I’m currently involved in the provision of Further Education (FE) courses in Dublin on Spreadsheets, Databases, Word Processing, E Business and some Maths. The learning technology I’ve chosen to review in delivery of these subjects is Edmodo which I trialled during the 2013/2014 academic year. They describe themselves as a social network for students, teachers and educators who are currently estimated to have in excess of 34 million worldwide users (see https://www.edmodo.com/about). As of December 2013 the ‘Top 100 Tools for Learning’ site ranked Edmodo in 29th place. Other familiar names in this list include Twitter (1st), YouTube (3rd), WordPress (8th), Facebook (9th) and Moodle (11th), (see detailed list at http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/).
In my own FE center the majority of social media and networking websites are blocked (Edmodo is an exception). In many cases this can simply be as a result of the FE college not have sufficient resources to monitor such sites and this is the easier option. It is interesting to note that some research has linked heavy internet use with greater impulsiveness; a reduction in patience, lower tenacity and lower critical thinking skills. However there is evidence to suggest that the internet does increase skimming and scanning ability (WCER 2011). In critically evaluating social media and networking in education it can be a trade off between the former and latter. One cannot ignore the benefits of social media and networking in education through learning how to use the technology responsibly, helping students to interact with their peers, as well as developing key life networking skills. They can also greatly assist in planning and organisation for both the student and teacher. Indeed a number of these topics will be addressed by my colleagues in their discussions on Second Life virtual classroom environments and also in the delivery of educational materials via Interactive Whiteboards at below links:
It is important to remember that these sites can also provide the crucial link between education, the social world and business.
In my own FE college, Moodle is currently being rolled out, which is a course management system widely used by IT’s and universities. I chose Edmodo as a useful precursor mainly because there were a number of teachers up and running on it and it would benefit both the students and myself in transitioning to Moodle. I also found that while it appeared straightforward in use, it was capable of a lot at the FE level. Research conducted by Mentzer et al. (2007) and Summers et al. (2005) finds that students are more satisfied with traditional face to face courses in comparison to those delivered online at higher level, hence delivery of my FE courses this year via a blended approach. At the FE level, we have 50-60% participating as mature students and there are high incidences of deficits in literacy, numeracy and IT skills. Is Edmodo a way of addressing some of these issues?
Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction (Gagné, Briggs and Wager 1992) assist in applying instructional theory to the design of computer based learning and this will be addressed throughout. The first obvious advantage of Edmodo is its likeness to the social media giant Facebook with which both students and teachers are so familiar. This gains attention of the students and teachers while reducing the learning curve for both. In a survey of undergraduate student preferences towards Moodle or Edmodo at a University in Thailand by Wadman (2013), he found 72% of respondents preferred Edmodo’s features. The statistics showed that the average usage of Edmodo was 3.8 times per week versus an average of 1.8 times per week for Moodle. Note this was only a small limited survey and did not consider alternative products, but the most striking theme from student feedback was its likeness to Facebook which ties in with feedback from FE students this year.
Edmodo Chief Operating Office, Crystal Hutter is keen to emphasise the ease of access which she describes as “BYOD” or Bring Your Own Device environments (Rubin 2013). In our own FE setting, students use computer labs that they can access at specific hours during and after college, however the ease of access enables practice work to carried out by students offsite. Consideration needs to be given to the ability of FE students to access a high speed internet connection, as its absence could impact negatively on the quality and frequency of student interaction (Shearer 2007). There was one FE student in particular this year who had completed the in class Excel exercises prior to coming to class on numerous occasions! He did have an older version of Microsoft Office which limited his work, but the ability to try for himself on his own time, followed by in class clarification were key for him.
Set up of Edmodo is free and students require a group code from their teacher to enter this private network and https security encryption is standard. These groups are locked after a period of time and the code has to be reset by the teacher. Students use the code to sign up under ‘I’m a student’, completing a registration form. Password choice is theirs, which can be more beneficial than being assigned a complex password to memorise. Their email address is optional (not a requirement) and like Facebook, email alerts are sent for any updates, so it’s best to use a designated email account. Students are informed of copyright issues and the importance of avoiding posting inappropriate material in line with FE college IT guidelines requiring signoff of appropriate documentation. Once in the system students can create their profile which contains an ‘about’ section, ‘connections’ (with teachers) and a ‘backpack’ library to store files which is also synced to Google Drive.
Each class has their own group and students receive a link to give them access to this and effectively have read only access to the site. As a teacher I’ve posted lecture material and practical questions into relevant folders across all subjects which allow me to present the content and stimulate recall of prior learning. Microsoft Office; Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Word as well as Adobe PDF worked well. Students have the option to view documents in Edmodo or to download and open in source file software which typically took a little longer and would sometimes hang (i.e. students would have to save and reopen). Hyperlinks and embedded YouTube videos also worked well. Online quizzes can be designed in almost any format such as MCQ, short questions, fill in gaps and true or false questions. Edmodo will automatically score these in assessing performance and reducing time spent on marking. This was particularly useful for some theory aspects of the courses especially in Databases and Spreadsheets enhancing retention and transferring to the job.
‘Polls’ were also useful, an example of which was for a Word Processing exercise for a class of trainee chefs, who were assigned the task of designing an individual menu to be submitted to myself via soft copy on Edmodo. The ultimate goal of the exercise was to raise everybody’s standards by getting behind some excellent samples. The menus were dropped into PowerPoint (without names) and made available to all in Edmodo. Students were then asked to vote on their top 3 (excluding themselves) which were polled through Edmodo. The top 3 menu designs were presented to the class by the individual students, explaining their rationale and design concepts in construction. In feedback in the end of term questionnaire, students felt the exercise was enjoyable and worked well.
A ‘progress’ tab displays a student calendar of work submitted to date with results and grading, which can also be shown on a graph. The obvious advantage here is that one doesn’t have to go and correlate results separately in a spreadsheet, but the results can be exported to Excel (csv format) and further tailored from into graphs, charts etc if necessary. Student activity can be viewed in terms of documents submitted however one would like to be able to check the frequency of logins and check document/material views. From discussion with colleagues this function was previously available under ‘insights’ but ceased late last year.
Edmodo makes use of a ‘badge’ reward scheme, which could potentially be used as part of positive formative feedback. The ‘library’ function was very similar to Dropbox, where teachers could upload material that could be followed or downloaded or synced to Google Drive. Teachers can also share materials from their libraries and items can be organised into folders for distribution to groups. A minor point here is that one would like the ability to drag/drop or copy/paste existing files/folders into other folders. One could use existing filters for searching through the library and ‘discovery’ functions (showing links ranked based on views and also trending versus all time options). Again a minor point here is one would like the ability to filter documents by author, date.
Perhaps the most powerful function was ‘notes’ for sending messages to the class, groups of classes or individual students. Students can also receive alerts when teachers post appointments to calendars. Both could be used to inform students of important dates but also to assist in informing students of the objectives and providing learning guidance (for example LO’s for the next term leading up to the exam or on a class by class basis). The ‘notes’ function also provided a facility for non contact formative feedback during the midterm which could be followed up by face to face feedback. This function also gave the ability to tailor feedback to students needs based on prior formative assessment, covering a variety of learning styles and also worked the other way providing a voice for students who were reluctant to speak up in class.
Students can also send messages to their teacher, or class but not directly to other students as a security feature, (while this is a student complaint it’s not all bad!). There is currently no instant messaging, if these functions do become available one would like to see the FE teacher having the option to enable/disable.
Most students availed of the Edmodo App for their smart phone (similar to I- Tunes principles), there are some free and there is a separate store section with recommendations generally priced between €3 and €5, (some more expensive). A free app available through Edmodo is Whiteboard Genie, which I have recently successfully installed but have not yet managed to trial with students, given the specific software training requirements of my subjects. This app allows basic functionality to draw freehand and use shapes, import pictures. I don’t see a function to chat live with other participants or facility to record the sessions, perhaps they available with the full app and are yet to be explored and would be a workaround for a feature that’s not currently available in Edmodo itself.
See https://educationandtechtalks.wordpress.com/interactive-whiteboards-2/ for a more detailed discussion on the benefits of interactive whiteboards).
I’ve recently been involved in a committee interacting with a website developer regarding the creation of a new college website in which I specifically asked about catering for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. Some of the developer’s principles on universal design are relevant to Edmodo including:
- The website maintains a consistent design and page layout throughout i.e. logos and links appear in the same place which is relevant to students who have difficulty with poor navigation features.
- Background colour and contrast are simple, obviously tested and available at different resolutions to aid students with poor vision or those who suffer from colour-blindness in deciphering/identifying text.
- Standard HTML is used that can be viewed across multiple browsers.
- Videos have audio or text to aid students with hearing difficulties or those who have older technology.
- Links avoid using the term ‘click here’, but rather contain text relevant to the link or pictures such as a book for library or house for home. This is also particularly relevant in searches by search engines or software assisting those who have visual difficulties.
