Preparing for Edmodo: The Early Years

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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?

Networking Collision

My Facebook is personal.  My Twitter is professional. My LinkedIn is uber-professional.  In recent months, those neat little social networking boxes are overflowing and mixing with each other. I’ve had a network collision.  Granted, I’m the one who created those boxes in the first place, so any fault is my own. Initially, separating those spaces made sense and worked quite well, but recent projects and friendships are teaching me not to box myself in.  As I mentioned in my SBPS essay, many of my PLN members have moved from distant mentors to trusted friends.  Yet I continue to use Twitter to interact with them regularly- it’s an organic growth of a relationship in the ground in which it sprouted and grew.  Rather like a little plant, uprooting our online relationships can be traumatic.  So, most of us leave them…. and grow into new spaces with our friends as well.

I’ve recently started working with Monika Hardy @monk51295 and the Innovation Lab she facilitates in our District.  Those students network best through Facebook, and so she has gone where the teens are… and has brought the rest of us along with her! And more recently, Shelly Terrell @shellterrell announced that The 30 Goals project #30goals would have a Facebook page.  More collisions.

Since I want to participate in these things, I’m packing away the boxes.  I’m going to reconsider linking my blog posts back to Facebook via FacePress so that I share there as well as on Twitter.

Are your online networks blending like mine?  How are you handling the introduction of your PLN to spaces like Facebook?  Will it change how you use the tool in the future?

Photo from Flickr by scotproof