Students in Croatian high school have three hours a week of the first foreign language (mostly English), but at my school we offer them an extra lesson, called Elective English, where we usually do tons of reading/listening/writing/speaking exercises as a preparation for the unified school leaving exams. This year, however, I decided to try out some of the web 2.0 technologies as part of my elective English class. Both the principal and the ICT teacher were entirely supportive of this idea and even offered to put me on the computer lab reservation list for the whole school year, which will probably make my fellow teachers frown on me, but I can live with that as long as I can use the lab with my class.
As I couldn't make up my mind on whether to use Ning or Moodle for my first e-learning class, I decided to try out both, which turned out to be an impossible task. The first problem we encountered were the students' electronic identities and passwords which were given to them when they first enrolled in our school two years ago. They hardly ever used these accounts set up by the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet) and only a couple of students could remember where their passwords are stored. It's usually no problem for the ICT teacher to get the new ones, but unfortunately, as Croatia is having a completely new e-education system implemented, there have been delays and the students still haven't received their new passwords which they would use to log in to Moodle. So Ning was our only option.
My students fell in love with it instantly. They started using it from home as a tool to communicate with their classmates. What I'm most proud of is that they readily accepted that the language of communication is English only, even when they know that I'm not around. Out of 25 students, only two don't have a computer with Internet access at home. It turns out that they are the lowest-performing students in this class. However, they don't come from the low social backgrounds. I know they have their facebook profiles, but I don't know when and from where they update them. I think I'll talk to their parents, although it's kind of a delicate situation: if their families can't make ends meet, how can I ask them to buy a computer and pay for the Internet access? It seems these students will have to make do with one class a week in the school's computer lab, which is certainly better than nothing at all.
Anyway, while I still haven't figured out how to do tons of things on Ning, I can't stop wondering how my students managed to change their Ning member pages by using their own photos or why a song begins to play when I visit them. I know, I know, I'm only a digital immigrant in their world. But isn't it amazing that it was me who first told them about Ning? And now they can teach me some of the tricks. But I'm a life long learner and I don't mind. On the contrary, I enjoy it.