As we get ready to kick off one of the 17 Electronic Village Online sessions, Images4Education, Seth Dickens, a friend, educator, teacher trainer, raised an important issue in the Webheads group. Is Ning appropriate in the educational context?
Seth ponders in his post:
Thanks heavens I haven’t started using Ning with my students yet. I probably won’t until there is better filtering of ad supported sites – this could risk me losing my job. It’s really inappropriate, wouldn’t you agree? To be fair to Ning, they do offer an ad free service for 13 – 18 year olds, but I personally feel that these ads would be just as offensive and inappropriate for adults too.
If Ning wishes to expand into school PLNs and social networks via free ad-based sites, that later become converted to paying sites, they really should do something about this. I have already complained to Google about this ad, but I also feel that Ning should be pro actively pushing them to filter content more stringently. Does Ning really want to financially benefit from this type of Ad? I hope not!
I think he has a point there, and I’ve written some time ago how grateful I was to have a platform in Ning for newcomers to share, communicate and collaborate. However, spaces with inappropriate ads can certainly be one of the alibis school administrators may use to block digital spheres with great collaborative potential. Again, Seth points out in the group to this:
I just think that with the struggles many of us have to get ICT further included in day-to-day teaching, providers like Ning (and bloomin Google) should have some way of filtering or blocking this kind of content from educational sites. Otherwise schools will just fall back on the sledgehammer to crack a nut response of a school firewall / filter, which will totally block the whole page form loading.
No. We don’t want sledgehammers striking our educational, purposeful online projects. We need spaces with no distraction, with no other intent than sparking students’ communicative abilities, inquiry-based learning.
Ning provides a great service, and we’re glad to be connecting more than a hundred participants worldwide there. On Oct 31st, 2008, I requested the Ning Team to remove the ads of our Images4Education Ning, but they gave a negative answer saying:
First, thank you for using Ning for your social network and for requesting our free trial offer to remove ads from student networks. We appreciate it. Our purpose in this program is to prevent children between the ages of 13 and 18 from being exposed to inappropriate content that infrequently but occasionally shows up in the Google AdSense ads that we use to support the service.
In checking out your social network on Ning, it looks as if it is designed for use by adults (18 years of age and older). Because your members are adults, unfortunately, this does not fit within the limits of this offer. However, if your network is going to be viewed by those under the age of 18, we’d be happy to remove the ads.
Our sincere apologies if this was unclear and we hope this won’t prevent you from continuing to enjoy your social network on Ning.
The Ning Team
Well, for a group of adult educators, I don’t think it’s a huge problem, though I’d love to have an ad-free space. I guess this is the price of “free”. However, I have to agree with Seth that for other educators willing to use Ning and not being able to pay for their $24.00 monthly ad-free space, Ning won’t be of much help if teachers feel they might face problems with parents and school administration.
Bee Dieu, in the same Webhead discussion, wisely suggests
Either use them and create teachable digital literacy moments
http://freesouls.cc/essays/03-howard-rheingold-participative-pedagogy-for-a-literacy-of-literacies.html or if you believe you should shield your learners from the
inconveniences of modern life, abandon them.
Another option is to create and assemble your own platform on edublogs, drupal or wordpress… and find platform owners that dialogue and respect educators (wikieducator, wikispaces, voicethread, for instance).
Gavin Dudeney also points out that those ads could be part of these teachable moments in which we take the chance to work on media and digital literacies.
One can only really try the ‘discussion’ method, raise the issue, talk about it, discuss appropriate behavior in class, discuss the issue of e-safety.
There’s no easy solution here, but like Seth, I’d love to see Ning going a step further in letting us, educators, use it ad-free for educational purposes in the way Wetpaint is doing, which was highlighted by Seth in his post.
Past Ning blog posts: