(Cross-posted on the Edmodo Blog. I have not taken any money for this endorsement. They just asked if I would write a review.)
I don’t usually make it a point to call attention to a particular technology as being so overwhelmingly beneficial to education as to set itself apart from those that have come before it, but in this case I will make an exception.
I have used social networks and collaborative environments with students for a number of years. Everything from Wikispaces and Google Sites to Voicethread to Ning. Each one had a significant impact on students by creating a space for student ownership and collaborative contribution. However, each time that a project ended, the community dried up and withered away. There was no underlying instinct to share or create with one another because it was always focused around only an academic understanding of student needs. By only going after part of the student, both the technology and my understanding of what was possible were severely stunted.
While I had used Edmodo two years ago to have students reflect upon their progress for a particular activity, both the web application and my understanding of it have advanced considerably within the last month. You see, last month our school district instituted a pilot for Edmodo as an institution. The first step of that pilot is within our k-12 Online School. Some would say that this is a poor choice for a pilot because it isn’t like a brick and mortar school with a traditional bell schedule and scarce technological resources.
Here is why I made the case for it’s inclusion in the pilot:
Every school has walls. The online school just has them in a learning management system. Every school has a gradebook. The online school’s just doesn’t require as much manual entry. Every school has curriculum. The online school’s is just hyperlinked. Every school has a hallway and a cafeteria, but until Edmodo, our Online School did not. We needed a place for students to share what was going on in their lives within a safe and school-based environment.
That was the case that I made, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the results. From the very first day of school, our students have made this space their own. They never had any doubts as to what it was or why they needed it. Here is how I know:
- The students have asked for (and received) the creation of over 40 different groups that are both academic and social. Here is a list of what they have requested: Book Chat, Baseball Fan Club, The games lounge, lunch room, The music club, The Coffee Shop, Lego Fans!, All Sports Talk, Movie Talk, Film Fans, Sidewalk Art, The sience room, Sophomore Class!, Modern Warfare (Video Game), OtakuFans, The Official Hallway, The Bench, Click This (Photography), Recess!!, Class of 2014, aero space science, anime chat lounge, The fun Palace, Pizza Place, 5th Grade Hallway, political conversation, cat lovers, Quantem Tag-Team Underwater Basket Weaving Club, Mario club, Acting101, Help Pets, The Asimov & Tolkien Reading Lounge, field trip ideas, volleyball lovers, Hockey chat, Creative Writing Club, Let’s Talk
- They organized and created a weekly news show for our school (completely on their own). Here is the first episode.
- They created their own music and music videos.
- They have shared art, photographs, and literary discussions.
- They have created screencasts to help one another with the technology (and to do interesting things)
And that is just a taste of the things they are doing in Edmodo. I can honestly say that I didn’t know a group of students from all ages would coexist in such an open space and work together to create things of learning and beauty all because they had the tool and the opportunity to do so. Throughout this year we will see students who are more engaged and less apathetic because they feel confident that their schools is real in the ways that matter.
I can already hear detractors for this evidence. I know that they would come from two directions and I would like to tackle each one individually:
- An online school isn’t like a regular school. Those kinds of uses would work in MY school.
- That is too social. It will take away from the time that my students use for studying and doing homework.
An online school is different than a brick and mortar environment. No doubt about it. And yet, learning still happens. Students still attend class. They are still children with needs for guidance and mentorship. They still want to congregate and get to know their friends. And, in many ways, what we are attempting to do with Edmodo is what every school school be doing. We are establishing an academically-based social space. Many schools, while being physical in nature, have highly dysfunctional hallways and lunch rooms. Students bully one another and they get into fights over insignificant (and decidedly non-academic) pursuits. We are modeling the social interaction with a tool that provides for safety and co-creation. We are telling students to come in and use their judgement to ask intelligent questions and contribute their work. By stating that online schools are not places you can learn from, you are walling yourself off from the possibility that Edmodo just might save your school culture. It has done at least that much for us. Our students come to us from all places in the state and with all different backgrounds. Brick and mortar schools are equally challenged with differentiating among each type of student. The only way that we have successfully been able to meet each student where they are is to let them differentiate for themselves within Edmodo. The level of individualized learning is too massive to ignore.
As for the idea that Edmodo is too social and would take away from student achievement. I concede nothing on that point. Student achievement can only be based upon student engagement. Students who join extra curricular activities are less likely to drop out and more likely to achieve than those who do not take advantage of those opportunities. Students who stay in the school past class time to talk to teachers and one another will do better on their tests and projects. Edmodo is an essential part of the school because it is where every one of our clubs is housed. It is where the five minutes before class is held. It is the space that the kids want to talk about their classes and their assignments. They seek and find help from those that are have been there before. It is the place that they engage with the school, not the place that they goof off and distract themselves. They are proud of their accomplishments and will daily tout when they have their work done. Learning is social, and Edmodo is one of the only places that really gets it.
So that’s it. We have seen incredible success with Edmodo because we saw it as our school’s best chance to connect all of the disparate parts and stakeholders. We continue to see the potential for new types of learning within this platform and we are excited to see what the future holds. Whatever that is, we will definitely keep Edmodo along for the ride.