Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some Things I've Learned About Building Effective Social Networks

I wasn't sure I was going to be at Educon 2.1, so I didn't submit to speak on any topics and I went to the conference solely to be an observer (which, to the great credit of the conference, is not really a good description of someone attending but not presenting, since there's ample opportunity for everyone to participate). As it turned out, there was need for a substitute speaker on Saturday, so I filled in at the last minute. We decided to call my session "Classroom 2.0: Things I Think We've Learned About Social Networking in Education."

We were a small group in that session, but the conversation was really, really good, and I think I took as many notes as anyone else. I love learning that way: with others. Here are six themes that came out of the discussion and from my experiences.

  1. You don't really know which social networking sites you create will take off or succeed. Clay Shirkey reminds us that when "failure is free" you get innovative experimentation because you can easily move on from failures. This turns out to be especially important with Web 2.0 and social networking services since you really don't know how people are going to react to what you have to offer when what you are offering is a chance for them to participate. It's very easy and most common to put something "out there" and not get the response you expect. Unlike traditional models of providing authoritative services, when building the frameworks for others' participation you have to respond from the very beginning to users needs and feedback and direction, and if you jump in front of what you think is a parade and it turns out not to be have been, you have to be willing to move on or morph. Flickr didn't start out as a photo uploading/sharing site. Ning didn't start out as the "build your own social networking" service. Humility of purpose turns out to be important. Sure, Classroom 2.0 has 17,000 members--but you're not seeing the dozens of other networks I've started that never got off the ground--even ones that I thought were a total shoe-in (like the network for those who worked, like I did, at the Stanford Alumni Association summer camp--which has all of three members right now).

  2. What makes the foregoing OK is: topic or content is maybe not as important as the act of engagement. We each have dozens to hundreds of things that we are passionate or care about. In some interesting way, engagement trumps topic--when we find a topic that creates engagement, that engagement changes how we view our lives and sense of learning in all areas we are interested in. It changes how we think about sharing and discussing things with others. So when a network we thought was going to be a big hit isn't, all is not lost. Our job is not as much to define what is talked about, but to help conversation to take place.

  3. It turns out that you are especially dependent on early adopters for the success of the network--in some cases, they are more important than you as the network creator are. This gets a little deep, but let's see if I can say it clearly: Web 2.0 depends on user-generated content, so if you build a Web 2.0 service or network that is not also dependent on the excitement or active participation of key early adopters to help build where the service goes, it may be a sign you're trying to overlay Web 2.0 on top of your authoritative desires. You can't only provide for collaborative content, you have to provide for collaborative building. In a world now with so many options for where people can spend their time, you have to provide an opportunity for those early and important adopters to be a part of determining where the network goes and how it gets used. Early adopters are also often attracted to places where they can play roles of significance that bring them visibility and opportunity, and so you have to help them get that. If you don't provide an environment where others can function and be seen as leaders, they will go somewhere they can.

    This is sometimes harder than we think, as it's so easy to fall back to our regular ways of how things get done--even for those of us who think we are highly collaborative. I've got a blog post brewing on just this topic. Many of us who adopted collaborative technologies early did so, I believe, because we were already inherently collaborative. As the success of collaborative technologies becomes more and more apparent, there will be many who will try to adopt these technologies because they want the end result, but don't understand the importance of the process of getting there. The huge bonus, however, to this shift in thinking is that the end result can be so much better than you thought it would be when you were dreaming up your network in your solitary brain.

    Web 2.0 is about participation, and one of the brilliant lessons of creating a Web 2.0 network or service is seeing your primary role as being that of encouraging and providing an environment for others to participate and lead. We manage the process instead of trying to manage the outcome (another theme I love). And you can't do this without being authentic.

    There are some great examples of this in my own networks. In Classroom 2.0, Nancy Bosch plays a more active role with other users than I do most of the time. In my high school reunion network, Alan Nelson is the one who scanned and uploaded the yearbook photos of everyone in our class (amazing).

  4. A network must fulfill some compelling need(s). You can't expect people to come to your network just because you have a great idea for talking about something and when they understand the power of that idea they will want to participate. They have to have a reason to come that is compelling, that solves a problem for them, or offers them the ability to do something they have really wanted to do that was much harder before. Finding friends for Facebook does that. Finding answers about how to use technology in the classroom does that. One more online book club may not.

  5. Focus in important to having a good conversation. An unfocused network doesn't offer a good reason to come back. Future of Education faces this as a very real challenge, and I'm hopeful that the interview series will provide some focus since the topic is so big. A network doesn't need to be 17,000 people. It can be a great place for 25 or 50 if there is a good conversation taking place.

