Friday, March 13, 2009

Tips for facilitators in Ning

I've been exploring Ning a little further than I did and compared it to other forums like socialgo, collectivex and is open source, has a lot of similar functionalities to ning (and more- you can upload files easily) and is also without advertisements (for free!). The advantage of ning is that it is slightly more attractive in look and feel. Besides it is getting very popular. If people already worked with ning before, it might reduce the learning curve in learning your way around. I'm a member of 15 ning forums, and was surprised how reluctant I was to dive into, being used to ning.

A few tips for ning administrators:

1. Public or private? If you hesitate between a public ning (attracts new members online) or a private ning (makes it easier for members to share information that they don't want to be public) you have the option to choose for a public homepage and a private rest of the site. When people who are not a member click on other tabs they are asked to become a member or log in. You can change this lateron too through 'manage'.

2. Integration of external pages You can use external pages and make them a tab in your ning. A ning for libarians (betabiep) decided to create a netvibes page about the darwin year. They added this page as library page in their ning site. Since ning does not offer a wiki or document sharing functionality, you could add an external wiki page with lists of documents or links.

3. Language You can select the language of your preference for all navigation. If you go to manage click on languages, you can already choose from 25 languages, or you can work on translations and add a new language.

4. Hosting on your own domain. If you pay 4.95 US $ per month, you can host it on your own domain.

5. Email subscriptions. Not everyone may use RSS feeds. At the Forum bottom of the page there is a possibility to warn you by mail when new discussions are started. Depending on the topic, you can then decide for which discussion you would like to receive a notification in the mail of new contributions. This system works very well (for email based workers like me!). You can use feedblitz (or similar service perhaps too) to offer an email subscription to updates too. See in the left corner of the africanpath ning (picture).

6. Chat option. Though I ticked the chat function, I don't really see it working. What you can do is integrate an external chat function like meebo and embed it in the ning site. This is something I first saw in the ning about Worldwide story work but now I don't see it there? Update: (thanks to Demetri) if you tick the chat function at the bottom of the page you can see how many people are online. If you click on it, you get a chat functionality. Apparently the chat function may slow down your pages.

Do you have more tips to customize a ning site to your needs?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grown up digital

I read the book 'Grown up digital' by Don Tapscott. I was curious to understand more about the generational differences. I've definitely not grown up digital; I almost missed the introduction of digital technologies because I was living in a village in Mali that did not even have telephone or electricity...

Often when I mention generational differences, people start whiping the issue under the carpet by refering to their grandma who is 86 and skypes with her daughter in Australia. I have a mother who can't really learn how to handle her phone, let alone her email and a daughter of 7 who has profiles on various sites like webpet and hyves (and has won a price with a blogpost about a book :) and I'm somewhere in between. So I do think there are differences. What are the real generational differences and how will they influence collaboration at the workplace?

The book is based upon a research program which involved interviews with close to 10,000 people in 12 countries. Despite that good basis, I grew a little tired of the examples of the children of Tapscott, though they are great illustrations. The Tapscott kids are not examplary for a whole generation. I have the feeling there are more differences between the use of internet within the 'netgeneration' that could have been explained in more detail. The book is one big attempt to prove the point that the netgeneration is really different from other generations (like my own). OK, I agree, but how about differences within the netgeneration?

Nevertheless I enjoyed reading it and I gained some very useful insights from the book where it links to my own observations:

1. The social media technology is a given for the netgeneration.
A great phrase is "technology is technology only for people who are born before it was invented". and "Learning a new way of communicating is hard work.. established patterns of thinkng must change to accomodate the new technology". For the netgeneration (born between 1977-1997) new technologies are like air. They can't understand others are so obsessed with it. This is really funny and true. All the writing about the enormous shift in communication patterns are from the people who are not did not grow up with the new social media; they are still amazed at what's possible (including me!). Skyping with a webcam: I still think it's exciting. For a netgener it's normal. Like a washing machine is normal to me and I don't talk about it (till I went to Kenya and did my own hand washing...). That brings along a huge difference in perception. For netgeneration respondents email is a more formal method of communication. So we all know how to send mails, but use and perceive it differently. It's hard to be fully comfortable with a technology if you haven't grown up with it- it takes a personal change process. See the story about my grandma on the phone. I can learn to twitter, but may use it differently than netgeners- so there is a difference.

2. Brains get wired differently.
'listening to an audio book leaves a different set of memories than reading does'. It is hence clear that the netgeneration (and our?) brains get wired differently. More research is needed, but IQ scores are on the rise. Tapscott is convinced that you need similar skills as before the web, but you need more skills. A book guides you from beginning to the end, but on the internet, you have to click and make your own decisions. Online reading is hence more complex than offline reading. It's an area that needs research.

3. The netgeneration may shake up hierarchies.
Or is it social media that already shakes hierarchies? On page 158 the example of Chris Rasmussen is introduced, 33 years old. Through blogging, he got noticed and invited to panels where others are appointed by majors or governors. He gained a reputation on merit, not on age or rank or a preset careerflow. Social media is hence shaking up hierarchies. The netgeners themselves will do some shaking too. At home and at school, the netgeneration may have some knowledge (about the technology) that parents and teachers don't have. Changing power relations. My mother was taught to use her mobile by some secondary school students (after I had given up :). Parents and teachers don't automatically earn respect because they know everything the youngsters don't know.

