How to set up a ning:

To get us started, we sent home a permission slip for the parents to sign. Many students did not have their own e-mail addresses. This was the perfect place to get parent permission for that as well.

Clarify behavior expectations:

After discussing appropriate behavior online (not just safety, but cyberbullying, gossiping, and quality comments), create a class list of expectations and post it on the network for all to see.

Develop a teacher management system:

Set up a structure for managing the network. Once teachers join the Ning, they are made administrators of the network which allows them to add and delete users (and modify the network) as necessary. This way, each individual teacher in each individual school can add their own students and accept those pending membership requests independently.

The biggest issue we have had is student membership requests. Organize a method for accepting and screening new member requests:

Of course, this leaves other teachers that may become interested at a later date, researchers interested in learning about social networking, and the odd random person that doesn’t seem to have any connection to education at all, requesting membership on a fairly regular basis. Who deals with all of those people? If we’re telling parents that the network is private (and therefore as secure as we can make it for their children), we need to make sure that every single member of the network is either a parent, student or teacher.

So, for these 3 networks, I’ve been doing that job. For every person that requests membership that I don’t already know from personal connections, I send an e-mail inquiring why they’ve chose to join the network. It may seem irritating to teachers that receive these queries, but it’s the only way I can figure out to identify who these people are (especially if they don’t have a picture, or list a website, or clearly identify which school they’re from). If I don’t receive any response to my inquiry, I decline membership (for a while there, the only option was “ban” which seemed pretty severe to me, but Ning seems to have added a “decline” option recently). I don’t like the feeling of exclusivity that this creates, but I can’t think of a better way to stay true to our goals of creating a private Ning.

Model, model, model:

Teachers sometime have a tendency to expect that as soon as students are given access to a technology tool, they will automatically know how to behave and interact with others. However, just because they can navigate the page and learn the tool quicker and easier (in most cases) than the teacher can upon first sight, doesn’t mean that they know what to do once they get there.