  6. There is very real value in "moderating" or "guiding" your network. I think maybe I learned this from the four years I spent as a manager of group tours, where group dynamics (like in a classroom) are so important. It's important to help manage expectations and also to see problems when they first arise and deal with them quickly. For example, Classroom 2.0 has an evolving need to manage the participation of commercial vendors in the network. (No one wants to come some place to have questions answered or to talk about something and be bombarded by ads.)

    Being polite matters. Setting boundaries matters. Improving the network matters. You have to learn from the users, let them know you are learning from them, and make things better. Be transparent and authentic. Facilitate, help, encourage, console, understand, and support. Help to create a culture or feeling or tenor for the network.
I'm sure there are many other lessons, but these are the ones we covered and that filled two pages of notes in my little Paper 1.0 notebook. :) I hope they help you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Classroom 2.0 Growing Fast

There's been a surprising increase in traffic to Classroom 2.0 in the last few weeks.  It hit 4,000 visitors in one day a couple of weeks ago, and then before I could acknowledge that milestone it has gotten over 5,000 visitors a day a few times in the last week or so.  This is up from about 2,500 visitors a day at the end of last year.   

The network is also getting almost 500 new members a week now, compared with roughly 200 per week pretty consistently for the last few months.  We hit 17,000 members yesterday.

I sense that there may be increased visibility both of "Web 2.0" and "social networking" as more mainstream ideas, and of Classroom 2.0 as an easy entry point for both.  I also wonder if it's being used at workshops or conferences as an example of how social networking can be productive for professional development.  I'd welcome any other thoughts on what might be going on.

Tom Friedman and Don Tapscott Recordings Posted

The recordings of the Tom Friedman (author of The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded) and Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital) speaking live via Skype to the students at the Flat Classrooms Conference in Doha, Qatar have been posted on the Future of Education network and can be found HERE.

Many thanks to the Dave Cormier at for getting a much better recording of Tom Friedman than I managed to get!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Report on Future of Education Qatar Event

I've delayed posting the audio recording of the first Future of Education "event" because, honestly, it was disappointing and I want a chance to sort it out. We were so close to a great event and yet...

First, we had a direct connection to the Skype call with Tom Friedman, but the microphone in Qatar was not muted during the call and it was often very hard to hear Mr. Friedman. I'm currently listening to the recording from (Dave Cormier was also on the call and recording) to see if it's better than mine. I'll post or link to the better of the two.

The video conference of the debate was, if possible, even more painful. Those of us live in Philadelphia were supposed to participate in the Q&A at the end, but the combination in Qatar of a presumably inexpensive webcam with trying to pick up sound from their large auditorium left us with no real alternative but to disengage from feed and just hold a local discussion in Philadelphia. Actually, it was the last 30 - 40 minutes when we were having that discussion in Philly that I found--and I think most will find--really engaging.

This was not the kick-off event that I had hoped for! However, the technical issues were somewhat out of our control, and you'll notice that the video and audio from our side were quite good and that Elluminate is a really good platform for this kind of thing. And on the really positive side, I've made several connections here at the Educon 2.1 conference that are going to make for GREAT upcoming interviews!

The link to the full Elluminate recording of both hours is You can fast-forward in this recording or just to specific points. I'll post the audio-only when I figure out which is the best recording.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Update: Live Stream of Tom Friedman Remarks

Our kick-off event for Future of Education tomorrow (January 24th) will start an hour early in order to "simulcast" remarks being made by Tom Friedman, author of The World is Flat, to the students at the Flat Classrooms Conference in Doha, Qatar.   More details at

Here's the updated schedule:

Date: Saturday, January 24, 2009

6am Pacific / 9am Easter / 2pm GMT: Live stream of Tom Friedman addressing students (international times here)
7am Pacific / 10am Eastern / 3pm GMT: Flat Classroom Debates begin (international times here).

Location: In Elluminate. Log in at The Elluminate room will be open up to 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early.

To make sure you computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit Video, audio, and chat recordings will be posted here after the show.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Future of Education Kicks Off (Officially) with the Flat Classrooms Debate

Come join the first official event at the Future of Education: "The Flat Classroom Debates" live from Qatar and Philadelphia on Saturday, January 24th, 2009. The debate topic is: "Education systems successfully prepare students for flat world global challenges."

Facilitated by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, this session is a virtual link-up with the Flat Classroom Conference in Doha, Qatar and Educon 2.1 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. This event is also our official kick-off event for our interview series, sponsored by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation and with support from Elluminate!

