Tool Review: Edmodo

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm
Jennifer Dick's picture



The school where I used to teach blocked Facebook and Myspace, and this is not uncommon; many of the teachers I speak to report that their districts have similar policies. Some cite concerns that these social network destinations are too tempting for students to access during the school day, that they distract youth from concentrating on their school work. While this is a factor, the main reason these sites are blocked is safety. School districts are liable for student actions, so if youth are uploading inappropriate media or participating in online harassment, the school could be held legally responsible. The cheapest and easiest solution is to block social network access from campus. While this reaction is understandable, it’s also unfortunate, because social networks provide students with a communication platform that engages them. Many educators understand this, and so it’s gratifying to see that social networking platforms are being developed specifically for education.

Today we’ll take a look at Edmodo, a free social network for educators and their students that provides a safer alternative for online communication, collaboration, and sharing.

Features
Edmodo is a safer alternative because teachers control who joins their online class groups; students have to be explicitly invited in order to gain access to class group features. All activity settings default to private as well. Parents can also be invited to join; but again, the teacher has full control over group membership.

Edmodo’s user interface and actions resemble Facebook closely, so students and teachers alike should find posting messages and links very intuitive. This isn’t a regular social network, though: it knows its audience. Teachers can post notes, alerts, assignments (complete with attachments and due dates that automatically populate the calendar), and polls—all of which can be sent to individual members or groups (classes or clubs). Group members can comment on them, extending the conversation around the shared resources—this could be a great way to prompt youth to evaluate the credibility of web links, a skill they really need to practice. These featured posts all populate a news feed on the recipient’s home page.

Separate from the news feed are the calendar, grades, and library tools. The calendar allows the educator to manually create events, although any assignment due dates listed using the assignment feature will automatically be transferred to the calendar. These can be specific to a group, for the teacher, or for an individual student. A gradebook is automatically generated for each group created, but it lists only those assignments that have been created and submitted through the Edmodo interface (at least as far as I can tell). The library allows educators to create online information warehouses for their own personal use, as well as student use. Document and web resources can be organized in folders that can be shared with class groups.

There are many helpful resources to guide new users through all of the features, some of which are also available in Spanish. Edmodo also has its eye on school- and district-wide implementations. They host regular webinars on topics such as “Intro to Edmodo,” “20 Ways to Use Edmodo,” and “Edmodo for Schools and Districts: Making a Plan for Widescale Use.” More information for school and district IT professionals can be found on their School and District Guide page.



Sample Classroom & Youth Program Applications
This is the section where I usually brainstorm some possible uses of the new media tool I’m reviewing for various academic disciplines, but seeing as Edmodo is a management tool and not geared toward knowledge creation, here are some ideas for why and how I would use it with my students.

 

  • Differentiation:Any group of students will have young people who require very different things to progress in their skill development and knowledge acquisition. Edmodo makes it very easy to send targeted information to individual students.
    • Use private notes to post web links that remediate, support, or extend the topic being discussed in class.
    • Use private calendar dates to create reminders for students who require smaller, more frequent deadlines to manage their work and stay on task.
    • Some students with special learning needs find it much easier to communicate with others through online interfaces, which also benefit quieter, shyer students as well. Edmodo provides them with an easier way to contribute to class discussion.
  • Community Building: The success of a class rests largely on the development of trust in their peers and their teacher, and trust is built through shared experience, met expectations, and meeting the needs of the individual community members.
    • Use notes to send interesting and funny links to the group or individual students.
    • Post opinion polls that solicit feedback on lessons and choice of activities for future lessons, and to check for group understanding of a topic. By allowing students a chance to participate in decision-making for the group, you’ll help them feel more invested in their class community.
    • Encourage students to post relevant links and documents with the group, and urge everyone to comment respectfully on these resources.
  • Documentation:How often have you had a fabulous class discussion but no artifacts to remember it by? What about that amazing paper Juan wrote five years ago that you’d love to use as an exemplar for your students this year, except you can’t find it in your box of student work? Edmodo’s online interface creates a record of what you all worked together to accomplish over the course of the year.
    • Use the library feature to create student portfolios. Students upload work according to whatever guidelines you establish, which, if shared with the group, makes peer portfolio review a very simple matter.
    • Having student work submitted online, along with written student comments, makes it very easy for teachers to see what worked and what did not with a particular lesson. Refining lesson and unit materials becomes much more simple.
  • Parent Involvement: Teachers can invite parents to groups, which can be an easy way for them to see firsthand what’s happening in class. Between work and caring for their family, parents don’t always have time to check in with their children’s teachers as often as they’d like. Give them an option to join the class community.



Breakdown

  • Price Structure: Free
  • Pros:
    • Robust, practical tool set for teachers and students
    • Facebook-like interface makes it very intuitive for most users
    • Strong privacy controls
    • Easy student account setup
    • Mobile apps available for those with smart phones
  • Cons:
    • Can’t add assignments from within the Grade feature



Do you use Edmodo with your youth? Do you have any activity suggestions, tips, or tricks to share? Comment below or contact us!