Sunday, 12 April 2009

Learning Ning by doing

Just last week I was complaining about the Ning platform lacking the facility for network creators to organise other people's discussions in the forum into categories to keep it all more structured and easily manageable.

Well, today I was proved wrong, as I found out the way I can actually do this. Thank you clever Ning team! This is probably not the only feature I have missed, and makes me like Ning even more now. I really feel good about accomplishing this all on my own. I wish my students experienced revelations and triumphs like this more at school, or with their studies in general. Undoubtedly, many of them do. Once I got the hang of what I can do to organise the discussion forum, it was a true 'flow exprerience' to get it done (so much so that it almost made me burn our family Easter dinner, as I couldn't interrup what I was doing online!).

Basically, as the network creator, you go to Manage the Discussion forum. What I hadn't noticed before, is the Add a catecory link there.

You can add as many as you like, and it's so fast and easy. So within minutes I had all the categories I wanted added.

Next I went through all the existing discussions and noticed that after the category name there is the option to change it, too.

Once you click 'Change' you get a drop-down menu of all the categories you have added to your Ning.

And then it's just a piece of cake to reorganise all the existing discussions into their new categories. VoilĂ ! Here it is, the result of flow experience, a neat and structured discussion forum now with 12 working categories (as described in my previous blog post).

All I need to do now is to introduce and explain this new categorising system to all the members, so they will learn to make use of it, too, when they next add a discussion on the forum.

Now, was all this worth a blog post? Probably not. (In fact, if anyone ever reads my blog, they will probably find me a simple and useless dabbler with online tools!) Then again, as I am more and more using my blog as a place to make my learning visible and reflect on my own learning experiences, it is meaningful for me. And possibly for somebody else, too, who learns like me, in leaps and bounds and in a rather haphasard, non-linear and organised way. Somebody with different learning strategies would probably have studied all the features on Ning well before creating their own network, to know exactly what Ning offers and how it can be used. In hindsight, I did go back to Ning help, and naturally found all this information clearly written and demonstrated there!

Unfortunately, I am the type of person who doesn't want to read any boring manuals when starting to use new gadgets, for example. I will just go ahead and try to learn through trial and error - getting hopelessly frustrated with the errors, but feeling a great sense of accomplishment if I finally get it. This learning experience of mine is a good reminder for me about the many different learning styles of my students, and how 'one-size-fits-all' strategies and 'haven't I told you this so many times before' don't really reach all of them.

Another thought springing from this is why I didn't throw my question to the Ning team or teacher colleagues in the few social networks I belong to. I'm sure I would have got the answer in no time. Well, firstly I was under the misperception that reorganising already existing discussions on Ning is not possible. Secondly, even if I suspected it might be possible, I am in two minds about keep asking 'strangers' for help online. Although I have had many marvellous experiences of the altruism and helpfulness of people in social networks, I somehow feel that I am a nuisance always asking for help and tips, using others in a way, and not really being capable of reciprocating in any way. I guess it's early days for me with social networking, and I have not yet established any proper PLN for myself, which makes these feelings quite natural.

Despite the focus on collective intelligence and learning through connections these days, learning by doing on your own at times does feel great and empowering, too!

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