uSpace is a social learning network housed within each Ultranet site. It provides an excellent platform for social-based learning and a means for modelling best practice in a social networking environment. uSpace does not come automatically enabled for users, as staff need to be comfortable with how the school intends it to be used, and therefore how best to introduce it to the students. It is recommended that the in-school Ultranet administrator enable uSpace for staff first, for them to explore the possibilities. When further rollout is required, uSpace can be enabled for individuals or groups/year levels. Often schools ensure pupils are competent at using the ClassSpace discussion forums before enabling uSpace.
Schools intentions for uSpace use varies, depending on the age of the students and different foci in the school. For example, schools might focus on one or many of the following:
To informally model social networking, and as a way for the students to practice being excellent cybercitizens
For weekly reflective journal writing in the blog
To encourage students to celebrate the “informal learner” by uploading photos and videos
To model and encourage good feedback/forward on peer work
Access to uSpace is relatively restricted; a student’s uSpace profile is only accessible by her teachers, her buddies and her parents/caregivers. Encouraging parents/caregivers to comment on their child’s work can have a positive impact on the learning.
Behaviour in uSpace tends to be underpinned by how it is introduced to the students and the expectations laid out from the start. Students don’t like their uSpace profile to be disabled (which teachers can do very easily from their class list in their online classroom) and so they tend to follow the rules laid out to them. Ensuring that students understand the penalties of misuse and by following through appropriately (and perhaps publicly) when the first student misuses the system and there will be minimal problems with its use.
As all comments in uSpace are “reportable” it is also a good idea to make sure the students understand what kind of comment is worth reporting. For example, you don’t want multiple instances of students reporting comments like “I don’t like your artwork”, but you do want them to feel comfortable to report any bullying. Whole profiles are also ‘reportable’, and on the whole, students tend to be quite good at self-policing. When a student clicks report on either a comment or the whole profile, an email gets sent to the designated abuse moderator to follow up appropriately. The email contains a copy of the comment in case it subsequently gets deleted.
It is always a good idea to inform your parent community at the beginning of the journey that you will be using a social learning network in school – children telling parents they are “using Facebook in school” doesn’t always go down well! Make parents aware that the school has appropriate guidance and policies in place for its use and they will welcome the fact that the school is teaching their children good netiquette.
Using a social learning network in school will be quite new for most teachers, and so it is a good idea for staff to regularly review usage and share any good/bad experiences. This can only strengthen how it is best utilised in school.