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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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July012008

PBS Teachers Embraces Social Networking and Bookmarking Tools

Visitors to the PBS Teachers website will see something new today. It’s called PBS Teachers Connect, and it’s the first step in bringing social networking to the website.

Conversation isn’t new to the PBS Teachers site, of course - it’s something that (hopefully) takes place whenever I post a blog entry and people chime in with comments in the discussion threads. But those conversations are still top-down dialogues. As a blogger on the website, I choose the topics and the timing of those posts, and if you wish, you’re able to respond. For all intents and purposes, I’m acting as host or moderator, and participants are reacting to whatever dialogue I start myself.

But all that changes today. With PBS Teachers Connect, anyone can now come to the PBS Teachers site, create a personal profile and start their own conversations. They’ve created a number of discussions broken down into topics like math, social studies, early childhood ed and homeschooling. Each one of the topic areas have been seeded with some ice-breaker discussions, but users are invited to start off any conversation they’d like.

For example, as a test I just created a discussion thread on resistance to social networks in the classroom. I was particularly interested to discover that I was able to list my own tags for my new thread. While those tags don’t have any functionality yet, I’m hoping they soon will, allowing users to explore discussions based on keywords provided by fellow community members. Meanwhile, there’s a handy-dandy RSS feed associated with each discussion thread, so you can keep up with this conversation even if you’re not logged into the website.

In today’s announcement regarding Teachers Connect, PBS explained the thinking behind the community:

With the vast majority of students using social networking sites on a weekly basis, according to a recent report from the National School Board Association, more educators are incorporating social media tools in their professional lives to collaborate with and support each other. Community-building that once was confined to face-to-face encounters in school departments and association conferences, or informal contacts with like-minded staff members, is now increasingly happening online.

The power of Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis and forums, enables educators to grow their network exponentially, connecting with teachers across the United States and around the world. Social networking in education opens doors to an unprecedented array of learning opportunities in an environment where educators often feel freer to express themselves, share their ideas and be catalysts for change.

One particularly cool feature included on the site is a bookmarking function. Once you’ve created an account on the site, you can go to your resources page and search for lesson plans. The search results page will show you a list of resources, each including a link marked “Save to My Resources.” Clicking this link brings up a dialogue box including fields for title, description and tags. This allows you to annotate your bookmark just like you would if you were using a social bookmarking site like del.icio.us. Any resource you bookmark this way will then appear in your public profile. Once again, I’m particularly excited about the tagging functionality, as this could be used by teachers to explore content that’s been tagged by other teachers. For example, if you’ve bookmarked a lesson plan with the tag “gettysburg,” you’d be just a click or two away from seeing all the other content other teachers had tagged with that same word, connecting you with the lesson plans and the teachers who tagged them.

I’m really happy to see the site moving ahead like this. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of you kick off some great conversations as well. -andy

Filed under : Cool Tools, Social Networking, Websites

Responses

I could not resist by adding that I find this method a very intriguing way to encourage school children in becoming more productive. You know the old saying “two heads are better then one”. Kudos PBS for making use of this technology within the Education arena.

I believe that this is an excellent way for teachers who are either too busy during the day to enter in long discussions with others to be able to do this at home. I also believe that sometimes teachers are sometimes expected to do as the school does and not to think differently. Thank you!

I am heartened that PBS has finally proven itself to be an adopter of this technology, but it really has me wondering why tech leaders there waited so long. By web terms these tools are mature. And…is this how PBS will always be, lagging behind until others prove the worth of new tools. Does this apply to new ideas as well? Isn’t this the problem we have in schools, too? Lack of innovation?

So…do better. What about twitter and other microblogging options? Online presentation tools? Stay on top and lead, please.

Glad to hear PBS is incorporating some social networking features. I’ve been using a site called www.teachersrecess.com that has been quite helpful but more on a social level with connecting with other teachers. Anyway I think this is the future to sharing ideas with other teachers!

It is really amazing to see use of blogs and wikis in almost every situation we can think of. However, sometimes when we see a pattern to a certain type of communication it is more effective to innovate a customized communication, else we will end up with wikis and blogs which are still fine, though it does take away time to put the structure around it and also becomes very ineffective mechanism. Take a look at this collaborative platform for online learning such as FunnelBrain, this is a great example of how effective teachers and students can be with minimal effort!

Well, while we are at it…recommending web 2.0 sites for teachers, I would like to throw out a holla for www.fatclass.com. It does give teachers and students a way to comunicate with social networking, but in an educational way. Looking forward to using this PBS system as well!

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