Saturday, December 8, 2007

Creating a Social Network for elementary students

Created in trailfire

Preparing Younger Students for Social Networking Places Langwitches

In her blog Langwitches makes the point that whether social networks are meant for elementary age students or not ..
"It is one of those instances, where you know that the children are going to "do it anyway", no matter what the rules are. The best approach, in my opinion, is you teach them to be safe in any social network environment. So the next best thing would be, since we can't (and wouldn't) all sign-up for MySpace accounts and hang out there, is to create our own Social Network site, where these younger students can try out their wings in a safe and controlled environment."
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Having discovered last year that some of my 5th and 6th grades had opened accounts on a less than savoury SN, I decided this year to open a moderated child friendly network for them. In fact I opened 2 networks one in English for my 6th grade EFL students(trail mark 4) and another in Hebrew for my 5th grades.
This was harder than it may seem as there were at the time no suitable Social Networks in the Hebrew language. Luckily I had the summer vacation to translate the Ning platform ,set it up for right to left languages and learn the var ious options along with other classroom20 members as we played fake "students" (see next trail mark for demo site)
One of my main concerns was the fact that members of a Ning network must sign up with an email address. This address can then be used to send private messages to members' mail boxes.
I decided the best way to deal with this was to set up a catch all mail box on our Google apps (trail mark 5) school mail and have students join the site with a "fake" email address. There are 2 advantages to this system, 1) students do not receive mail from the ning network 2) all mail and "private" messages sent through the network can be viewed by me.
Picking usernames. Past experience has taught me that often my students will pick less than suitable usernames and have a tendency to forget their passwords. As they wouldn't be able to check their own email in the event they needed a password reminder I needed a system which would allow me to easily find their messages in my catchall box. This would also make it easy for me to recognize each student by his email address when accepting membership requests. Each user name is a combination of the classname+childsfirstname - luckily in our school each intake year has a name which stays with them from g1 to g6. (If we didn't have that system I would have had to create it.) I highly reccommend keeping a printed copy of usernames and passwords, having students write them in their diaries and making sure homeroom teacher also gets a copy.

Setting up acceptable use policy/guidelines. I took my students on a guided tour of the already active forums on our school website, pointing out messages where children had obviously forgotten the fact that the forum is not a private messaging system.
We then spent some time creating a set of guidelines. These include: Remember that the web is hackable, do not post private information such as: full name, tel nos. addresses etc. , do not arrange real life meetings through the network - even if you think you are talking to your best friend. Do not post any content that may insult, hurt, embarass or threaten anyone including yourself - this includes text, photos, videos and mp3s. If someone insults, hurts, embarasses or threatens you - report it to me by any means available phone, mail, through the school web site and tell a responsible adult such as a parent, or teacher. Do not reveal your password to anyone, if content violating the guidelines is posted to the site under your user name, your account will be closed until we can discuss the matter in school.

The last step before having students request membership was to have them create or pick an avatar, and to explain that I would not allow photos of themselves, their friends or families.
I see my students once a week, things are moving slowly, some students are taking advantage of the network from home, others are using it only during our lesson. A couple have started writing blogs, others are enjoying uploading pictures and music. So far the kids are working within the guidelines, I'm hoping that will continue to be true, but if not we'll take advantage of the situation to revisit ,review and revise if neccessary .
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Classroom 2.0 Sandbox
Learning the application with an eye to using it in education - security issues, moderation
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EFL20: Ning in the elementary EFL Classroom
In grade 6 we are experimenting, using a ning network as an EFL learning space.
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Google Apps For Education

Gmail and catchall mailbox
Google Talk
Google Calendar
Start Page
Google Docs
Page Creator
Control Panel
Etensibility APIs
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Ning in Education

Ning is sponsoring this network to provide support and help to educators, and to get feedback from the educational community to continue to improve Ning.
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Also worth checking out:


Langwitches said...

Thank you Susan for this blog post. I am trying to figure out to best set up a Network for my elementary school kids.
I must admit, that I still don't understand how the set up of the e-mails for the kids works?

Do you have your own school domain name or are you using How are kids accessing mail received by their gmail account? Are you screening all of them? Are you forwarding it to them?
Sorry about all the questions.

katty said...

Interesting blog, i usally be aware all about all different kind of sofware. i am online all the time, and this action allowed me to see a site costa rica homes for sale and i like it too much, beyond all doubt without my computer and a great network i never would have seen this site too.

vishal said...