There is a great deal of research which points to the benefits to a group when the members have the opportunity to engage in another level of collaboration beyond the face to face meeting. Positive results can be achieved if the members have a common purpose and clear goals. The availability of Ning can be a wonderful opportunity for creating on online community. Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks, which is a way for people to connect and collaborate together, working toward the same goals but perhaps different contexts. For example, administration can implement a Ning when they are looking for ways to network and collaborate across all schools in a large district. Collaboration in a professional learning community is one of the essential features of this online tool.

The value of the tool is only as good as the participants make it. Members will be compelled to participate when there is good information available that will help them do their job better or consistent interaction such as comments to a blog post or responses to a forum post. In order to really understand it's value, members shouldn't view it as "just another thing to do", but as an extension of what's already being done. When groups are already meeting face to face on a regular basis, specific goals emerge and follow up becomes important. That's when the asynchronous nature of communication can really enhance the development of ideas and making plans for follow up.

This tool is not without it's issues, although the issues are not so disruptive as to discourage the users from participating. First of all, it's important to note that Ning is not Facebook, but it's open to any group of people, not just educators. Some content or subject matter may be offensive to some. In addition, Ning is open to spam in the form of unwelcome requests for membership from people who are trying to gain exposure for commercial purposes. Access to the content and membership can be carefully controlled by the privacy settings, invitation only, and the ability to moderate by the Ning organizer. Finally, unless the organizer pays for premium service, Ning includes Google ads on the right column of the page. Some find the ads distracting.

Check out these rich communities that utilize Ning to collaborate with educators all over the world that have been set up by an organizer to share resources or help facilitate support for it's members to enhance their teaching practices:
Smartboard Revolution - share tips and resources on using interactive whiteboards in the classroom
ISTE Commnity - The International Society for Technology in Education organizes this site for it's members to collaborate
Teacher Librarian Network - developed for teachers and school library staff
The English Companion - very active community of English teachers who are there to help others
Classroom 2.0 - extremely large group of teachers who interested in using technology in the classroom, a great place for beginners
Fireside Learning - an opportunity for anyone to reflect on teaching practices and anything about education
Gifted Education - a community of teachers who are intereted in helping each other when working with gifted students
Art Education 2.0 - a global community of teachers who use Ning to facilitate the use of new technologies in Art class
 
I'll admit it - my experience with Interactive whitboards is pretty limited. Since the past several years of my career have been spent out of the classroom, I have never prepared a lesson or used a whiteboard with students. I've seen presentations and I've even taught teachers how to use them, basically - but I haven't spent a great deal of time designing lessons like I have with every other technology application known to man. When I did some research to prepare some resources for this site, I've decided I don't really need to design lessons. There are so many great teachers who have been working with this kind of technology and are passionate about their value in the classroom. Don't ask me for a lesson plan, ask Jim Hollis or any of the enthusiastic educators who partcipate in the Smart Board Revolution Ning! I compiled some sites on the Interactive Whiteboard page on this site, but it's by no means exhaustive. If you think I missed any really important sites, please pass it along!

One thing I know about SmartBoard (not to endorse any particular product) is that with their software comes over 6000 pieces of media. The first thing you should do with your board (regardless of the brand) is check out what comes with the software! Based on your learning objectives, find graphic elements and prepared activities that built right in. You could create or adapt using what's already there before you even turn to the internet for lessons. You should absolutely check out the network of educators for tips an tricks. That might be the most valuable information for a beginner.

My goal: Use the interactive white board to present at my next professional development workshop. Wish me luck.