TCC09: Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning


Liveblogged from the TCC online conference. My notes in italics.

Presenter: Ellen Hoffman, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Summary: “Debates rage about the appropriateness of using social networking in teaching, with arguments ranging from waste of time and distraction from academic goals to needed to reach net generation student. This paper explores the range of current social networking choices and argues that like any tool, it should carefully evaluated in terms of affordances and course goals. Several different tools are reviewed, and questions that might be useful for evaluation are discussed. An example of using a social networking tool, Ning, in an online class is reported.”

Used social networking terms in intro and activities–intro = profile, friends = names on whiteboard, leave notes on her “wall” (whiteboard) about what we want to know

Wordle tag cloud of presentation instead of the usual overview nice to have this instead of bullet points

Three main points

  1. Social networks for distance learning
  2. Evaluating social networks
  3. Example

Features of social networking (from Boyd & Ellison)

  • Profile
  • Connect with others
  • Leave persistent comments (not just IM)
  • Personalize pages with widgets etc.
  • Tools to collaborate

Focus in this paper on non-content social tools (not Flickr or YouTube)

Facebook & Myspace are most common in the US, but other parts of the world have regional favorites

How does it fit with distance learning

  • Interactions with content
  • Interactions with other students
  • Interactions with the instructor
  • student satisfaction tied to teacher-student and student-student interactions–social networking supports these

Lots of tools, always new fads

Evaluation for Learning


  • Students use tools for casual activities, not learning. Not the same skills.
  • Not everyone is a digital native
  • Diverse expectations and motivations


  • structured
  • have learning goals
  • unique content & people


  • Many free tools
  • mix & match
  • you control


  • Structure
  • Privacy vs. performance–not everyone wants their work to be public
  • Permanence
  • Who owns the content?
  • ads

Finding the right tool–more formal way of approaching it

  • Previous research–hard b/c research takes so long
  • Evaluation instruments
  • Recommendations from other educators, conferences, etc.
  • Test it yourself–facilitators have gotten into trouble when students found features the teacher didn’t know was there and didn’t expect

One tool to use: Effective use of VLEs Infokit from JISC

  • What benefits
  • How it will help learning outcomes
  • Student activities
  • Support content

Jane Hart’s site for Top Tools for Learning as a place to find tools to use & get recommendations

Elgg & Ning as two social networking tools

Cycle of Design & Implement –> Evaluate & Reflect –> Design & Implement etc.

Case study with Ning

  • Asynchronous education technology course, ongoing action research to improve
  • Not a cohort, so together for a short time–want to establish community quickly
  • Mixed technical ability

Issues that prompted change to using social networking

  • Student satisfaction lower for the online version than face-to-face
  • Discussion tools in their LMS were weak
  • Meets goal of modeling new technology
  • Instructor was interested in trying Ning

Their course

  • Decided on Ning partly because she wanted the privacy of a closed environment.
  • Students are required to introduce themselves and to participate in discussions
  • Extra credit for posting videos & other learning materials
  • Social part of the course is up to them–they can friend people if they want


  • Lots of lurkers, wide variety of use of non-required social features
  • No change in learning outcomes
  • Higher student satisfaction–more comfortable in Ning than in the traditional LMS
  • Some confusion with using an external tool
  • Top reason for liking course given by students: “interaction”

Distance learning can feel very lonely–social networking can give a sense of belonging

We need to try it ourselves as educators and share what we learn–there is too much out there for us to learn on our own.

They use Sakai and link to the Ning group from the left navigation. This would be good–I wonder if we could train our facilitators to do this for their sessions. Might make it easier than what we’re doing right now. Agree that having it open in a new window instead of the Sakai frame is good.

One question that comes up is privacy–you should read the privacy policy of any site before sending students. Think about FERPA etc.

Q: Generational issues?
A: They have a wide range of ages. There is a gap in how students use the social network. Younger students post long biographies–more than they would share in a f2f course. They transferred that way of interacting that they were used to. Older students who were new to it usually liked it once they got it. Older students were more likely to put up pictures of themselves and their families. Interesting–I wonder if anyone else has seen this.

Image: ‘Big! Bigger! Biggestest!

2 thoughts on “TCC09: Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning

Comments are closed.