Which Social Network/CMS Should I Use Next Year?

Recently, I have written quite a bit about social networking with students for the book that I am trying to write. I’ve also found out that I may be returning to the classroom next year with a high school teaching job in Massachusetts. While I can’t offer any details on it yet, as nothing is even close to finalized, I am already thinking about the policies, procedures, and ideas I would implement next year. For those new to this blog, I am currently a library media specialist in Clarksville, TN. I absolutely love my job, my coworkers, and my students, but my wife and I would like to be a little closer to our family in NJ.

One area that I’ve been giving some thought about is what I how I would setup an online space for students using a social network or course management system (also know as Virtual Learning Environment or VLE, or Learning Management System or LMS). I have some expertise in using course management system having studied its use intensely in post-graduate work and using it in my class for two years before I became a library media specialist. I have some ideas, but this post is fairly exploratory in nature and I would appreciate your feedback in the comments to help me decide. I know that I have time, but it’s in my nature to make plans.

The Frontrunner

Moodle had been my first love with educational technology and really helped me to rethink my teaching style as a new teacher. It is a full-featured course management system that I use to run blended and online classes. Next year it would be blended and function as an extension of the classroom. It is open-source, which means it is completely free and extensible. In addition, it integrates easily with the open-source e-portfolio software Mahara, which is a plus. Moodle has a plethora of course formats and activities; since it is built on a foundation of social constructivism, all the activities involve students discovering or building knowledge and learning from each other. My main concern is that Moodle is becoming too plain for students used to Facebook. While Moodle is getting a face lift this summer with 2.0, it still lacks the social aspect of some of the other options I’m considering. If I do end up going with Moodle, I’ll definitely be watching @lasic’s presentation, “Forums: the Heart of Moodle.”

The Obvious Choice

I’m referring to Facebook when I say the obvious choice. I think of it as obvious for two reasons. First, it is nearly ubiquitous with over 300 million users. At least 2/3 of my students are on Facebook. So, I would not have to deal with maintaining logins and passwords as most would already have one. I would set myself up a second, professional Facebook account as I use mine for friends and family and setup a fan page for the class. Second, students are much more likely to check school work on a site that they already check everyday than if they have to go to another site. In addition, there are some educational apps and forums that @rrmurry showed me that have some real potential. I would have to work on how to optimize the experience for students.

Short and Sweet

I have been on Twitter for about 11 months, I believe. It has been one of the best learning experiences of my life. I would like to give the students the same experience. However, I know that there may be concerns among parents or administrators with Twitter being completely public. Edmodo also allows for microblogging with extra educational features such as polls, assignments, and grades. For class microblogging though, I really like StatusNet. StatusNet is open-source and the most widely known installation is Identi.ca. I can customize to my class, keep it as private as I want, and authenticate the users through a common database with Moodle so I can use both and have students only need to remember one username and password.

The Forgotten Child

Ning is an interesting and powerful platform that allows you to have your own private social network. It has the social aspect down and is appealing to students. My main issue is that there doesn’t seem to be anything that Ning can do that Moodle cannot do better with more features. Now, I have not used Ning, so it is likely that I am missing something. If so, please let me know in the comments. Ning’s appearance and feel is better than Moodle’s, but if that is the most important thing, then I would go with Facebook.

What do you think? What are you using or planning to use? I know that there are other options I have forgotten, so please let me know what choice or combination you think would work best with students in the comments.

  • http://www.nicksenger.com/blog Nick Senger

    I had modest success with Moodle and greater success with Ning with my 8th graders. Ning was easier to customize and had fewer bugs. Also, I followed Ning’s instructions to get the ads removed, and within a week my class site was ad-free.

    The students loved Ning, and the privacy controls were fairly easy to use. Of course, Moodle has online assignments that can be graded immediately, and Ning doesn’t have that. But for communication, blogging, and sharing resources, I loved the simplicity of Ning.

    I’m not using it this year since our school invested in a complete online admin/communication product from Sycamore Leaf. It’s not as pretty, but it allows the school to do attendance, grading, report cards, communication, etc.

    You might also look at Edmodo.com. I liked what I saw when I sampled it a year or so ago.
    .-= Nick Senger´s last blog ..A New Journey – Writing Workshop in the Digital Age =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Nick,
    Thanks for the tips. That’s what I was looking for about Ning. Simple is often best and the fact that the students loved Ning speaks volumes about the product. I’ll have to take another look at it.
    .-= Jason Bedell´s last blog ..Which Social Network/CMS Should I Use Next Year? =-.

  • http://www.edvance360.com Cathy Garland

    You may want to look into Edvance360, formerly Scholar360. It has all the course management tools (e.g. Gradebook, Lessons, etc.) plus learning management system tools (i.e. more focused on the learning process) as well as Web 2.0 tools and a secure social network. I find that though students are on Facebook, I don’t necessarily want to be “friends” with them on it. And, some parents are concerned with the security aspect. Try it, I think you will like it. It sounds like it will have everything you are looking for.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Cathy,
    Thanks for the tip. If we used Facebook, I would definitely setup a “Fan page” for the class and make a separate, professional Facebook account to use with students. Can you tell me if there is a cost to Edvance360? It sounds like a great tool, but as an individual teacher, I am not in a position to make purchases. If it’s open-source or free, I can install and use it on my own server.