While Facebook and Google+ are popular social networks for everyday life, dozens of other networks have been created to provide safe and effective social learning environments for K12 education. Social learning networks (SLNs) allow students to learn 21st-century skills. Students can build online portfolios and resumes and collaborate with peers through project-based learning, which will help them in college or the workforce.
SLNs created specifically for education feature safety elements and Web 2.0 tools, and they are a platform for collaboration. Beginning in July, all Gaggle subscribers will be protected by its Human Monitoring Service, which blocks inappropriate content and keywords posted by students and alerts teachers. ePals Learning Space allows students to form meaningful relationships with peers around the world and to collaborate through project-based learning. Peers do not need to be friends or have access to a student’s or teacher’s profile to use this app. For educators looking to expand their network, Glam Media offers the ability to create a public or private network to include group chats, videos and custom themes.
SLNs vary in features and cost. Some are free, such as Edmodo and Schoology, while others are based on a subscription pricing model. Ones that come with a fee cost about one dollar per student annually and are likely E-Rate eligible. Here are some options to consider for your district.
Pricing based on number of students
Gaggle’s initial business centered on safe email for K12 students, but it has grown to provide a safe online learning experience, collaboration tools, and monitoring systems for schools. Students can turn in and store files electronically and can collaborate and stay connected with peers with student email, a collaborative homework-correcting tool, Social Learning Wall and safe SMS texting. Teachers and administrators can access support through the tech support team, free training videos and webinars. Starting in July, all subscribers will receive Gaggle’s Human Monitoring Service (HMS) as part of their subscription.
Teachers can customize the classroom experience online and give students the necessary tools to collaborate in the classroom with Edmodo. Students can discuss topics relevant to class, share content and ideas with classmates, and complete assignments on this SLN. Teachers can assign and grade assignments, monitor student discussions, and post files or comments to groups. Other features include “badges,” which provide incentives for students and recognition of their achievement, a quiz builder to aid in student assessment, iPhone and Android apps, and a user-friendly interface.
Blackboard, an education technology and solutions company, also offers a free social network site to districts. CourseSites allows educators to add class materials to the Web to accompany up to five traditional classes per site, or teach online courses with the latest technology tools from Blackboard products, including Learn, Collaborate, Mobile and Connect. Teachers can assess student performance and manage grades, share resources with other educators and students, and encourage students to work collaboratively and engage in social learning. A mobile app is also available.
Learning Space, pricing based on number of students
This social learning platform from ePals, an education media company, allows for efficient communication and collaboration. Features include the ability to create and organize safe Web 2.0-enabled groups for classes, project-based learning, or communication with local and global communities. The platform is equipped with a suite of Web 2.0 tools, including blogs, wikis and homework dropboxes. Teacher and parent accounts can be added for free.
Ning, starting at $19.95 per year for small groups
Glam Media, a vertical media company with hundreds of lifestyle blogs and Web sites, acquired Ning last year. Educators looking for a custom social network tailor-made for their district should consider Ning. The creator can decide who is in the network and whether it is private or public. Features include custom themes, group chats and activity streams, and user-integrated content such as photos and videos. Pricing is based on the size of the group, the tools needed, and desired bandwidth and storage.
This collaborative learning platform can be used for classroom management, online learning or social networking. It allows educators to share meaningful resources and best practices via school-to-school networking and a centralized resource library. Schoology integrates seamlessly with existing technologies such as Google Docs, Examview, Blackboard, Moodle and the Khan Academy. Districts that want to customize can subscribe to an enterprise version.
Other SLNs include: Moodle, Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0 and Technology Integration in Education