So these are some of my reflections after a few weeks of using edmodo.com as a way of building a social learning platform for use with a group of Hungarian intermediate-level students.
Why don’t you just use Facebook?
Facebook is for friends. Well, it used to be. These days, though, more and more of my students have begun to add me as a Facebook friend, and while I don’t have a problem with them seeing my profile (my life is really not that interesting) I realise I actually don’t want to spend time browsing their profiles, looking at their photos and reading their updates. Most of it is – I feel – just not my business. So I usually ’hide’ students once they have added me, allowing them to get in touch if there’s something important, but preventing me from seeing their updates and reading about their late-night antics.
But I thought you were learner-centred? Aren’t you interested in your students?
Sure, but I’m their teacher, not their friend. I like teaching them, but I don’t want to hear about things that do not apply to me or which are not relevant to the teacher-student relationship that we have in the classroom. When you post something to your facebook profile it is visible to all your ’friends’ – classmates, relatives, neighbours, teammates…and teachers! Problem is, on Facebook students sometimes forget that when they post. In the classroom, on the other hand, I know that if I ask a question about what happened at the weekend I’m going to get the kind of information that the students are happy for me to know. The students can decide how much they tell me, rather than me eavesdropping on their lives through Facebook.
Why not have two Facebook profiles – one for work, one for friends?
That’s a very good idea, and my American colleague Keith does just that. On his ’real’ profile he can let his hair down and be himself, while he uses his ’teacher’ profile to create groups for his students and stay in touch with them about schoolwork between classes. The only catch is that is still involves adding your students as Facebook friends, which is what I want to get away from.
What kinds of things do you do on Edmodo?
I’ve only just started using it, but I’ve already created groups for two of my classes, which we use to communicate between lessons (asynchronously). If students are absent from school they can check the group to see what the tasks are for the next lesson. They can also post a comment to the group, reply to other posts, or send me a private message. The group also functions as a repository for useful and interesting links and as a way of setting tasks in connection with those links. So far it has been a good way to introduce them to Quizlet (for studying vocab) and Mailvu (for making webcam videos). I also regualarly post a link with a ’plus point question’ with a reward for the first student to post the correct answer. It’s a good way to encourage students to log in regularly, too. There is also an option to create a poll, which can be used either to ask multi-choice language questions or (more interestingly) to guage the group’s opinion about a certain topic. Answers are anonymous. Questions I have asked so far include ’When should we have the test?’ and ’Who do you think will win the Champions’ League?’
But isn’t that pretty much the same as having a Facebook group?
Apart from the create-a-poll feature (which only works on your main Facebook wall, not groups), yes. But Edmodo also lets you set and track assignments, give grades, contact parents and apply various other checks and controls which help to distinguish it from a Facebook group. I haven’t yet explored these features, but can see their appeal, especially if you live in a country where the ethics of computer-mediated communication between teachers and students is scrutinised. Here the emphasis is also on sustaining the learning focus of the group and respecting the necessary (and healthy) distance between students and teacher.
And this way, if the students want to gossip together about the class on Facebook behind my back, they can. Again, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It might be convenient to ask students to add me as a Facebook friend in order to take part in a study group I have set up, but might there not be a reason why they have not added me so far? As soon as I become Facebook friends with my students I start to cramp their style.
You like the name as well, don’t you?
OK, it’s a fair cop. I’m Edmund. It’s Edmodo. As soon as I discovered it, I knew I wasn’t going to forget the domain name in a hurry!