Monday, November 5, 2012

10 Weeks In: Reflections On Edmodo (part 1)

This year I started using Edmodo instead of ProBoards as my platform of choice for our class forum.
I write about our past class use of Proboards here, and how I planned to use Edmodo in a similar capacity this year here.

This is a reflection on that decision to migrate platforms.

I created four virtual "rooms" in Edmodo for my students this year:

1) The Fantastic Forum 
2) The Homework Help Room
3) The Ape Room
4) The Reflection and Review Room 

I'll talk about my observations of how each of these virtual rooms have worked in Edmodo in turn.

The Fantastic Forum 
This is the virtual room that was essentially hosted by ProBoards last year. I switched hosts because I wanted to consolidate our virtual spaces, but as a forum, Edmodo doesn't come close to the flexibility and power of ProBoards.

First, a little background.

I love the idea of a class forum for a number of reasons. It allows me to extend classroom discussions beyond the actual classroom, it teaches online discussion behavior, and it provides yet another way for the children to be exposed to writing with an authentic audience.

Edmodo does not provide as strong of a backbone as ProBoards to support all three of these goals. I'll break it down:

A) Extending Classroom Discussions
Edmodo really isn't meant to be used as a forum platform, much like Facebook isn't meant to be used in that way either. The great thing about a discussion board is that participants in any given thread have the same abilities as the person who started the thread. For example, if I started a thread called, "What's your favorite song and why?" every participant could not only answer with a reason, but they could also attach their favorite song for everyone to listen to. In Edmodo this is just not possible. I can post an initial note that embeds a song,

or a photo or a video...

But "commenters" can only respond with text. It would be brilliant if commenters could respond with multimedia, like a real forum thread:

The one nice feature that Edmodo holds over ProBoards in this regard is that Edmodo has a "Library", an online multimedia depository that organizes and holds any content that I want to share with my kids. That's a nice feature, and one that message boards don't have.

B) Teaching Online Discussion Behavior
One of the main benefits of a forum is that we can learn from each other. In order for this to be true though, we need to get in the habit of reading and commenting on each other's ideas. Edmodo is horrible at supporting this, because there is no quote function. This means that if you want to respond to another commenter, you pretty much have to write a response immediately after that commenter, or else the responses become a tangled mess:

This is annoying, and is the reason why forums invented the quote function:

It's something very simple that makes a big difference in both how we view and interact with online discussions. Instead of responding only to the person who started the discussion, students can begin to interact with the larger online community.

C) Writing For An Authentic Audience
Both ProBoards and Edmodo is by invitation only. Anyone with an email account can apply to be a member of a board I set up in ProBoards. Any one with a group code can join a virtual room in Edmodo. This is great because I think it's important for students to be able to write to a larger audience beyond their teacher and even their classmates. Ideally parents could join the forum and the discussion. The difference is how Edmodo views its participants. You're either a teacher, a student, or a parent. If you're signed in as a parent though, you only have access to your child's grades or specific notifications regarding assignments or upcoming events- all the ways that I don't use Edmodo with my kids.

Parents don't have access to the virtual rooms. In order for the parents to participate in room discussions, they have to register as students. This is an added level of inconvenience and weirdness. I haven't attempted to ask parents to pose as fake students so they can participate in our class discussions.

So does it make sense to continue using Edmodo as a forum? I'm not sure. The advantage is that it helps consolidate our online presence, which is extremely important for this age group. Consistency and simplicity are key factors to building online behaviors, and exposing the kids to too many tools would be both overwhelming and counter productive. On the other hand Edmodo is not meant to be a true forum, and perhaps I'm breaking one of my cardinal rules: Never use a technology for a purpose other than what it's designed for.

I guess I have the rest of the year to figure it out.

In my next post I'll discuss the class' experience with the three other virtual rooms I set up in Edmodo.

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