In this section we will reflect on the following topics:
- Using the platform “mixxt“ as an online community for your own classroom teaching.
- Six simple steps, in order to create and run your own social network with your students.
- Ideas of what such a platform can be used for.
"mixxt" is an online platform with similar functionalities to Facebook, but it enables you to use it in private communities (for example a class) without the general public seeing you. The platform is commercial, but offers a free version with limited functions. These functions are, however, sufficient for your own classroom use.
“mixxt” provides a very user-friendly interface and is simple and straight-forward to use, thus, very suitable for beginners.
Some teachers, who are attracted to the idea of using social media for school purposes, may hesitate doing so, as they are not comfortable with the online safety issues that are often reported about sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Although these safety issues are manageable with the clear guidance that is offered from a range of safeguarding sources, a good alternative is the creation of your own, protected, social network. There are a range of providers offering this service, dependent upon your needs, such as:
I have chosen www.mixxt.com because I have had very good experiences when using the site. The basic version, which is sufficient, is free of charge. The supplier is a German company in Bonn and the helpdesk works very effeciently. The following information is meant to introduce you 'step by step' to using the platform.
Step 1: Getting logged in to the "mixxt" platform
Go to the internet site http://www.mixxt.com. There is also a German version: http://www.mixxt.de. Here, you can already find out a lot about "mixxt". If you click on “More”, you will find answers to questions, new users frequently ask (FAQs). In addition to this, there is some information about the company itself.
Mixxt offers a free and a premium version. When clicking the button “Pricing”, you will find out more about that. For school purposes, the free version usually works well enough. First, you will have to create your own account. To do this, you will have to click on “Sign up”.
Step 2: Sign up to become a member of "mixxt"
REad these carefully as you have to accept them. It is most important to be aware of the fact, that as admin (administrator), you can be held responsible for any content uploaded to your network. This is something very sensible which needs to be explained to the students. Students disobeying this responsibility should be immediately excluded from the network and face other disciplinary measures. In order to have a survey of the uploaded content, you should inspect the network at least once a week, also during vacation. After going through the usual log-in procedure, you will be logged in to the "mixxt" platform. Now you have to create your own social network.
Step 3: Creation of your own network
In order to create your own social network, you have to click on “create your own network”.
You first have to decide on the domain. That is the internet address of your network. Something simple and easy to remember is advisable. No 2 and 3 are about the name and subtitle of your social network. Choose something related to the project you want to do. If you do a bilateral interchange project, it would be a good idea to mention the countries or cities and names of the schools. For school purposes, the most suitable category usually is "educational", but you can also choose other categories. For the member names, it is advisable to require real names. Nicknames sometimes ridicule things and lead to students not taking their work in the network seriously enough. You can choose a public or private visibility, if you choose the public one, other members of the "mixxt" society will be able to view the start page, including the profile pictures. Students should be asked in advanced, whether they want that, or not.
Then, you will have to decide on what features your social network will offer, meaning, which possibilities students will have. It is recommended, not to choose too many at the beginning, as you can always add more at a later date. Let’s go through those features which could be interesting for school purposes:
- Blogs are well known among students and a good tool for working on various topics. Any student or teacher can upload information or his own opinion concerning a topic.
- The option “Videos” offers students and teachers the possibility to upload videos. Probably a good idea when doing international projects (to introduce your school, city and environment to the students living abroad), or when doing projects related to theatre etc.
- A forum gives the students and teachers the opportunity to exchange and discuss certain topics.
- Forming groups is very popular on facebook, for example. If you give your students the possibility of forming groups, you really have to trust them. An administrator can’t see the content in the group, unless he is a member. So, if you are not a member of that group, you will not be able to view the content posted, but you can be held responsible for it. It is not really recommendable to allow students to form groups.
- We all know Wikipedia. Creating a wiki means to create a platform to which any member of the social network can add details. Before starting a wiki, the topic should be clearly defined.
- The option “events” enables students to invite the others to certain events. There is a similar function on facebook.
- The content management option enables students to create content pages on certain topics.
- The option “news” enables students to write articles on certain topics.
As already mentioned, less sometimes is more, do not give your students too many options at the beginning, some options are pretty similar and too many of them would cause confusion, and you can always add new options. After that, you will have to decide on the layout of your social network, which is a question of personal taste.
Before finishing the creation of your social network, you should read the terms of admin:
Step 4: Defining you network
Congratulations! You are now founder and administrator of your own social network! As administrator, you will first have to get your profile done. In order to do that, you simply click on “My Page” and your empty profile page occurs. The next step is to upload a profile picture (just follow the instructions) and enter some personal information(click on “edit profile”). You can do this by answering the profile questions or just by writing something nice about yourself.
Step 5: Using the admin panel and inviting members
So far, your own social web has got only one member: you. This is not very social. In order to change this, you have to click on “Admin” on top of the main page.
Here, you have several options. Let’s go through them quickly:
In the “network section”, there are the following options:
- The option “details” enables you to enter more information about your social network, which will be visible on the starting page. Here, you can also choose the language of your network.
- The option “features” gives you the possibility to change the features, you have decided on previously. You may add or erase any feature.
- The option “mixxt apps” is only available if you get the premium package and pay for it.
- The option “main page” offers the possibility to place and move the features of the main page.
- The option “menu builder” enables you to configure your site menu as you wish. You can add new tabs, sort menu entries, etc.
- The option “privacy” is of particular importance. Here, you can make sure of the privacy of your network. The following decisions are recommended: only invited people may join, non-members may only see the sign-in page, not the profiles, members may not invite others, search engines may not spider your network.
