Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning

Ellen S. Hoffman

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Using Ning

Tag cloud resource: Wordle.net

Point of presentation:

  • Why use social networks for distance learning
  • Evaluating social networks
  • How She’s used it in a class herself.

Formal definition

  • You have a profile
  • Have a way to relate to other users
  • Can leave persistent comments
  • Share content/Collaborate
  • Personalize Visually tools & widgets
  • Boyd & Ellison definition… include things like Youtube and Flickr… though this paper focus on only tools that are social in nature and doesn’t focus on content sharing.

How does it fit into Distance Learning?

Interactions with content/other students/ instructor

If it was easy to learn using a textbook… then you wouldn’t need universities and college.

Distance learning is unique and powerful. IT SHOULDN”T BE A Replication of what is done in the classroom.


  • Student is the center of attention.
  • It’s easy to get too fascinated with the technology.
  • Need to focus on the environment you want to conduct learning.

Evaluating Distance Learning Tools.

  • Students use social networking outside of classroom for social activity. Doesn’t mean they would know how to use it in a learning context.
  • Some students don’t like using it.
  • Some are there only because they have to use distance learning.
  • Sometimes courses have structure with specific learning goals and social networking may not be appropriate.
  • Sometimes people value anonymity.
  • Permanence issues. Sometimes things disappear online.
  • Intellectual property issues.
  • Advertising – sometimes not appropriate

Social networking that works for me.

  • I can learn from what others have to share
  • I can see who has what experience or expertise
  • People share opinions and content on various subjects
  • I can have open discussions with others.

Effective use of VLE Infokit. Jiscinfonet.

  • How to choose good appropriate tools.
  • How does the tool benefit you and the students and how does it help achieve learning goals.
  • Does it support the particular content you need to use in this course.
  • Elgg – server based – Eduspaces is an example
  • Ning –

Case Study:

  • Teacher education course in educational technology
  • Asynchronous – tougher to create a feeling of connectedness. Social networking can help
  • Mixed Technical Abilities
  • Most limited DL experience
  • Ongoing action research.

Why did her school look at this technology?

  • Lower student satisfaction in Distance courses
  • Week discussion tools in course management system
  • Goal of modeling use of newer tech.
  • Instructor interests.

They selected Ning:

  • Liked the discussion tools – could create a private site soley for their class.
  • Students wanted a private discussion area.
  • They start by creating a profile page. They can post images if they want.
  • They have required discussions in the social networking site.
  • Give them the freedom to choose how much they want to use the Social Networking site.
  • Some students were very social adn some were lurkers.
  • Improved the course ratings đŸ™‚
  • Some initial confusion but they eventually got it.
  • They have open ended question…what did they like about it. They liked the level of interaction provided  by the social networking tool.
  • This is awesome stuff! đŸ™‚

Interesting Observations:

  • Older students like instructual support.
  • Older students more likely to put up photographs.

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