As readers know, I’m just beginning to explore different ways my English Language Learner students, particularly in Social Studies classes, can connect with others from around the world.

In fact, if any of you have classes (with students aged 14-to-twenty years old) in countries other than the United States; your students either speak English or are at an Intermediate English or above level;  and you might be interested in exploring ways to have our students connect, please leave a comment or email me directly.  I’m particularly interested in my students learning about how other governments work, and how people make social change effectively in other countries.  My students, in turn, can share what they’re learning about those topics related to the United States.

There are a variety of ways to facilitate this form of communication. 

For example, there are many online applications which allow students to work on projects at the same time and communicate instanteously, such as Google Presentations, various online Whiteboards, and video and/or audio “chat” systems that I’ve posted about previously.

But what about when students are in different time zones, or for other reasons it’s difficult to get everyone on computers at the same time?  How best to help students collaborate with these challenges?

Blogging and exchanging comments — through writing and through audio and/or video — is one way.   Social Networking through tools like Ning are another.   I know there’s a Ning network called International Collaboration that high school students around the world are using to communicate, and I’ve read on Classroom 2.0 about other teachers using Ning effectively.

At this point, however, Ning is blocked by our District content filters.  The Tech Department has been extremely supportive of our work, and has always unblocked any site I’ve requested.  I just don’t want to go “to the well” too many times if it’s not required.  There are also a couple of  other new sites that allow you to create “closed” networks like Ning that don’t appear to be blocked — Mixxt and Youfig (though Youfig might cost something).

I’d be interested in hearing from teachers who have used some kind of closed social network with their students — I’m just not clear what the benefit is over the other options I’ve described (I would assume it would make it easier for multiple classes to collaborate together). I’d also be curious if anyone knows enough to do a comparison/contrast with these different social network creation sites.  If I knew enough about them, I’d write a post like Ed Tech Hacks did comparing wikis today. And I’m also very interested in hearing about other people’s ideas on how to connect to “sister” classes across long-distances, particularly in high schools.

Just as I’ve started to think about this kind of collaboration, I read a post on the Langwitches blog titled “Collaboration Projects: Doomed to Fail?”  That thoughtful post, along with the many comments that followed, helped fuel my spending more time trying to figure this out.

My purpose and focus is pretty narrow about what I’d like to do (maybe unrealistically so?).  I’ve made a few potential connections already, including with Brazilian EFL teacher Ana Maria Menezes.  I’m certainly open to more connections, and hearing more ideas.