Preparing for Edmodo: The Early Years

Creative Commons License photo credit: JuditK

Recently, I’ve become aware that a college professor at University of Illinios referred his graduate social media & virtual environment students to my post on “Unplugging Edmodo”.  In reading this post by Steph Thien @Thien724 , I realized that because I did not document in this forum what I did to prepare my students, that some readers would assume that I just let them loose to run wild on the platform.  That really surprised me, and I want to share what I did do to prepare so that others can learn from my experience… and so that I can learn from suggestions you might have.  Please comment with additional ideas, or leave a link in the comments to a post you have written on the topic.

This year, my heart for technology was to move beyond word processing and basic presentation skills, and to use the technology to connect with other learners.  Connected learners. In short, I wanted my students to see how to learn with others around the world through “Planet Blog”. A large portion of our time ((When students aren’t testing, of course.)) first semester was spent on this project.  Here are some specific things that all intermediate students completed:

  • Discussions of how to SOAR in the Computer Lab.  (Safe, On task & responsible, Achieve your best, Respect) I specifically addressed the fact that we deal with two worlds in my room- the physical world and the online world.  Students generated ideas in a shared document on how they could SOAR in both worlds.  They had insightful, helpful, and generally well-informed input.
  • Watch and discuss most of the BrainPOP videos on Digital Citizenship. Again, students are able to articulate understanding, connect with prior knowledge, and show they ‘get it’.
  • Learn what a blog is by viewing the BrainPOP Jr. video,  BrainPOP video, CommonCraft show video, and visit Mitch Squires @mitchsquires Year 3 classroom and student blogs.
  • Develop  commenting guidelines using a collaborative document in groups after watching Linda Yollis’ @lindayollis class video on commenting.
  • Create paper blogs in class, and then commented on the paper blog by using sticky notes.
  • Visit, read, discuss and comment on other student blogs.

You may say, well, that’s blogging, not Edmodo.  Well, Edmodo is a microblogging platform.  I stressed with them that we would follow the same “One strike, and you’re out.” policy because information is permanent on the web.  Actually, most of my students elected not to write in their WordPress blogs after we started using Edmodo because they wanted to make their posts there.  They found it to be easier, and more interactive.  The downside is that the interaction is limited to their class, rather than a global audience.  I elected to let them choose- if they would rather write in Edmodo than WordPress, it was fine with me.  Student choice is important, and there was no reason to say no. I felt that they would eventually see that other students who used their blog were getting comments from others around the world, and that they would find a balance between using the two that worked for them.

As we began to use Edmodo, each lesson had a specific purpose that tied to a skill I wanted them to gain.

  • We talked about Edmodo and blogs- how they were similar and different.  Students also brought up Facebook, since the platform looks similar.
  • We changed our avatars to the stock ones within Edmodo, and made sure our names were capitalized properly so that we were presenting ourselves to each other in a positive light.
  • We created new avatars from a choice of safe sites, downloaded the image, and uploaded it to Edmodo.  We talked about school appropriateness of our images and what we say.
  • At this point, students were regularly completing assignments within Edmodo- for example, this Dog Deer Discussion
  • As we moved away from using the platform to turn in assignments, I posted a video for them to watch, and then comment on with one thing they noticed.  We also did a comment wrap-up in person, and the next class discussed how different the online discussion was from our real discussion.  Students were then asked to go in and ‘clean up’ after themselves on the discussion thread so that it was meaningful.
  • We talked about copyright for images, and again stressed what was school appropriate as well.  Students wanted to change their avatar to things like Kermit the frog or Carrie Underwood.  We watched a BrainPOP on copyright, and talked about guidelines for posting links, images, and videos to the class.  Basically, the rule was, if your teacher wouldn’t play it on the screen in front of the whole class, you shouldn’t share it in our online class.

Another classroom teacher was utilizing this with her students as well, and reinforcing the same concepts.  We were both actively moderating, dealing with each entry on a case-by-case basis.  Generally, that involved messaging the student and asking them to delete something (or explaining why we deleted it), and then explaining why. They were very receptive to change, apologetic, and made better choices at that point.  They weren’t things that I would handle any differently in class- just pull them aside and mention that something wasn’t kind, or that they needed to watch their tone of voice. I don’t think my students were ill-prepared to use a closed, micro-blogging platform.  I think there are things that children do that surprise us- whether in real-life or online.  The perpetrators in the incidents that led to closing our Edmodo installation were some of the most gifted, technologically savvy, and personable children I know.  Yes, they surprised me.  And disappointed me.  And ruined the experience for the other 99.5% of our student population that were using it properly.

Here’s the comment I left on Steph’s blog:

I’d really like to hear how your class has discussed properly preparing children for using Edmodo. I want to learn from this experience- and be better prepared for the future. You see, we spent the better part of a semester focusing on Internet Safety, reading classroom blogs, learning to comment, creating our commenting rules, commenting, learning what to/not to share, grappling with the fact that you’re not anonymous online, etc. I really felt they were ready- but I do think there is a certain amount of license that they feel free to take when the platform resembles Facebook. They know all the ‘right’ answers, can pass internet safety quizzes, give me great responses during our ‘wrap ups’, etc.

