About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ning vs. Learning Management Systems (LMS)

This semester, after 2 frustrating semesters trying to work with our school's LMS, I decided to go outside and set up a class Ning. This was prompted by two things. First, the LMS that our school had, had an irritating habit of losing posts. This happened a number of time where a student's assignment or post was visiable and then it suddenly disappeared. My students first started to complain about it and I wasn't sure I believed it. Then I saw it happen as I printed out a student's posting, when then disappeared the following day. Our ITS department could not replicate the problem and therefore could not resolve the disappearing assignments problem. I decided that I was not getting the type of support I needed with school sanctioned programs, so I might as well use something that was less cumbersome.

Then another colleague told me that he used a non-school sanctioned wiki very successfully. As long as this software is not required and students have the option to opt out of reveling information (thus meeting FERPA laws), I felt comfortable about using another program. I decided to use Ning as I had enjoyed using it for a couple of online conferences.

Difference between Ning and LMS (Teacher's perspective)

Jenny Luca is currently blogging about using the Ning for secondary school students. As I read her postings (only 2 for now), and looked at my own experience only in the early days, I have seen similiar results and differences between using a social networking site like Ning and an LMS. So I have tried to figure out what the difference is.

From a teacher's point of view, what I have seen is that there is a lot more input from students (students helping students), so far. Within the last two weeks, I have had more postings on the class Ning than the entire semester last year. I find that the format allows for more interaction and exchange of information in the Ning than the LMS.

I think this can be explained by the structure of a LMS which requires a lot more teacher input and instructional design which is teacher centered. For example, the first page of most LMS's I have used is a structure that the teacher must populate first. Although the 4 programs I have used for the last 12 years are somewhat different, all of them require the teacher/instructional designer to create the discussion and the structure for discussion. Even my most "learner centered" instructional designs required teacher permissions to initiate the discussions. Nings give instructional designers the option to allow students to begin their own discussions, post their own resources, create their own blogs, etc...

Another main difference is the way information is presented on the front page. There is a greater level of communication between students so there tends not to be a one-on-one teacher/student dialog as the default means of communication. Rather the default tends to be student/student, allowing students that ability to pose and answer questions without the creater ever being notified.

Some instructors or instructional designers might find this scary, but I like the fact that I can create a truely student centered space, with instructor oversight (rather than instructor control). Unlike Jenny, I think the more informal "hi, how are you," is appropriate on a class Ning, as long as it is on individual walls, not in discussion forums. While Ning allows for different spaces within its walls for different types of discussions (as a university building would have some areas where more "serious" discussions take place, and other less formal community building discussions can take place), LMS does not seem to offer any space for more informal community building to take place.

Ning vs. LMS (Student perspective)

My initial impression is that students are much more comfortable with the set up of Ning as they are familiar with Facebook. They are apt to check the Ning on a regular basis which is much easier to do than the LMS. In most cases, the LMS is already populated with passwords and account names. This means that students can get away with never signing on to a LMS (which happened to many of my students). On the other hand, students had to be invited, create accounts, and then sign on to the Ning. This required a much more active participation in the initial stages. For some reason, I was able to get all of my students to sign on and participate initially on the Ning which I never was able to do when all they had to do was sign in.

Students also are using the Ning differently than the LMS. The Ning is perceived as a communication tool--someplace to go when they need answers to their questions about the class. The LMS is perceived as a repository of resources, someplace to go when they need to access resources. Communication on the LMS is perceived as one-on-one whereas students already feel comfortable jumping in on discussions whether the person posing the question is in their class or not. They perceive the Ning as being a community, multi-party/-dimensional communication tool. I think this is helping to establish a feeling of class community much quicker than even a traditional class would create.

These are still the early days for using this Ning. But I look forward to seeing how the rest of the semester progresses (especially in the next couple of weeks when we have winter break with assignments due after.)


jennylu said...

Straight up I could see the potential for nings as LMS systems. Can I clarify one thing that I probably should have made clearer in my post. I have absolutely no objection to students using it as a communication tool for them to say hi and the like. My reason in speaking to the students emanated from the fact that they were doing this in class when they should have been focused on our group activity. Always hard to manage in a 1:1 laptop situation. If they want to communicate socially on the ning at appropriate times I'm OK with that.
It will be interesting to compare notes Virginia. Thanks for highlighting the work I'm doing in this post.

V Yonkers said...

Yes, Jenny, I agree that there is a time and place for everything and "instant" communication in class should be class focused! This brings up a good point however. I wonder if you would get the same enthusiasm in working on a classroom project with a program like Blackboard as you seem to have with the NING. Do you have the chat function enabled?

As we don't have computer access in class, I don't have the same problem in making sure the students are on task during class.