Thoughts on bells, whistles, and frivolity


Recently, I’ve had  teachers ask me questions about teaching using social networking sites like Ning and,  and I’ve noticed a trend. They like what social networking sites seem to make possible and they want to use technology to increase student engagement, but they’ve expressed concern over the fact that the sites have a lot of bells and whistles. I think they’re concerned that students will confuse the educational sites with the social sites they use outside the classroom.

I understand this concern because I am well aware that students behave inappropriately on sites like Myspace and Facebook, but if you decide to use a site like Schoology or Edmodo (which are cool–don’t get me wrong) because you don’t want to use something that looks too much like Facebook, then aren’t you kind of defeating the purpose? Aren’t you missing out on opportunities to teach appropriate use of social media? If you want to have students create Facebook-like profile pages for characters in a novel you’re studying, but you don’t want to use a site that mimics what Facebook can do because it doesn’t look “educational” … then why bother? If the goal is to increase student engagement then you should use a tool that’s … well … engaging. Shouldn’t you?

Now, I’m not saying Edmodo and Schoology are not engaging. They are. I’ve used Edmodo and my students have thought it was cool. I’ve checked out Schoology and it looks pretty useful too, but you need to really think about what you’re trying to achieve and then choose the best tool for that task.

I’ve had teachers tell me before that they tried blogging with their students but they weren’t really into it. When they tell me what tools they’re using for blogging, then I get it. The tools are boring. Yawn…. Appearance matters, okay?

I think some of the concern comes from teachers worrying that other teachers, administrators, or parents might not think that students are learning when using a site that looks too “social”. My response? Invite those teachers, administrators, and parents to join your site. People fear what they don’t understand (duh), so let them in.

And who says education can’t be fun? Bring on the bells and whistles, I say. 

Most.Shocking.Rose.Ceremony.Ever!, will you accept this rose?

It’s really hard to think about leaving my beloved Nings. Especially since they are so comfortable. But really I have to be realistic here. I can’t afford Ning Plus at $24.99 a month and even if Pearson finally agrees to sponsor my Nings (apparently they’re experiencing a high number of requests. Duh.), I will no longer have access to chat or groups. Also I’d have to moderate every blog post before they appear, and while some teachers may want that, I don’t. is not quite as slick and the kids can’t personalize their profile pages to the same extent that they could on Ning but it’s still pretty good. I’ve had a couple problems migrating my data but they’ve been very quick to respond and very helpful

But I have a confession….

And now we go to commercial.

Just kidding!

Here’s my confession: I will be cheating on with Ning. Truth be told, as exciting as the new guy is, there’s something warm and fuzzy and comfortable about Ning. As Royan so aptly pointed out it’s like I broke up with the perfect boyfriend and now I keep comparing each new guy to him.

Seriously, though, I would like to stay with Ning only because all my stuff’s already there and yes I know I can migrate to, but I already know how to use Ning and I can speak about it with a fair degree of confidence. The problem of course is that while I applied to have all my Nings sponsored by Pearson, I’ve only heard back about one. Ning says that they’re dealing with a high number of requests so I have to be patient. I’ll bet. They say:

If you already submitted a question or issue but haven’t received a response yet, please be patient. We are working as fast as we can to get to your ticket. Submitting the same question multiple times will slow our team down. If your question is related to a sponsorship or billing, please rest assured that we won’t shut down any networks after the August 20 deadline until we’ve responded to your tickets.

Okay.  So I will use for my media class and continue using my Nings for my grade 12 English classes. It isn’t absolutely essential to have chat for my two other classes and it also isn’t absolutely essential that they create subgroups for their book clubs since I want them to look at all the blogs, not just the ones on their books. I’ll just be a little more strict about use of tags. If for some reason Pearson won’t sponsor them I’ll just move over to

So that’s the plan. Two roses. You’ll never see that on The Bachelorette.

As a side note, @markhowe1982 told be about Schoology which I checked out. I think it would be absolutely ideal for teachers who are not techies and have no desire to spend hours geeking out with a new toy. Schoology was super simple to set up. It doesn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles but it’s got blogs, groups, and you can also post assignments and grades (among a few other things). In some ways it reminds me of Edmodo, but Edmodo doesn’t have a blog feature.

Reflections on this semester’s love affair with technology

Othello wordle

I could use the extended metaphor of a torrid romance with a sexy bad boy to describe my experience with technology this semester, but that might a bit overblown and, some might argue, a product of my students’ obsession with Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. Zombies are also trendy right now, but I don’t think brain is equipped to fashion that metaphor right now.

So, let’s get to it.

As I finish up this semester I’ve had some hits and misses. If you’ve read some of my other posts this year (and I know, they have been few and far between. New school, new challenges, new excuses), you’ll know that I approached my classes with year with a kind of outlook that can only be described as naively optimistic. I saw rainbows and puppy dogs everywhere I looked. I assumed my students would be putty in my hands because they were digital natives and I GOT them. So, in summary:

Stumbling blocks:

  • I didn’t consider that other members of the staff might resent the fact that two English classes were scheduled in a computer lab every day when access to computer labs is already at a premium. Not my fault, but it didn’t really matter.
  • Although my students are digital natives, they were not all tech-savvy
  • Although most of my students use social networking sites and web 2.0 apps on a regular basis, a number of them balked at using these tools for educational purposes
  • Many students were opposed to sharing their work (even though many of them are okay with showing inappropriate pictures on facebook!)
  • Some of my students have adopted anti-technology positions in, what I can only assume is, a desire to please authority figures who condemn technology as frivolous or non-academic.
  • Paper: I still need paper for some things, and for some reason I feel like I’m being judged as a bad teacher if my students don’t have any paper handouts. I’m working on it.
  • Oh, and apparently I adopt every new tool that interests me.

Now, for the good news:

  • Some of my students changed their minds. I had a student tell me that initially, he was “creeped-out” by edmodo, because he didn’t really understand what it was. He is a thoughtful cautious student who has taken to heart all the warnings about the dangers of posting too much information about yourself online. As the student learned that social networking sites can be leveraged for positive purposes, he came to love edmodo because he found that he could access assignments and send me messages using a tool he was already using (um, that’s the internet if you’re wondering. Or the “the infornet” as my mother-in-law calls it).  Edmodo has been a huge success. It’s eliminated a great deal of paper–not to mention excuses.
  • Ning: I used Ning for a number of different purposes. At first I didn’t really know how I’d use it (I’m finishing my action research project on this and I’ll post it soon so I won’t go into great detail here), but eventually the most significant use became blogging. Some of my students were skeptical about the Ning at first, but their work stands for itself. They shared and read ideas they would have never otherwise encountered. They also reached much deeper levels of synthesis and analysis because their posts were not “published pieces” in a traditional sense.
  • My website and class blog. I did a pretty good job of updating my class blogs on a daily basis. Now when I scroll back through my posts, I have a wonderful series of snapshots of my semester. It’s fantastic. I never managed to update my “daybook” or planner the way I’ve kept my blog up to date.

In the immortal words of Joss Whedon, “Where do we go from here?” (Oh, Buffy, how I miss you)

  • I’m going to use Ning even more, and try to do even more with student blogging now that I have evidence that supports its effectiveness.
  • Edmodo: I need to do more training at the beginning of the semester so that students use edmodo properly. (How to submit an assignment vs. how to send a link)
  • Use less paper. I can do it!
  • Bring in Diigo. Love Diigo, but didn’t really get a chance to try it.

I think that’s plenty for now. I’ll keep you posted.

I promise.

No really!