Over 200 Kids in our Social Experiment


Its been several weeks since I posted and undoubtedly the main reason why is because of the social network we are testing out at my online school. Plain and simple, its time consuming.

Really time consuming…. but worth it.

Last school year I began running groups through Facebook as a way to extend my classroom and get more kids actively engaged. Then I moved to my own Ning network the first semester of this year. It was all volunteer and I was only able to get about 30 of my online kids to sign up. There just wasn’t enough energy created with such a small group of kids in the network.

In January, I decided that I wanted to expand the network and run a pilot program with several other teachers. We all invited our students, over 500 out of the 725 at our school, and the network began expanding rapidly. With that expansion come quirks and frustrations, but there is something really great going on in our student network. We have 205 students right now and more are joining everyday as the word gets out. Here are some of my initial Pros and Cons after 4 weeks of operation.

Pros:
1. At an online school there isn’t much opportunity for socializing. Our network is really helping to fill that void for some students.
2. Students are starting their own groups. There is a writing group, a music group, a teen help group and many more. Really cool stuff happening there.
3. Students have an opportunity to help each other with school. Before the network, you basically had to randomly meet someone on campus who just happened to be in your online course, or blindly email them from that course, if you wanted to contact them. Now we have a place where kids can communicate about their classes, teachers and other school related issues.
4. While there have been some music uploads and some innapropriate language, for the most part kids are taking ownership of this network and not misusing it.

Cons:
1. It takes a ton of time. I am logged into the network all day and night until bed. The main issues are moderating comments. We have to be careful students aren’t blatantly misusing the network because our parent complaints could cause admin to shut us down at any moment. Its a BIG job monitoring the network with that responsibility.
2. We have some quirky computer issues at our school. Since students come once a week for 4 hours, at any given time there is about 80 kids on campus. They are all using thin clients which connect to several main servers. When a student in Classroom A is on Odyssey of the Mind, another student in Classroom C could log into the first persons account. Beyond teaching kids to sign out of webpages when they are finished with them, not sure how this is fixable. Its a hardware issue that I have no control over or suggestions of how to work around. yuck!

I can only think of two cons, thats pretty good :)

Right now the teachers involved in OOTM are letting the kids get accustomed to the network and socialize. This is a very good thing and helps lay the foundation for what we can do with them once they have bought into the value of this network. However, pretty soon I would like to get kids more actively involved in their course work. Our assistant principal is doing a fantastic job of this with his Government class and has set a good example of what we can do in the near future.

I’m not sure its enough that we have the network just to allow kids to feel more connected to our school. I’m not sure the network is doing everything it can if we only create community. Those are big, but not quite enough. We have to use the network to really get our kids learning on a collaborative level.

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