4. And this leads to some netgenophobia.
Netgenophobia is the irrational and morbid fear of youth, especially with regards to their use of the internet. Part of the fear is because of the unknown, part is because of the shaking of hierarchies mentioned under point 3 I believe. During the period of read the book, I met so many people of my age that confirmed the fact that there is some phobia, I notice a lot of fear (cyberbullying, everything is open, everything is so fast, online pedophiles). Take the example of the schooldoctor telling my daughter not to add any new people to her online network that she may not know. (and what do I do??). I have the impression I think differently about participation online because I engage in it myself (unlike the majority of my age). Though I do understand that there are dangers, the dangers also exist in real life and I fully agree with Tapscott's advice that we'd help children more in dealing with these, rather than block or limit access to certain technologies. Though cyberbullying happens, we may help cultivate a positive behaviour. It may only worsen the situation when certain use of the internet is blocked- there are plenty of other ways to bully. But for this type coaching about online behaviour, we need to understand more about online interaction as parents and teachers first.

5. It's the first global generation and less prejudiced
An enormously optimistic last difference: this generation is very global and more tolerant about differences between people. Both as a result of technology and globalisation/immigration, they might be the most tolerant and least prejudiced generation. (Geert Wilders is probably not of the netgeneration :). The tolerance is supported by some figures. 91% of the netgen respondents agree that interracial dating is acceptable, compared to 50% of the GI generation that reached adulthood during world war II (pretty tolerant for that time by the way).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

10 online icebreakers

For the third time I was going through all my resources- files and bookmarks to find online icebreakers. I thought I'd do myself (and you) a favour by listing the most interesting ones. 10 online icebreakers (the picture relates to number 10!):

1. Two Lies and A Truth. Ask participants to list three interesting things about themselves. (I own two iguanas; I once shook hands with Tom Cruise; and I love to waterski.) Two must be lies and one must be true. Other participants must vote to determine which interesting thing is the truth. The participant with the most incorrect votes wins. Alternatively participants could be put into small groups and find out through teamwork what the truths and lies are. An other alternative game is three truths and a lie.

Source: Using online icebreakers to promote student/teacher interaction

2. Childhood Dream. Ask the participants to share their childhood dream (what they wanted to be or do when they grew up) and then ask them to reflect on how this correlates with their current aspirations.

Source: Using online icebreakers to promote student/teacher interaction

3. Miscomm-puter-unication. Ask the participants to share their most embarrassing mishap using a computer. Share your own experience, for example, replying to the wrong person in an email. This will loosen them up and cause a few to chuckle before embarking on a whole new way of thinking…using technology instead of paper and pen

Source: Using online icebreakers to promote student/teacher interaction

4. Three words. Ask participants to write a story together. The rule is that everyone is only allowed to put up three words. They are allowed to post again if at least one other participant has put up three words. At the end of the exercise you can summarize the whole story of even read it and post it as an audio file or a video.

Source: Nancy White’s online facilitation course.

5. Six degrees of separation. Ask each participant to find out how he/she is linked to another participant through 5 others because they have some kind of connection. The solutions needs to be posted and should look like this: me > Jeffrey > Donna > Patricia > Hans > Sherry with an explanation of the connections. In finding the answers, participants have to interact and ask a lot of questions to each other. It may easily take a week. A shorter variation of this exercise may be to ask participants to find one other person they have some kind of connection with. (a participant they did not know before).

Source: CPsquare’s foundations of communities of practice online course.

6. Personal Cards. Ask participants to make a card representing themselves using trading cards: After making a card they can post it online. You can ask them to prepare a card about a specific aspect of their lives or their own style. For instance, their own communication or learning style.

Source: Trading cards

7. What’s on your reading list? Ask participants to make a picture o f some of the books they have recently read or are currently reading. By sharing the books you are reading you tell something about yourself.

Source: Dorine Ruter, ecollaboration list.

8. Would you rather? Ask participants some 'Would you rather' questions and let them answer them. After this participants can make up their own would you rather questions. Come up with a list of Would you Rather Questions or use some of these:
• Would you rather always win pie-eating contests or always win wheelbarrow races?
• Would you rather be a deep sea diver or an astronaut?
• Would you rather be able to hear any conversation or take back anything you say?
• Would you rather be invisible or be able to read minds?
• Would you rather be the most popular or the smartest person you know?
• Would you rather be the sand castle or the wave?
• Would you rather give up your computer or your pet?
• Would you rather never use the internet again or never watch TV again?
• Would you rather not be able to use your phone or your e-mail?

Source: Teampedia icebreakers for online teams

9. Same and different Put the participants in groups - and ask participants to find something that the group has in common (eg 'everyone has been to France' and something that is unique to each person in the group (eg 'plays waterpolo', 'speaks Greek', 'was born in Leeds').

Source: Comment on Kirsten Thompson’s blogpost

10. Video messages. You can ask participants to make a video message for each other using Bubblejoy ( It is easy to do, but it does require a webcam and some experience in using a webcam. After recording a message, you can send it via email. It is possible to ask participants to copy the link and post it online for the other participants.

Source: comment on the ">Bamboo project blog