What is it?
Ning, invites users to "create your own social network for anything." The Ning Blog is full of examples of responses to that invitation. (In fact, use the blog search function to explore the variety of subjects, groups, and uses of Ning.)
Among the range of answers, several are specific to educators and address the use of technology in the classroom. Ning users can create public or password-protected private networks and determine who can view or join. Members of a social network can upload photos and videos, chat and establish discussion forums, create their own blogs, establish RSS feeds, display calendars, and create subgroups within the social network.
At the basic level, Ning is free. The free service does include promotion links and advertisements which can be removed or controlled for a monthly fee.
Note: Ning has announced that on May 4, 2010, its free service will disappear and pricing options will begin. According to a blog announcement, "We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them." Education Week discusses Ning's new policies in Educators Eye Ning's Move to Pay Model (May 4, 2010)
Creating a Ning network is as simple as signing up, providing your name, an email address, and selecting a password. Then, you'll be invited to create a network and to name, subtitle, and describe your Ning network. You can choose whether it's private or public, layout and appearance, and then, once that network is created, begin posting and invite others to join.
Photos, videos, blogs, events, and personal pages are among the options of a Ning Network. Why You'll Love Ning describes some of the possibilities. How Can We Help You answers basic how-to questions.
The Ning website is full of examples of social networks using this open-source program. Teachers find Ning useful for professional sharing and as a classroom management tool.
The majority of class or course Ning projects are password protected; therefore, not publicly viewable. Teachers, however, can link multiple classes via a single Ning, and post assignments, course materials such as handouts, videos, photos, and maps. Students can create their own member pages for assignments, discussion, and blog posts.
Ning, like any tool, can be useful if well-managed; perplexing if not; and one question about its use rests with whether the tool is convenient to you, as the teacher. Sample sites, Ning in Education and Classroom 2.0 offer discussions about Ning and resources for educators interested in collaborative technologies in education. They're good places for asking how other teachers are using Ning and about the pros and cons.
Ning in Education is particularly for teachers who want to set up their own Ning Networks internal to their classrooms. The Forum section provides answers to many common questions, including: what type of information should be given to parents when a Ning Network is launched, the benefits of setting up a Ning Network for teachers and general how-tos. Education in Ning also outlines how Ning Networks created for educational purposes (for grades 7–12) can have the default Google Ads removed.
A blogpost on Classroom 2.0, for example, features teachers discussing various social networking open-source programs in the classroom, including safety and privacy issues.
"Online Social Networking for Educators," an article drawn from the National Education Association (NEA), emphasizes the value of social networking for teachers: it's an excellent communication mechanism within a school or district. A Minnesota literature teacher states, "What I like about social networking is that I can stay in touch with other teaching professionals to share materials, ideas, teaching stories, and sometimes even my gripe of the day."