-in-the-classroom-and-signed-in-too.html

    ReplyDelete
  40. Worked for me!
    Ning removed the ads

    ReplyDelete

I hate having to moderate comments, but have to do so because of spam... :(