Summers are best for trying new things and figuring out whether they’ll work in my classroom.
This summer, I’ve played with Edmodo, a microblogging site geared for students and teachers.
Think of Edmodo as a little bit Twitter, a little bit Facebook…and a lot safer than both. Like Twitter, you can post notes and alerts (of any length). Like Facebook, you can add files, links, and events. You can even give out assignments and collect work. But because of Edmodo’s privacy features, it’s safe enough that most school filters don’t block it.
On Edmodo, teachers create and control groups. For example, you can make a group for one of your classes and then invite your students to join it. But they can’t make their own groups or message each other privately without posting an update to the entire group. This makes mean cyberbullying impossible. Another privacy benefit is that Edmodo makes no contact with students at all. Students don’t even need an email address to join.
The best part of Edmodo is how beautiful and easy-to-use it is. When you go to the site, you say, “This is how Twitter should be.” It’s big, airy, and colorful, and I’m thinking students will enjoy the interface.
Another great thing about Edmodo is that you can choose to have your updates sent to your email or phone. And because Edmodo is more elegant and complex than Twitter, it’s not all-or nothing. For example, you can tell students to subscribe to alerts on their phone but leave regular updates on the online group feed.
But the worst part of Edmodo makes me wonder how I’ll use it in my classroom next year. Unlike Twitter, Edmodo does not allow updates through SMS. This means that students cannot use their phones to send a note; they have to use a computer or a smartphone instead. Jeff O’Hara, co-founder of Edmodo, says that this functionality costs a lot of money and that it’s not part of their upcoming plans.
This kills Edmodo-as-a-communication-tool. Let’s say I send a direct message to a student. They can’t text me back. Or let’s say I send out a mass alert on an important assignment. It’s great that students will get that information, but the only way students can add to the conversation is by going to the Edmodo site. This is not how kids work. They want to text their update right then and there, not wait until later. Therefore, Edmodo is not perfect for communication. I’ll stick to texting through email distribution lists.
But as a teaching tool, Edmodo will come in handy. You can think of Edmodo as an informal class blog. It’s a great way for students to get their questions, ideas, and opinions out in the public. For example, students can post their reactions to a reading for homework, and the next day, we can use their responses as a springboard for discussion.
If you have a lot of computers in your classroom (or a 1:1 solution), Edmodo’s usefulness skyrockets. It would be a great way to get student feedback, do exit tickets, and conduct formative assessments.
Yet another use for Edmodo is that it lets students and teachers communicate with each other through direct messages. Sure, you could do this over email or text (or in person!), but through Edmodo, you don’t need to remember an email address or phone number. Plus, Edmodo will save all of your replies, so you can have one thread per student to record your communication and to chart their progress. For example, this year I plan on moving my weekly written student check-ins from Google Docs to Edmodo.
It’ll be fun to figure out how Edmodo works out for me this year. It certainly won’t replace my existing communication structures, but it’ll definitely come in handy to promote learning and get students’ ideas out in the open.