- The option “profiles” enables you to add or change profile questions.
- The option “style” offers you options to revise the layout of your social network.
- The option “pokomatic” enables your students, if activated, to poke each other. Some students find it good fun, as they know it from facebook.
- The option “news feed” can be used for revising the information and features which are visible.
- The option “statistics” provides information on what, and how much of it, is actually uploaded to the network. Interesting and informative, you should check this on a regular basis.
In the “members panel”, the following options are on offer:
- The option “members” provides all information about your members and their activities.
- The option “newsletters” enables you to send a message to all members.
- The option “member requests” is for approving or denying potential membership requests. This option is not important if you have decided that only invited members can join the network (see “privacy”).
- The option “invitations” is very important at the beginning. Here, you can invite your members. All you need is their email address and full name. Invitations without full names will not be delivered by mixxt.
You simply enter the email address and full name of the person, you want to invite, then click on “add” and “invite”. The person invited will receive an email and can log in to your social network. On the bottom of the page, there is an “invitation summary”, enabling you to produce a survey of the invitations accepted and those not accepted yet.
- The option “welcome mail” offers the opportunity to phrase a welcome mail, each new member of your social network will receive.
The section “extras” is of no special interest.
Step 6: Starting to work with your newly established social network
After all members invited, accepted your invitations and logged in to you network, you may start your main work, which strongly depends on your subject and aim. Due to this, I will only explain the general possibilities, "mixxt" offers you. Your social network could look like this:
On the bottom of the main page, there is a “news feed”, which always informs you about the current activities of your students. It is quite important to have a look on a regular basis, just in case someone misbehaves.
When a new member has signed up to your network, it would be a good idea to welcome him/her. In order to do this, just click on the profile and leave a message on the pinboard. On the profile page, you can also add the person as a friend or send him/her a message.
The letter symbol on top of the main page will indicate when someone contacted you on your pinboard or wrote a message to you. Just click on the symbol and you will see the notification or message.
It would be a good idea to place the textbox or shoutbox in a visible area on top of the main page (see: option "menu builder"). It can be used as a common pin board for the whole community (similar to facebook).
If you face severe problems in handling the network, you can always use the help centre on the bottom of the main page. There is an email address and a phone number. I have made the experience that they help you straight away.
For which school purposes can mixxt actually be used for? The advantage of this own social web, compared to others, which are more commonly used, such as facebook, is definitely the data security. Moreover, students can easily handle it, as they grew up with this kind of media (compare: article constructivist inspired teaching). It actually takes zero explanation by the teacher, and almost no technical help. Students all over the world have interacted with this type of social media before and enjoy it. That is why they are highly motivated and very open to the idea of using a social platform for school purposes.
This is a list of suggestions:
- For student exchange projects:
- I have used this social network successfully twice in international projects, once with a Belgian school, and another with a Spanish school. After all students are signed up to the network, they upload profile pictures and profile information. They form friendships and start to get to know each other. They talk (in the foreign language) about hobbies, school subjects, their cities, leisure activities, music, sports etc. After a few weeks, I usually make my students give a presentation about their “new friends”.
- Then, you could start a project. They form bilateral groups and start working on a specific topic. If possible, arrange online-sessions, in which the students of both countries are online at the same time and can exchange and work on their topics. They can upload files, create a forum, upload pictures etc. This way, they can prepare the actual student exchange. From my experience, it is also good fun to make a logo competition on the project logo. Students from both countries create project logos and then vote for the best. Students from both countries can also give feedback on what the other students or groups have done. This way, the interchange can be very constructive. When they meet face-to-face during the real-life student exchange, they already know each other to a degree and have prepared material for the work they will do together.
- For foreign language teaching:
- In case a student exchange is not possible or affordable, "mixxt" still offers a good opportunity to exchange within the network, using the foreign language. Maybe online sessions can be arranged, so both classes are online simultaneously and can exchange. Students enjoy that a lot and are not as afraid of making mistakes as in class. Actually, you can do anything, mentioned in "For student exchange projects", except for the fact that a real student exchange, meaning students visiting each other, is not going to happen.
- For “normal” lessons:
- The "mixxt" platform can be used as a network for group work within a class. Students can form groups and work on individual topics, upload files, pictures, create a forum, discuss, forward information about homework, class matters etc.
Students can also be lead to evaluating, discussing and correcting each other's work. In this case, the teacher always has to keep an eye on fair, respectful and decent communication within the network. Actually, any topic discussed in-class can occur in the network. Working on a topic interactively is usually more motivating for students, than doing a lonely homework project at home.
As mentioned before, there are other free social networks available, like:
They are all free and I suppose them to be very similar to "mixxt", but without any working experience of these I am unable to confirm or commend. The reason why I have chosen "mixxt", to be honest, is that the provider is located in Germany and there is a German, but also English-speaking helpdesk, which works very efficiently. Furthermore, "mixxt" was recommended to me by some IT-specialized students.
Another possibility would be the usage of a popular, commonly-used social network, such as facebook. Nowadays, almost every class forms a group on facebook. Some teachers may find it ok to start such a group, which would actually offer similar possibilities to "mixxt". I am not doing this, because I am not too sure about data security on facebook, although I have my own facebook account too. I sometimes use the fact, that all my classes have formed their own groups for announciations or information, relevant for the class (such as homework, to do's or appointments). I simply write a message to one member of the group and ask him/her to post the information in the group. I do not like being a member of my classes' facebook groups, because I don't like to know everything about their leisure activities, love affairs, or party behaviour.