Using Edmodo was part of a process of learning digital citizenship, since I really believe that we can show them videos all we want, and talk to them, but until they experience it they cannot truly understand how to comport themselves online. And maybe my admin is correct in saying that they are too little- but I really don’t think so. I think they are taught theoretical concepts that they have no way to link to their lives. I watch my students from last year interact on Facebook, and they’re really out of control. And their parents either don’t know or don’t mind that behavior. (Until their child gets pulled into the school for cyberbullying… at which point they are paying attention.)

My hope for Edmodo was to help students learn to be responsible in a protected, real-life environment- to talk about how to have a discussion online, and to stop and say “Look- this, right here, is not okay. And here’s why.” My 3rd and 4th graders were amazing users- polite, on task, etc. The 5th graders, however, really struggled. Some of that is because I allowed discussion and sharing outside of class. I could have stopped it by banning the user, or archiving the classes every day after school, but I think that is like saying children will never speak an off-topic word during class, in line, on the playground, etc.

What ideas do you have for me? How would you approach preparing students? Help me learn from what you see in this.

What about you?  Do you have additional thoughts?  Do you think we know enough about how students interact online to prevent some of these issues? Can we predict how students will comport themselves online at specific ages?

Unplugging Edmodo

plugoutletLast week, I had to email and request that Edmodo turn off our school installation by my administrator’s request because of some student conduct issues and parental concerns. I want to be very clear in saying that I think the platform itself is amazing- the folks at Edmodo get it. They are an amazing support resource. Special kudos here go to Ben Wilkoff @bhwilkoff for his support and help during this process.  Ultimately, my building was not ready for this.  Period.

The biggest concerns centered around the lack of moderation prior to posting in the micro-blogging platform, and the ability for students to share links/videos to outside sources.  My response? Uhmmm…. yeah… isn’t that what we want to be teaching students?  That what they say has permanence- Google never forgets… BEFORE they hit Facebook and are totally unsupervised?  And yes, that sharing links and videos is a great privilege and responsibility…. the best internet filter is the human filter.  ((Right, monika?  @monk51295)) The ISTE NETS*S center around online collaboration and sharing.  For me, the primary purpose of using technology is to learn from and collaborate with others.

Are the students ready?  Yes.  Are they going to mess up?  Yes.  Will we have discipline issues? Yes.  Should we just deal with those like we do the equivalent action face to face?  Yes.  Are we going to stop them from using social media? No. They use this stuff- my kids access the internet from their DS, Kindle, and iTouch devices.  It’s not like turning off Edmodo is stopping them from interacting.

Are the parents ready? Nope. No way.  Uh-nuh. This is a huge issue.  Which is a sobering thing when you have students heading into middle school, and an overwhelming number of kids who are already using Facebook, email, text messaging, etc.  If parents are not actively helping their students navigate the digital world… well, that way be dragons.

I’ve heard it said in the discussions around this topic that these are adult privileges and for adults.  Not kids.  They’re too little to use the internet.  They can’t handle this.  Let them be kids.  This really bothers me because I strongly disagree.  I think the internet is as much for children as for adults.  I think it is an unparalleled learning tool, and age really doesn’t have anything to do with it.  The problem is that no one is educating these kids on how to really be good digital citizens in practical ways. Sure, we march them through the iSafe curriculum with the little coloring books on “My computer is sick” about viruses…. but we’re not preparing them for the social media world they live in.  It bugs me.

The biggest lesson I learned in using this tool was how unsupervised students are when using the internet at home.  It’s actually rather frightening to see how late some of my students- and we’re talking 3rd-5th graders- were using the internet, and how long they were online. ((This is where my own parenting bias comes into play- my kids are allowed a lot of freedom online, but they also know they must ask before going places we haven’t already approved.)) I was also very surprised that parents viewed their children’s online conduct AT HOME as somehow the school’s concern.  If this is a universal view, public schools are really going to have to step it up in terms of authentic digital citizenship instruction.

Rather than leave you on that frustrated-technology-teacher note, I wanted to share the beautiful things I saw during our 2 months of Edmodo use. Here are some great uses I witnessed with my students:

  • Students who were sick at home asking other students about homework for the next day.
  • Students sharing video links that related to class content.
  • Students learning to use discussion appropriately.
  • Students learned that what you say online can get you in trouble in real-life at school.
  • Students sharing Scratch games/videos they had created.
  • Students policing their own online community- discouraging bad behavior, reporting inappropriate stuff directly to a teacher.
  • Students learning to download, upload.
  • Students learning to filter their digital content.
  • Students having a productive discussion about something they noticed in a video.
  • Students sharing their recent blog posts.
  • Students really understanding images and copyright, and making decisions accordingly.
  • Students answering each others questions on how to complete assignments.
  • The list could go on and on….

[Read my post on Preparing for Edmodo: The Early Years to learn about what I did to prepare students.]

Photo: Unplugged by rogue3w on Flickr