How Ning Social Networks Can Improve University Classes

SHORT SUMMARY:

Powerful, intuitive social media tools aren’t just for marketing. They represent and facilitate fundamental shifts in human interaction—shifts that can improve university learning. The Ning social network we used in our BYU Comms230 class this semester was a useful tool that was wholeheartedly embraced and endorsed by class members.

>>> 43 out of 43 students said such a network would be helpful in ALL of their classes.

>>> The following few quotes represent hundreds of positive comments from class members:

“The network took class discussions and extended them into online conversations.”

“Seeing my classmates’ work sparked my own ideas.”

“The professor has talked a lot this semester about building a personal online brand. Blogging has helped me do that.”

“I got many more insights through sharing ideas on blog posts.”

“The network unified our class and facilitated communication.”

“I was motivated to submit higher quality work because I knew my peers would see it.”

“It’s simple. I don’t have to print assignments. I can get things done from anywhere. It’s quick. The communication is instant.”

“Everything I need for class is in one spot—the calendar, syllabus, class video stream, lecture slides, and quick ability to contact classmates, the professor, and the TA.”

“My questions are answered and my comments acknowledged much quicker than in regular classes.”

“Blogging forced me to think. I wasn’t just memorizing material.”

“Blogging has helped me feel like I have a jump on the industry because I’m actually in it.”

“It was really motivating to me to make my blog posts good so that others would respond to them.”

“Comments left on the posts unified the class, and we were able to bounce ideas off each other.”

“Blogging made me think, and put those thoughts into words. When you have to explain yourself to others it makes you dig deeper and find out why you think that way.”

“Yes. I recommend it for other classes. The world is more technologically savvy. Students must be too.”

“Blackboard is functional, but the Ning network is fun and so much more interactive.”

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FULL POST:

I JUST COMPLETED AN ENLIGHTENING FOUR-MONTH EXERCISE in the Comms230 class I teach at Brigham Young University.

At the beginning of the semester, I designed and built (with the help of our Lava7 team) a simple Ning social network as the foundation for class activities. My goal was to not only funnel day-to-day class functionality through the network, but to also better connect the students and enhance their learning experience.

There are 49 students in my class. Last week I asked them to pull out a piece of paper and answer three questions. It’s important to note that the students DID NOT put their names on their papers. I asked them to be candid and honest in their responses, as their feedback would be completely anonymous.

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The three questions I asked were open ended:

1. What did you like, or not like, about the Ning social network we used this semester for our class?

2. What did you like, or not like, about blogging on our Ning network this semester.

3. Do you think this type of social network would be useful in your other classes? Why, or why not?

43 students were in attendance that day and submitted their feedback below. I’ve also included some screen captures, with captions:

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ClassFiles3

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Question #1: What did you like, or not like, about the Ning social network we used this semester for our class?

Nearly every answer to this question fell into one of the following two general categories:

>>> Responses that centered on subject engagement, class connections, and learning. Here’s a sampling:

“Seeing my classmates’ work sparked my own ideas.”

“The thing I liked best was that the network took the class discussion and extended it into online conversations.”

“I liked seeing other students’ posts. Normally, you only get to see your own assignments. With Ning I got so many more insights through sharing ideas on blog posts.”

“The network unified our class.”

“The Ning network motivated me to submit higher quality work because I knew my peers would see it.”

“I felt like I was always involved in an ongoing discussion.”

“I feel like the network gives me a connection to the students and to the professor outside of class.”

“I got to know people better in the class.”

“The Ning network helped me connect with the class and stay on top of things. It facilitated communication.”

>>> Responses that revolved around ease-of-use and practical application. Here’s a sampling:

“It’s simple. I don’t have to worry about printing assignments. I can just upload and get things done from anywhere. It’s quick. The communication was instant.”

“Easy to use, visually appealing, clean design, easy to save my work, customizable.”

“Makes it easy to turn homework in.”

“I only have to check the network to find assignment instructions, class notes, and when to turn things in.”

“I like that blog posting was so easy to do.”

“Everything I needed for class (except the textbook, of course) was in one spot. I knew where to go to always find the calendar, syllabus, the class video stream, the lecture slides, and to make contact with classmates, the professor, and the TA.”

“I liked being able to download the class slides.”

“Streaming the class is a very good idea.”

“The Ning network has been extremely useful.”

“The Ning network saves trees.”

“Everything was very clear and organized on the network, making it very usable.”

“My questions are answered much quicker and my comments were acknowledged faster than in regular classes.”

>>> There were four suggestions for improvement:

“With so many posts, ad files, and comments sometimes the main stream seemed disorganized. Maybe there is a way to divide that up.”

