Number one on Steve Hagedon’s list of “Some Things I’ve Learned About Building Effective Social Networks” is, in essence, don’t be afraid that it won’t succeed, or “failure is free.” To an extent, I really agree with this. This goes back to instructional design models and the idea that good teachers are constantly reevaluating the tools that they use in the class, whether those tools are social networking sites, blogs, or a peer review exercise that the students complete in class (I use that example because I think I’ve used every possible peer review technique in my classes at some point). With something like peer review in an English class, what I’ve come to conclude ultimately is that some things work for some students, but most things don’t work for all students, so I need to do a lot of different things. This is a hard conceptually at times, because I really want everything I do in class to be wildly successful (I know…pretty realistic). I think that taking the attitude that some things just won’t work isn’t necessarily defeatist, but more exploratory.
However, I’m not really sure that I agree that “failure is free.” If everything I did in the classroom failed, then I wouldn’t meet my learning outcomes. I worry that with something like Ning, that if I put all my eggs in that one basket, and it doesn’t work, it will have the opposite effect on retention than what is intended by using Web 2.0 tools. When students take an online writing class, they expect to encounter Blackboard, but they don’t necessarily expect to go outside of it and if they can’t relate to the technology, they might not stay in the class. In that case, I feel like I’ve failed.
On the other hand, I think that having a mixture of these tools available is a great way to engage students with different learning needs. Just like in a F2F class, some of the technologies may really appeal to students, while others might get the rest. I think that is really important and in that case a failure for a particular student really is “free” as long as they find success in another medium.
This also relates to the fourth point on Hagedon’s list, “A network must fulfill some compelling need.” I think that these technologies need to be mixed, but they each need to serve a particular, distinct purpose in the course. If, for instance, in a Literature class, you are running a discussion board in Blackboard, there is no need for another in Ning and yet another on a Wiki (what an administrative nightmare!). On the other hand, an instructor could use Blackboard for discussion, blogs for a reading journal, Wikis as a place to collect research and links, and Ning as a place for groups to collaborate on projects. I think that if each technology serves a distinct purpose, then combining them could be very successful, and I think that Alisa Cooper’s slideshow really shows how Ning (like Blackboard, but prettier) can really collect all those technologies.
As an addition to my discussion board ranting about social networking, here is why Miley Cyrus quit Twitter (I love this; I can't help it):