Social networking can often be used as an escape from reality and people will portray an ideal rather than real image of themselves. In Edmodo it’s interesting to see the variety of profile pictures students choose and ask them for their rationale in doing so. Students with learning difficulties/disabilities often feel they have a label attached to them and social networking can help them remain anonymous allowing them to promote other aspects of their identity. These topics are particularly relevant in my colleagues’ discussion in the second life virtual classroom.
Baumeister et al (2008) highlight the point that incidents of bullying and victimisation appear to be higher for people with learning disabilities. Cyber bullying invloves using technology to extend traditional bullying abuse. Specialised safer online environments have been developed for students with learning disabilities but interestingly, very often these students are keen to be part of more standardised sites. As an FE teacher it is therefore important to get the balance right, providing students with learning difficulties/disabilities the same options as everyone else, whilst regularly communicating with them and addressing any issues they experience online. The key with Edmodo is that control lies with the teacher as identified in the ‘notes’ section earlier.
Vygotsky (1978) described learning as a process of actively constructing knowledge through social interaction with others and stated it was the role of the teacher to help students gain their full individual potential (between their present and potential level, or Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)). The term ‘scaffolding’ is often used in relation to ZPD and support is generally provided by elders, teachers or experienced peers. As a teacher there was the opportunity to join Edmodo communities within the subject area that had interaction through; posting on topics, listing some material through top content and listing all followers on topics. It was interesting that students also used the ‘notes’ function to ask questions of the group and share documents, files and links with the group which was a form of peer teaching. There is an opportunity here to increase student interaction and build more of a sense of community.
Studies of online courses by Horspool and Lange (2012) and also Bruce, Young, and Kennedy (2012) have found peer to peer interaction to increase student satisfaction and learning. It’s also important to remember the requirements that traditional face to face conversations provide, “that of staying on topic and that of renewing topics” (Koroliya and Linell (1996) p. 799). The teacher’s role is to provide a connection between what has been discussed before and provide an opportunity for the discussion to progress further.
Edmodo itself offers online tutorials under its help function and the videos are excellent. The email support turnaround is quick (in general less than 24hrours and detailed) and Edmodo’s support team have won the highest ranked support award for any K12 service (primary and secondary in the USA) currently in existence (Edmodo 2013). These tools do greatly help in overcoming apprehension about adoption of the new technology, as does talking with fellow colleagues who have adopted the technology. As always there is an initial learning curve and a certain amount of practice is required, however I was recently able to benefit from the co teacher facility, where in my absence another teacher was able to take my class and teach them using my material through this function.
Irons (2008) advocates the continuing use of use of learning technology as it will support the changing/diverse student population, bring the assessment culture closer to the computer based learning environments, reduce computer anxiety and guide student learning. The likeness of Edmodo to Facebook is definitely its most appealing aspect and this was the most prominent comment from FE students this year. They also cite that having Edmodo it made it easier to catch up with anything they had missed and they felt it improved their organisational skills. A number of students remarked on the accessibility and usability of the platform which were particularly important for students who were identified as having specific learning difficulties or disabilities. We’re at the point of cut-off now between academic cycles and a large quota of students have requested to remain Edmodo members in order to stay in touch despite not being enrolled for next year, which is a question that needs to be addressed.
Based on training and exposure to Moodle to date, adoption will be more complex and require significant staff training, but it’s possible that it may have additional functionality which one might expect given the rigours of higher level education and investment at FE corporate level. Edmodo has been designed to make it easy to use and its downsides are minimal and will form part of my summer query/bucket list. The two will be used in parallel for 2014/2015, which will provide an opportunity to carry out a detailed student study. In my current context Edmodo is a very useful pedagogical tool and one would hope their business model allow their service to continue to be free for the foreseeable future.
Baumeister A., Storch E. & Geffken G. (2008). Peer victimization in children with learning disabilities. Child Adolesc Soc Work J, 25: 11–23.
Bruce, M. A., Young, S., & Kennedy, A. (2012). Discovering student and instructor perceptions of trust-building in online courses. Paper presented at the 30th Annual Conference of the Northern Rocky Mountain Educational Research Association, Park City, UT. Retrieved from http://www.nrmera.org/PDF/Researcher/Researchv24n2Kennedy.pdf
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Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (2013).
Accessed online 22/05/2014.
Safety and security: https://blog.edmodo.com/2013/06/22/our-commitment-to-user-safety-and-security/
Platform overview: https://developers.edmodo.com/resources/overview/
Accessed online 24/05/2014.
Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Forth Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. http://www.facdev.niu.edu/facdev/resources/guide/learning/gagnes_nine_events_instruction.pdfAccessed online 24/05/2014.
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WCER (2011). Wisconsin Centre for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits and Drawbacks of Social Media in Education Summer 2011 Vol. 22, No. 4
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