Forget any previous stigma your mind has attached to “social networking” and think about what a social network offers. At its core, it allows participants to interact with each other on topical matters, share different relevant media, and connect to others in meaningful ways beyond the traditional face-to-face environment. If you focus on these aspects, it’s a dream come true for a teacher.
Every teacher in Weber School District can make a simple learning network through our Moodle system, eCourses. Create a forum and let your students communicate and collaborate. Guide the discussions with topics you’re discussing in class, and allow students to engage each other and reflect on their own learning. Often the shy students are the ones who shine the most, since online communication tends to “level” the playing field for many of them. From what I’ve seen with our teachers who use Moodle forums, the extremely shy and reticent students really open up online, and make friendships with their classmates that then extend directly to the face-to-face environment, making them a more active and social part of the classroom in general. Plus, we’ve found that our secondary students often log in and are talking to each other at 9 or 10 at night (even though the teacher tells them to go to bed), discussing the topics the teacher raised.
A Moodle forum can provide a way for students to share their work with each other, so it’s not just the teacher who sees it, but all the classmates who see it and provide feedback. For a classroom with a lot of technology-oriented projects (e.g. videos, podcasts, VoiceThreads, etc.), establishing a learning network on Moodle can be a huge benefit. Ultimately, it widens the span of cooperative learning.