Monday, March 17, 2008

WebEx? Ning? More on Getting Connected

How can teachers safely, easily and cheaply set up sessions with remote authors, scientists, performers, instructors and other experts? Instant messaging has the real-time contact teachers and students want, but comes with vulnerabilities. And many school networks block or don't allow instant messaging programs. Using one on the Internet that doesn't require installation poses its own problems, mostly that of security. For example, Yahoo! Messenger on the Web is just as vulnerable to spam as Yahoo! Mail. Teachers need to get students in real-time discussions without the fear of intruders or the hassle of sometimes vulgar spam.

WebEx offers "secure instant messaging" with AIM Pro Secure Instant Messaging. The application is geared toward businesses which need to connect workers without going public on the Web. It offers chat, audio and video in a tool that can be managed by an administrator to include or exclude anyone from a group or discussion. WebEx promises full security with "comprehensive end-to-end encryption, user authentication, and configurable content and URL filters." All of this comes at a price. You can try it for free, but it is a subscription service with a monthly fee. But because it is web-based, there is nothing to download or install and it can be accessed from any browser.

Ning allows members to create social networks that can be used for intra-group communication. The creator of a group or network controls who is in the group and messages can only be received from and sent to members of the group. The platform for Ning is programmable and can be adjusted for different uses, according to the About Ning page. When you create a group or network, you can select a public or private setting, discussion forums, photo or video sharing or other options. Group discussions or forums can be initiated by clicking "Start New Discussion" on the group or network's home page. Ning is free. Ad revenue supports the site and that may be something to consider. Do you want a network or group page with ads that are beyond your control? (In looking at sample groups and networks, I did not see any ads on the group homepages.) It is supported by Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari which also eliminates any need for downloading or installing on a school network. Samples of established networks can be accessed on the Ning homepage.

Has anyone used Ning? Or subscribed to WebEx? Is WebEx a possibility? Are there secure options offered by Internet providers? Or created by a school system for its schools? Or is videoconferencing easier for bringing an author, researcher or teacher from another school into the classroom? Ning seems to be a good tool for group discussion but how well does it work? As LIVEbrary on Demand prepares for Season 2, your comments will really help get our authors into classrooms.

SOURCE: "WebEx AIM® Pro Business Edition" 2008
SOURCE: "About Ning" 2008
SOURCE: "Ning Features" 2008

photo courtesy of Aaron Jacobs, used under this Creative Commons license

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