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Supporting Beginning Teachers
May 10, 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 16
Table of Contents
Tech for Teachers
Tap the Power of Social Networking with Edmodo
Jason T. Bedell
When using tools like social networks with students at school, two main issues often arise. First, many schools block popular social networks such as Twitter and Facebook out of concern for potential inappropriate use. Second, social networks, while useful in connecting people, are not built around the specific needs of schools. Edmodo, however, hopes to change all that. Sometimes called the "Facebook of schools," Edmodo is a private, safe, and free social network that has several features designed for teachers and students.
Through Edmodo, teachers can conduct real-time conversations, post assignments so that students can submit projects online, send notes and alerts, or devise polls and quizzes. Polling is one quick way to find out whether students understand a concept. Teachers can also set up distinct groups, so that different classes or school clubs can have private spaces. Each group gets its own alphanumeric code, which the teacher gives to students (and other teachers or administrators as needed) so they can join. When a student joins a group, a parent code is also generated, which parents can use to see their child's grades and online activities.
Tapping the Power of Social Networking
Twitter has over 150 million users. Facebook has over 450 million. These numbers attest to the fact that real-time, social technology can be both very engaging and very powerful. These networks were even integral communication tools in the recent Middle Eastern revolutions. Started in 2008, Edmodo serves 6.6 million teachers and students worldwide. The Edmodo blog is a great place to start to see the many ways educators can use this tool.
Using Edmodo, teachers can set up groups for classes, projects, or even school clubs; post assignments and content; conduct real-time dialogues; offer quizzes and polls; and present other school-related activities.
At the beginning of this year, I worked with a 6th grade science teacher to set up Edmodo for her classes. Because all three of her blocks are in the same content area, she made one Edmodo group for all the classes. This way, students also benefit from having access to a wider group of peers as they complete work.
Edmodo is private, so student groups are safe from the wider public; but students still need a little assistance in learning to develop good habits for posting information online, so we made that our first priority. We had an honest discussion with students and collectively developed protocols for what was and was not appropriate in an online class space. We would reiterate these ideas regularly and hold conferences with students when they made mistakes in the beginning. There is a small learning curve for students trying to learn the difference between posting to Facebook at home and posting to Edmodo for school, but with support they grasped the concept quickly. For example, students, like others on a social network, often share too much information online or can be too blunt. The main issue our students had in the beginning was being too casual, which allowed a few science discussions to move toward discussions of evening and weekend plans. This is natural, because students are exploring the boundaries of this new environment; they just need to be reminded often that it is an extension of school, and the language used therein should reflect that.
Engaging Students with Content in New Ways
There are several ways that Edmodo can be used to deepen learning. Edmodo allows for a "backchannel"—a way for participants to communicate while watching a presentation, whether on a screen or during a lecture. Backchanneling is a popular technique at conferences that has seen growing use in school settings. In the 6th grade science classes, for example, as the students were watching a video on the parts of a cell, the teacher would periodically post a conversation question about the content to the Edmodo site. Students could ask questions when they wanted clarification about an idea. That got the students actively assimilating what they were watching, as opposed to passively receiving information.
The science teacher and I chose Edmodo for a few reasons. We both utilize project-based learning often, and Edmodo helps the students to work together and learn from each other more easily during class—and in ways that were not previously possible for us outside of class time. Beyond that, students have a direct line to help at any time, and the real-time information provided by the Edmodo platform allows us to more easily differentiate our instruction. Last, it helped us to get the students invested and engaged in content-area discussions.
Extending Edmodo Beyond the Classroom
After using Edmodo for assignments and class discussions for a week or two, we took a step back to see if students would be comfortable using Edmodo on their own. We did not expect to see many student posts beyond what was required. We were very pleasantly surprised, however, that over several days at least 10 students asked science-related questions about homework assignments and concepts from class or text. Many other students attempted to answer their questions. Not everyone had developed the habit of checking Edmodo daily in the first few weeks, but many students had chosen to use it as a way to learn on their own terms and time.
Teachers can also use Edmodo for their own professional development and to extend professional learning communities. Steven P. Anderson, an instructional technologist and influential educational technology blogger, recently wrote about how Edmodo was used as a tool for professional development at the annual conference for the North Carolina Technology in Education Society. Every session at the conference made an Edmodo group. All resources were posted there so participants could have access to them at any time. The Edmodo groups could be used as backchannels during conference sessions. More importantly, the conversations and ideas did not have to end when the session did. The educators had a platform on which they could continue to connect and learn when the conference finished.
Social media is a truly transformative technology. I can instantly write another teacher on the other side of the world. Anyone with a phone has become a news reporter, writing about important events as they happen. Social media is helping to shape our world and our students should be a part of that. Give them a chance to utilize social technology responsibly to learn and help others. This will not only help them learn, but it will also prepare them to be active participants in their world.
Jason T. Bedell is an instructional technology consultant and a library media specialist at Belmar Elementary School in New Jersey. He explores how effective technology integration can deepen student learning and make the school environment more student-centered.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 16. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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