A friend of mine who is a k-12 art teacher asked about getting started with social networking. She does a little blogging here and there, but she is knee deep in teaching at the moment, which limits her time online. I thought for a bit about how to respond to her question. Her question focuses more on personal professional networking, not so much focused on social networking with her students (some of her students would most likely be too young to network with her online and she already interacts with her students in person).

There are quite a few teachers, educators, librarians, and other professionals who are using facebook, linkedin or namyz to create professional web presences and networks. Some of them use those presences to connect to their users; others are more focused on a professional level. However, in the long run, how useful are those sites on a day to day basis in terms of networkng professionally and in getting real work done? Sure, they may (or may not) provide opportunities for outreach, opportunities for freelance or consulting work, collaboration opportunities, but are those sorts of sites (linkedin, facebook, etc.) really the best bang for the buck in terms of professional networking?

What web tools provide a means to increased productivity, better resources, and networking opportunities? Tools which are very easy to use and practical?

I came up with my own short list of tools, which are easy to use, engaging, and provide a means to streamline work in some way, while providing opportunities for discovery and networking.
These are all tried and true, very popular applications.

Google docs / Google pages
Google docs is a web based wordprocessor, spreadsheet product, and more recently presentation maker. Think, Word, Excel, Powerpoint — all in one easy to use place on the web. Documents can be shared by invitation (makes collaboration a breeze), emailed in the more popular formats, and also published out the web (as very simple web pages, but still!) . Once they have been published out on the web, there’s really not much of a limit in terms of what can be done with them. Googlepages is a free web page creator from guess who. Yes, Google now has their own free web editor/website design service. Not a lot of flexibility but a very easy way to get a website up QUICKLY. All that is required to use these services, is a google/gmail account, for which anyone can sign up. Certainly a useful tool in terms of project groups, working on documents from multiple computers, or creating web pages. Published pages via these Google services each have a unique URL/address, so they can be linked to, shared, blogged, etc. I use google docs a lot when I need to collaborate.

del.icio.us (bookmarking)
del.icio.us (or any other free centralized storage spot for internet bookmarks) makes organizing, and sharing bookmarks easy, as well as finding resources that are used by other professionals. For those who haven’t used del.icio.us, it is amazingly easy. Create a user login, install a button for your IE or firefox toolbar (very very easy to do). Once the button is installed, when a website is found that you would like to keep, you click on the del.icio.us button, and a menu pops up. You give it the title YOU want it to have, and then you can include a description, tags (keywords) and click save. Voila!

Anywhere in the world that you might be, if you have internet access, you probably have access to your del.icio.us page. Finding like-minded people (teachers, artists, whoever) and linking to their network, is probably one of the most valuable tools of del.icio.us. A great way to discover new and interesting resources! Anything online can be probably be linked to in del.icio.us. Google docs pages can be linked. Image files can be linked. Video files can be linked.. A del.icio.us page could easily be a bibliography, a lesson plan, a pathfinder, or even a class syllabus. I use del.icio.us to organize all of my presentation resources — everything! The powerpoint presentation, the links that are cited, and other supplemental info.

Youtube (video)
Youtube, google video (any other free video/videocasting site), etc. could be very useful in the educational and training realm. Youtube already hosts quite a bit in the way of tutorials, and it would be neat to include those in lesson plans. Youtube videos can be embedded into websites, presentations, and other documents. Another idea would be to take lesson plans and use video to either illustrate the lesson plan or supplement the plan (and then share it on youtube!). Students can also contribute content in either creating video responses, writing comments/reviews about videos, evaluating content, or even creating videos as the product of an assignment.