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Social Learning With Social Networking Tools Designed Just For Education

by Kelly Walsh on April 3, 2011

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Are you using one of these education-specific Social Learning applications?

Last week’s article, “Facebook in the Classroom. Seriously”, was the first in a series focused on the use of social networking tools in the classroom. I am writing this series of articles as part of my preparation for a presentation on the subject at this year’s Campus Technology 2011 conference. In addition to looking at popular tools like Facebook and Twitter, I also want to be able to recommend a number of worthwhile education-specific platforms.

Using applications that are intended solely for education eliminates concerns about exposing students to the inappropriate types of content found on popular mass market social networking tools.

One challenge in examining these types of tools is that of definition – what makes a tool a “social networking” application? One simple way to define a social networking platform might be, “a tool that lets students, parents, and educators collaborate online”. I would also want to add the requirement that the application allow educators to make pages and forums that are course-specific and not wide open to everyone using the application.

There is a lot of categorical over-lap with online social tools for education. For example, while looking for the best free online Course Management Systems in this recent series of posts, there were sites I came across that marketed themselves as CMS tools, but the functionality they offered seemed to be more focused on providing social networking utility. Another big area for crossover functionality is the Student Information System. There are apps out there that mix elements of online collaboration with elements of traditional CMS and/or SIS software, and even Portal functionality. While specifically categorizing every tool out there is not essential, it does help when discussing which sites do what, and how well each of them provides for these different types of utility.

Below, I take a shot at introducing a handful of tools that I think are best categorized as “Social Learning” tools (a phrase that I think reflects a main goal of using social networking functionality in the education setting). These are all designed for use by educational institutions.

Room 21
Room 21 is a recently launched “21st Century Social Learning Platform”. John Zoccola from Superstar Learning (Room 21’s parent company), recently wrote to me explaining that educators, “are using a new social learning and achievement platform called Room21. It is a Facebook-like environment designed for peer collaboration and to create Learning Communities online.” The site allows all members of the learning community – students, parents, teachers, and administrators, to become engaged in the process. Room 21 is free to use.

Edmodo
Edmodo is a popular free tool that provides an array of workgroup and social learning functionality to educators. The folks at Edmodo have done a great job of introducing “Social Learning” and their application in their great introductory video. Unfortunately, the way the video is delivered on their site, I can’t provide a direct link to it – you have to click on the video link in the upper right hand corner of their home page. (It would be a good idea for these folks to make this video available on YouTube to help spread the word, and to enable bloggers like myself to help spread it for them!).

ePals LearningSpace
An interesting looking robust application environment for schools. Among the functionality offered:

  • Structured Community: Every school or district can create multiple online groups for individual classrooms, projects, extracurricular activities, and more.
  • Digital Lockers: Online storage area to store and share personal school files including documents, photos, video, and audio.
  • Full Web 2.0 Toolkit: School-safe email, blogs, wikis, forums, and media galleries embedded into every group.
  • Classroom Connect: Enables group owners to invite other groups to connect and form a new collaboration space to work on educational projects.

LearningSpace is one of several offerings from ePals, and it is not free. Unfortunately, the only reference I could find to costs is their section on E-rate Funding (LearningSpace is 95% eligible for E-Rate funding).

TheSchoolsUnited
Their banner exclaims, “Free Online Networking For Schools”. TheSchoolsUnited website’s About Page explains that it, “is the first networking site dedicated solely to the education community worldwide. It provides schools and staff with the free facility to share educational resources and experiences”. The site lets you share video, audio and photos. Users can create communities, and educators with a common interest, “can share resources, opinions and experiences relating to that subject with other schools and staff worldwide. The aim is to keep everyone and everything as up-to-date as possible – a live arena for all your educational interests”. Browsing their list of schools, they appear to have hundreds of client schools.

Edutopia
Edutopia’s Core Strategies page shows rather elegantly via this interactive graphic that their approach combines Social & Emotional Learning, Project Learning, Integrated Studies, and more, to deliver a well rounded online environment for education. Edutopia is a widely used, free, robust learning community.

Do you use one of these social networking platforms, or another one, in your school or classroom?
The ultimate goal of this post is to seek feedback from readers like you, about your experiences with tools like these. This feedback helps to determine which sites are most worthy of recommendation, and we often learn about other applications through reader comments. Please don’t hesitate to share your experiences, insights, or questions. Thanks.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Do you use Facebook or Twitter in the classroom (or know someone who does)?
Facebook In The Classroom. Seriously.
Collaboration & Brainstorming Tools (Part 3 – Edmodo)
Exploring the Classroom2.0 Website

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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