Our school has a Ning and is in the same situation. Although I don't know from personal experience, I've heard Edmodo (setup guide) is a good alternative that some schools/teachers use, although that may be more for teacher-student communication.
If your district is willing to host a "hub" on their own servers where teachers and students (or teachers and other teachers) can communicate and collaborate, check out Moodle, or a more classic "Wiki-style" solution like Dokuwiki. All three are free...
Nings also allow you to be secure while integrating with resources and people "outside" of the school. This has gone largely unnoticed. I worked with Scarsdale Middle School to build a Ning that integrates their school with Lincoln Centers schools. LI school Nings could have real farmers and business on their Nings as tutor resources. This Feature is huge. Yet untapped. Imagine all of LI schools in one theatre group in one Ning or One Giant LI Student Ning with sports, theatre, chess etc as groups.
With a Ning you can a do a flat classroom with students in another country. The way Ning handle groups is also under utilized.
We are still thinking in the classroom box. LI needs one paid and secure student Ning with adult coaches and even Pros in them.
Ning will not make any sudden moves and I believe we will see some very neat feature in the summer.
When we think in terms of projects and communities of interest rather than a class the Ning takes on a different flavor than a wiki. It will be interesting to see if they integrate Nings with GoogleWave.
I agree that a larger NING site that brought groups together on LI would be greatly beneficial, especially in the educational arena. NING happens to have a very flexible design. From what I've seen so far, grou.ps comes the closest to duplicating the features... Thank you for sharing your networks...
Nings new plan is worth it when you think about a nice it works and easy it is to use. The Nings that left seem to universally go to grou.ps.
My feel at looking at some of the upgrades Ning is planning that it is worth staying with Ning
Small Ning under 150 will only go for $19.95 per month and Large unlimited Nings will jump to $199 per year but be without adds.
My recommendation is the the school purchase a Ning and have the teachers who use them, use them in groups. This is a very economical solution.
The school needs to set up a faculty room page with links to DIIG, Decious and to other teacher and library Nings. BOCES should also have a Ning with User groups on technologies (like white boards) and methods (like PBL). These serve as both education an help groups.
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