There will an opportunity for audience members from all parts of the world to interact with the teams and ask questions. There will also be a final poll to determine a winning team of the debate. More information is at Flat Classrooms.

Our Elluminate session will be open an hour early if beginners want help, and in the hopes of re-streaming a Thomas Friedman interview taking place on EdTechTalk.

Date: Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time: Saturday, January 24th, 7am Pacific / 10am Eastern / 3pm GMT (International Times here).

Location: In Elluminate. Click through to the event page at Future of Education to log in up to 60 minutes before the event.

To make sure you computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit Video, audio, and chat recordings will be posted here after the show.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

PBS Teachers and Classroom 2.0 Webinar Series Kicks Off

PBS Teachers® and Classroom 2.0 are partnering on a series of free monthly webinars designed to help preK-12 educators learn new ways to integrate online instructional resources in the classroom and engage students in curriculum lessons. The webinar series features leading education experts, authors, and PBS producers who will discuss timely and relevant curriculum-related topics, and share their knowledge and ideas on using digital media to create rich learning experiences for students

Our first event will be "Changing Views of History, Changing Views of Race" with speaker Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Dr. Gates will discuss how Americans’ understanding of President Lincoln and African American history and culture continues to evolve, and ways to approach this topic with students. Dr. Gates is the host of the documentary “Looking for Lincoln,” which premieres in February. The program addresses the controversies surrounding Lincoln about race, equality, religion, politics, and depression by carefully interpreting the evidence from those who knew him and those who study him today.

To join the event and get the link to the Elluminate meeting room, go to  All our events are "beginner-friendly," and there are instructions on this page for getting set up to attend.  For those outside of the U.S. there is a link to a specific time-conversion page in my comments.  

Elluminate is helping to sponsor this event by providing the meeting space.   For more information on them and their "three for free" web-conferencing solution (VRoom) please visit

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Future of Education: The New Secretary of Education's Five Questions

I want to encourage you to share your thoughts on the new "Future of Education" Community.

I've started this  community to provide an opportunity for those who care about education to share their voices and ideas on charting the course of education in a networked world. It's a place for thoughtful discussion on an incredibly important topic. The site will launch officially at the end of the month with the start of a weekly interview series, but I'm inviting some participation now because of an email Carol Broos sent out.

Carol is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on January 21. She was sent the following questions, and is asking for feedback and ideas. You can respond either at the new site or her wiki at Here are the questions:

1. What is the one most important education issue you wish Secretary Duncan to focus on during his tenure and why?
2. How shall the tenets of the No Child Left Behind act be altered or invigorated? What are its positives? How can its negatives be improved?
3. How should the new administration respond to the nation’s need for better prepared and more qualified teachers?
4.What should the new administration do to increase student engagement in mathematics, the sciences and the arts?
5. How should funding equity issues be addressed?

There is also a discussion topic on what questions were not asked that might have been.

Thank you so much for helping Carol. If you like the idea of this site, and would like to help or have any ideas, please let me know at

[Driving into the unknown photo by]

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

NEA Article on Social Networking for Educators

The National Education Association just published an article by Cindy Long in their January issue and online about the use of social networking for educators. It's an excellent article (I am biased since since I'm prominently quoted) and it helps to show just how far we have come in thinking about social networking as a positive educational tool. (updated link 1/28/09)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Classroom 2.0 New Weekly LIVE "Web Meeting" and 2008 Wrap-up Links

On the Classroom 2.0 LIVE site ( I've put the show archives for our recent "What We Learned in 2008" year-end wrap-up. Find them at We had over 160 people attend from all over the world!

This coming Saturday, January 10th, Peggy George and Kim Caise will be hosting our first 2009 Classroom 2.0 LIVE web meeting. Classroom 2.0 "LIVE" meetings are an opportunity to gather with other member of the community in real-time events, complete with audio, chat, desktop sharing, and sometimes even video. A Google Calendar of shows (along with other popular ones you might like) is available at

The topic this Saturday is: "Tips/Tools for Using and Managing Social Networks." The Newbie Question of the Week will be: "What is a PLN and why do I need one?" (Hint: PLN stands for Personal Learning Network!) The show lasts an hour, and links for more information and logging on are below. The shows are especially beginner-friendly, and if you've never participated in a live web meeting, don't be afraid to come and "lurk." See the website if you want to suggest future show topics!

Date: Saturday, January 10, 2009
Time: 9:00am PST/10:00am MST/11:00am CST/12:00pm EST
Other time zones link, the link to the actual meeting room, and the resource article are at

Happy New Year!