ning

Time has run out for NING

Let me begin by saying that nobody owes anybody a free tool, and that schools aren’t always the best customers. Money is always tight and anyway the teachers don’t have their hands on the credit card; that’s down in the Bursar’s office because we’re happy to trust our children with you, but not our credit card!

Anyway, the NING experience is a salutary one. We had a good little NING network going (NING allowed you to create a mini-social network of your own) It was the Breakfast Group and consisted of a group of teachers from various schools who met twice a term to talk about effective teaching and learning. The NING was good.27 teachers all good and true.  We could have groups, messages, post pictures, send out agendas and answer questions. A bit like Facebook for grown-ups. It was working.

And then it all went horribly wrong.

First NING announced they were changing their ‘business model’ and no longer offering free accounts. Please select a plan, they said. There was much outpouring of angst and much gnashing of teeth from groups who’d set up sometimes very large networks. Educators pleaded. Can you give us a free ride? I think NING agreed, but only for US based groups. The rest of the world would have to pay their way.

Which we tried to do. Ever tried to work out how to send a cheque to a website in America?  They’re not used to dealing in paper facsimiles of cash, and schools don’t like giving credit card details to funnily named fly by night web 2.0 entrepreneurs. So we were stuck.

We did eventually manage to find a physical location owe could send a check, and find a well hidden page in the Ning website that explained that, and persuaded the powers-that-be at school to write and cheque, and post it.

Except that, as the weeks went by, NING kept warning us that time was running out, and I kept emailing them saying ‘we paid already!!!’ Repeat. Repeat. Until they closed it down, never cashed the cheque and never responded.

And therein lies the lesson! Or, as Mary Shelley put it in one of the Lit books I’ve been teaching this year (Frankenstein):

“Unhappy man!  Do you share my madness?  Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught?  Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!”

The moral of my tale? You can’t trust the cloud! They blow away. And you can’t build a professional network on free tools and promises from a zany young web-guru from San Francisco. Attractive and shiny as those tools are.

And here ends the sermon.

 

Oh,oh!!! I know time is running out. Can’t you please cash our cheque?

The end of Ning

One of the worrying things about ‘free’ online tools is that one day you may have to pay the price. Which is what is happening at the moment with NING, an online tool that educators have taken a lot of interest in,which announced last month it would be discontinuing its free service.

It took me a little while to understand the potential power of being able to create your own social networking site but once I ‘got it’, I saw the power. I’ve talked a bit here about some of the Nings I’ve joined and even some I’ve created. Some haven’t worked. For example, the Ning I created for me and my cycling mates was a total disaster with interest level petering along about the level of my puncture stories. I wont even link to it; it’s too embarrassing.

But, some have been great. I created a Ning for a network meeting that I attend twice a term and it’s worked really well. The Expanding Learning Horizon Conference Ning was very handy and the ASCD Conference ‘Edge’ website, modelled on the Ning ideas, was better and more useful than the official website. So, I understand now.

But some day you’ve got to pay the piper, and last month Ning announced it was discontinuing its free service in favour of a paid model. Bad. Bad for me and time I’ve put into my cycling site and the network site, but worse for large, well developed Nings like Classroom 2.0 which currently has over 42000 members. I guess you could say that with that many members the site should be paying (and maybe they are) but bad for those people who’ve invested time and energy and content into something that is now likely to disappear. The screenshots below from Classroom 2.0 show it as a lively and interesting place.

Ning’s latest blog posting ‘Mythbusters‘, sounded just a little defensive to me as they tried to claim that they would still have a model for educational and non-profit organisations. We’ll see next week.

Meanwhile, don’t start any new Nings until you see their new pricing plans and be aware that some of the tools we’ve all become pretty reliant on (Gmail, Wikispaces, Wetpaint etc.) might one day decide they want to update their business model or simply fold up the tent and slip into the night.

I’d be worried about Wetpaint next. Take a look at the most recent look of my Peninsula Creeks Wetpaint site. A giant, inappropriately contextualised ad for ‘Glee’ and Google Ads taking over the navigation space down the left hand side. Hmm. Maybe we’ll all go back to building our own web pages again. Now, where’s that book on HTML got to? And, WordPress and this blog is safe. Isn’t it?

New Tools

I’ve commented on Twitter about a couple of these things but I thought it worth detailing here some web 2.0 tools that I’ve been impressed with lately and that have become party of my daily work on the web.

NING

Ning is a tool for you to create your own social network.  I didn’t get it at first. I thought: what for? Do I really want to compete with Facebook? I envisaged maybe using it as a site to connect the extended family. I tried once to set up a multi-user blog on WordPress for the family and half of them failed the login test! So I turned to myfamily as an easier alternative.

