Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Social Networking in Physics

Last year I tried to start a class blog with Blogger and this didn't end up working out so well. Many students had trouble joining the blog and I kept forgetting to assign students to update it. So I ended up scrapping it. I really liked the idea, so this year I resurrected it as a social network rather than a simple blog.

I'm using Ning.com, which is a site you can use to set up your own social network on any topic. I'd give you a link to it, but it's set to private in-order to keep it to only my students and to allay any parent concerns about safety.

My Goals for Ning:
  1. Engage the students more with the material.
  2. Show students the power of Social Networking. Most of my students do some sort of social networking. Some may even know how to use it as a tool for learning. By the end of the year I hope all of my students will know how to do this.
  3. Begin investigating online portfolios.
How Will I accomplish my Goals:
  1. Engagement: Students today are online a lot. I want to leverage their interest in the internet and MySpace/Facebook. I'm hoping that by tying my class to a social network I may be able to excite them in ways I can't do in class.
  2. Power: I will be encouraging them to share ideas and ask questions through the social network. We are building a community of learning here and we can only do that if they are helping each other. Every day a student (from each class) will post a summary of the notes/activities for the day. This should help while preparing for exams as well as aid those students who are absent.
  3. Portfolios: Students can upload pictures and videos. I will be encouraging them to do this often. I'm not sure Ning is the right platform for a personal portfolio and I'm not sure I want to require a formal portfolio. That said, I will be asking students to document much of their work and to share that documentation through Ning.
I started the Ning page on March 13th, 2007 to see if I might be able to use it in my physics class. I invited the first students to participate on August 30th of the same year. Today is September 26th. The site has been up and running for just over three weeks. So far there have been no real problems.

Cool Stuff/observations tus far:
  • On the first day (Aug. 30), while I was having students take my survey and begin setting up their Ning accounts there was a fun bit. During one class we all were so involved we did not notice what time it was. Suddenly the bell rang and there was an audible groan from the entire class. They were disappointed that they had to leave my class!!! Now I know they were just playing and we hadn't engaged with any physics material, but when they can associate fun with my class...
  • A couple of students had questions related to a home-lab using trigonometry. They asked their questions in the comment section of my blog post. There was some discussion and questions were answered correctly before I ever saw them. I somehow missed the activity altogether until after the assignment was due. This is exactly the sort of activity I was hoping for.
Other Notes of Interest:
  • Most of my students have already personalized their profile pages. They've changed the themes to match themselves. When I look at the profile pages in the other Ning networks I'm a member of (Clasroom2.0 and MACULSpace) I don't see this. Very few educators seem to have personalized their profile pages.
  • Many students seem to use the comment section on the profile pages as a replacement for a chat client and/or text messaging. While setting up Ning access I had one student tell me he never uses email at all. When he wants to communicate with others online he uses MySpace.
Here's a quick video I put together for a faculty meeting to introduce this and another project I'm undertaking this year.

2 comments:

Gabriela Sellart said...

I followed the link in your profile in the talk about Ning to be held tonight (for me, in Argentina, actually midnight).I like your article, I like the way you express your goals together with your uncertainties.
About that disappointment at having to leave the class, the same happened to me with my students and I also commented on it in my blog.
I hope to read a follow up.
gabriela

Shannon said...

I'm always looking for new, innovative ways to teach my students. I teach both an offline and an online class, though my work prevents me from being able to teach offline, at a site, more than once a week. So I am learning that teaching online and through email and social networking sites is really not a bad way to go. A lot of my students are looking to take multiple courses in the same subject at once, so I direct them to places where they can find aggregations of online programs, like eLearners and CampusExplorer. Your experiences ring true for me because I understand the frustration of having to leave class or of not being able to show up to teach a schedules night class. Thankfully, the internet and technology, and particularly social networking sites like Facebook allow me to stay in touch with my students and still deliver their material to them. Good blog.