Talking to the darkness

Social Networking for those with special needs

Pre Voc social networking site on NingThis is the social networking site created on Ning for a group of special needs students I work with. It was created in specific response to need. We had tried to use various options supplied on the managed learning environment but there was a lack of visual imput and most of the students need a high level of support for literacy.  This group of students are working at a level well below GCSE but are adults. They want to contact friends but often parents and carers are not happy for them to use mainstream networking sites. I found Ning, the host of our site, by accident but it seemed to suit our students. Ning will host our site for free and looks just like any other networking site. I can keep our area private and ring-fenced as it is invitation only and I manage the site. Students can leave short messages, add photos and upload from youtube. One student has uploaded Mr Bean and is happy to share this with others. As a tool in the classroom I can work on basic social skills. Many of these students find a parent child, or teacher student relationship easier than peer relationships. How do you respond to a basic ‘Hi’ message. How do you keep a conversation going on line. In a teacher student relationship we tend to prompt a response to keep the dialogue going. Without the prompt peer to peer discussions tend to be brief. Unfortunately the use of the network is limited by the the signing in process. I cannot express the frustration that is produced by the continued need to sign in to access any network. We may accept it as a nuisance but for special needs students it stops progress. There may be technology that could change this, fingerprint access, but there is no funding or mainstream understanding that change is needed.

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2 responses

  1. Shaku

    I found this very moving, and it reminded me of a social network site for Roma people started in Hungary (which sadly has now closed down) Zhoriben.hu. People who are very intimidated by the racism on normal social network sites Hungary used it, it was a closed community, invite only, but it served a very clear and sensitive community-building function.

    I will ask around amongst the various techie people I know about the sign-in issue but I suspect the ‘safety’ issue will always trump the ‘accessibility’ one and that is indeed maddening since it does not have to be an either/or.

    May 24, 2009 at 9:54 am

  2. Stripey Roar

    Ning looks interesting. I will have a look at Ning – thanks. I teach many people who fall into the category of POVA and this is one of the reasons that I can’t see our college allowing the use of social networking sites within our classrooms. It is policy in our college not to befriend students on facebook, myspace etc. I am just not allowed to do it.

    May 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

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