But recently I started using NING in a couple of different contexts; a group of like-minded cyclists first up, then in a network of learning technology teachers. It began to make sense. Forums, multiple blogs, pictures, videos, even chat. You can set up a network in a few minutes, and teachers are beginning to use it with their students.

NING describe NING like this:

Ning empowers people to create and discover new social experiences for the most important people and interests in their lives.

Ning was started with a simple premise: when people have the freedom to create a new social experience online, uniquely customized for the most important people and interests in their lives with no effort, no cost, and infinite choice, the world is a better, more colorful and certainly more interesting place in which to live.

With Ning, people are creating new social experiences that are:

* Infinitely customizable
* Beautifully designed
* Easily created and moderated

By providing people with a better way to discover and stay connected to the most important people and interests in their life, Ning represents a new chapter in how people create, organize, and communicate online.

Tonight I joined Classroom 2.0 Ning, ‘the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.’ I thought I’d give them support and join in; then realised they have 24,000 members in that network already! Okay, maybe I was wrong about Ning.

ning_classroom2

Transferr

Transferr is a pretty way to organise your favourite web sites as icons on your start up screen. They say:

Transferr is an online application which allows you to add your favorite websites as icons to your own personal page. You can customise your icons with colors, share them with friends and drag and drop them to keep them in order. You can also organise your icons into tabs which allows for your own organised system

Okay, I know that Safari and Chrome do something like this by default, but it’s only the sites you most often visit, not necessarily the ones you want to keep in your head. And what about the tabs you can create with pages on things that interest you? Note below I’ve got tabs on cycling, shopping, tek, curriculum etc. To be honest, I tried this out thinking it would last about a week. But it’s been over a month now and I’m still using it.

A long while ago now I created my own start.htm page using Dreamweaver, based on the simple Craigslist template. A couple of colleagues along the way have asked how I did it and wanted one themselves, but couldn’t be bothered with the html. I can now show them this.

transferr

Jing

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the need to create some screencasts and went out looking for the best tools. One of the wikis I’ve been working on has as its audience member of the public often with very low tech skills. I needed to SHOW some users how to edit a page, insert an image, link to other pages.

Jing is a great solution. A free tool that allows you to create screen shots or screencasts up to five minutes long.

They say:

Elegant and simple, Jing’s minimal feature set keeps the focus on instant sharing. We think it’s the perfect companion to the casual, fast-paced online conversations we all have every day.

It works beautifully, has a pro version if you want more features, and links to Camtasia if you really want to get into editing it all. But,  as a simple tool for capturing screenshots or movies, it’s hard to beat.

There’s a number of YouTube videos around showing how it works. (search JingProject) This is one:

I would talk about Feedly too, a Firefox extension that works with Google Reader to create a magzine like start page, but I’m not qualified. I just started looking at it today. I love it already, and will talk about that some other time.

Andrew Douch on redefining classroom

I was at a network meeting this week where Andrew Douch presented on ‘Redefining classroom’.

Andrew is an innovative classroom teacher who has been the recipient of several big awards, including 2008 Microsoft Australia Innovative Teacher of the Year.

A Biology teacher in a regional High School, Andrew traced his personal journey with learning technologies, with a particular focus on podcasting. He began with a class website, added a discussion board the next year, got into podcasting his course (he now gets around 30,000 downloads per episode) and finally into using SMS, Voicemail, Skype, mobile phones and Ning.

I could almost feel the reservations in the school leaders in the audience around me (‘hmm, but what if…’ and ‘there’s no way that I could get that going with my teachers’ etc…). Douch is a charismatic character and obviously loved by his students but he freely admits he’s also been given great freedom in his role as an ‘innovator’.

However, the mood changed when he put up his Biology results as seen in VCE scores: almost all his students above the ‘expected’ grade and a clear and consistent improvement in overall achievement through each year of his implementation of these technologies. As Claxton was saying the other day, ‘it’s not either or’.

Andrew also told us about the number of students beyond his own classroom that regularly listen to his podcast, ask questions about the course or interact in online discussions. He raised an idea that I’ve heard before; that in the not too distant future students will increasingly ‘shop around’ for expert teachers and will want to attend their classes virtually. It raises implications for teaching and for schools, and redefines the classroom.

I haven’t really played around with NING an will take a look, but I did come away inspired to look again the possibilities of audio and podcasting, something I’ve let go in the last year or so.

Andrew talked about using the applications and tools that students wanted to use, were already using and applications you didn’t need to nag them to get into.  After testing hundreds of web 2.0 applications he also told us about his own personal checklist of what a tool should do: will it be time neutral or save time?, will it do something new or better?, is it a space-pen or a pencil (in other words why build an expensive video conferencing suite when you an use Skype on a laptop?), will it getter results?, is it a desire path for students?

Andrew Douch blogs HERE