“I didn’t like that I couldn’t direct message someone inside Ning until they were a ‘friend’ on the network.”

“I would like it if Ning could send me a reminder when something is due the next day.”

“It was hard to go back and find a specific blog post without looking through a bunch of them.”

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Home

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Question #2: What did you like, or not like, about blogging on our Ning network this semester.

Nearly every answer fell into one of the following two general categories:

>>> Answers that centered around subject engagement and classmate feedback. Here’s a sampling:

“I loved blogging. It made me think creatively about advertising throughout the week. I noticed lots of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“Blogging got me involved with the subjects.”

“Blogging forced me to think about what I was learning. I wasn’t just memorizing material.”

“Blogging helped me analyze the media around me.”

“The blog was a great way to get the class involved in advertising.”

“The blog made me think about what I was actually contributing—not just turning in assignments.”

“Blogging pushed me to think more about what we were doing in class. It helped me analyze things more.”

“Blogging has helped me feel like I have a jump on the industry because I’m actually in it.”

“It helped me synthesize what I’ve learned.”

“Normally, on my own blog, I feel like nobody is listening. On our Ning network I get responses and I like that.”

“It let me know what the class was thinking.”

“It was really motivating to me to make my blog posts good so that others would respond to them.”

“Comments left on the posts unified the class, and we were able to bounce ideas off each other.”

“I like the commenting that was done by classmates on my blog posts.”

“Blogging made the class more fun and interesting.”

>>> Responses related to personal branding and personal growth. Here’s a sampling:

“The professor has talked a lot this semester about building a personal brand online and I think the blog helped me do that.”

“I liked blogging because it made me think, and put those thoughts into words. When you have to explain yourself to others it really makes you dig deeper into your opinions and find out why you think that way.”

“Blogging helped me form personal opinions on many things.”

“It was great to learn firsthand how helpful a blog can be in building your personal brand.”

“Blogging made me think. It stretched me.”

“I liked blogging. Sometimes it was hard to think of something to write about, but it made me search around and think. Eventually I would come up with something cool, and then end up writing way too much.”

>>> There was one suggestion for improvement:

“One improvement, I think, would be to give a general topic each week for everyone to blog about.”

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POST1
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Question 3: Do you think this type of social network would be useful in your other classes? Why, or why not?

>>> I think it’s quite remarkable that 100% (43 of 43) of the respondents answered “yes” to the question above. Here’s a sampling of the comments:

“I wish all of my classes used Ning instead of Blackboard or Brainhoney. It personalizes the class and provides an easy means to get information and communicate with others.”

“I helps me stay on top of things and is WAY better than Blackboard.”

“It’s more interactive than Blackboard. Easier to talk to people and stay up to date.”

“I liked it. I would implement it in other classes. Way better than Blackboard.”

“I wish all of my classes had this kind of network. It made my life a lot easier.”

“Yes. I recommend it for other classes. The world is more technologically savvy. Students must be too.”

“It could be useful in all my classes if the professor or TA keeps it up and does a good job of managing it.”

“Blackboard is functional, but the Ning network is fun and so much more interactive.”

“It was fun to use.”

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The following seven components of our Ning social network were especially useful in our class:

– Class Lecture Files w/ Video Stream

– Class Blog

– Embedded Calendar

– Syllabus Tab

– Assignments Tab

– Discussion Forum

– Project Groups

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Conclusion:

Powerful, intuitive social media tools aren’t just for marketing. They represent and facilitate fundamental shifts in human interaction—shifts that can improve university learning.

There are many other questions that would have to be answered before Ning could replace tools like Blackboard. And maybe it shouldn’t. Perhaps a better way to think about this is to use Ning networks for the things they do best, and leave other functions (such as managing class rolls, grades, etc.) to tools like Blackboard.

If you’d like to kick around the site, here is the >LINK.

I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions. Please respond in the comments section below. Thanks.

Forum

5 Responses

04.08.10

Your Comments

Hey, I’m in. I just need a tremendous amount of training to use it all. You’ll revolutionize how we all teach here in the advertising sequence. How do you re-purpose the site for the next semester?

My family uses Ning to communicate. It was great for awhile, then it faded. Every once we have a resurgence. I’d like to figure out how to keep it going.

04.08.10

Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I am happy to help you set this up. I don’t know about “revolutionizing” anything, but it is a great tool.

04.08.10

Thanks for your comment, Yong. I really enjoy following all the things you are doing in the education space right now. I will try to join your Monday discussions more often.

[…] Social Network in the Classroom Posted on July 22, 2010 by kahoutech “How Ning Social Networks Can Improve University Classes,” discusses the use of social media in a Communications class at Brigham Young University. It […]

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