In future posts I will be dwelling on the instructional wonders of Edmodo, but since I just put a lot of energy into bagging on the use of Facebook by K-12 teachers for instruction, it’s only fair to consider Edmodo as a ready alternative. Using the same set of structural criteria I used in my critique of Facebook, let’s take a look at Edmodo…
Teachers are responsible for what occurs in their teaching environment. Edmodo class pages, or groups, are occupied by invitation only via a code to enable a connection. Any student signing up by alias can be summarily deleted, and teachers can switch signup codes or close enrollment to groups at any time. Teachers may also enforce norms by deletion of comments made, and can guide student participation through any number of management strategies, just as in a FTF classroom. If a teacher needs to step away from supervision for an extended period, or if certain group members are bent on disruption or abuse, comments can be fully moderated, reviewed by the teacher before posting to the group and effectively closing the page to spontaneous posting. Since email accounts are not required for enrollment nor is there a chat function, the teacher cannot be held accountable for any back-channel interaction outside of Edmodo. It is a non-public walled garden, always subject to teacher management.
Individual interactions between students and teachers must be above suspicion and reproach, with guidelines provided by law and a clear code of professional conduct. All interactions between the teacher and group members are visible to the entire group and any administrator included in the Edmodo environment (if the account lives in a district subdomain). The only exception to this rule is any comment held for moderation if the teacher has enabled that feature. As noted above, there is no back-channel or private space for conversations in Edmodo as one would find in Facebook or Second life.
Teachers need to be able to design the learning environment to optimize learning. While the esthetic of Edmodo is clean and certainly Facebook-esque, it is free of advertising widgets, game apps, and endless appeals to extend your Friends list through a daunting web of connectivity. Edmodo functions as a means for groups large and small to interact on tasks. Yes, casual and off-topic discussion is fully available and enjoyable, but they are still subject to teacher-set norms. While Edmodo is an optimal vehicle for conducting project-based learning with its tools designed to support it, teachers can create a learning space that supports their personal teaching methods and goals through the use of polls, narrative feedback, small group assignments, etc. Each class can have its own customized resource library, and students have a waiting depository for assignments.
Parents have the right to access the learning environment taxpayer-paid teachers provide. Parents who wish to review their child’s activity on Edmodo can be issued an account that gives them access to what their child and their child’s teacher posts in Edmodo. This account is special, in that they do not participate in the group, they are not visible to other group members or to their child, and they cannot see the posts or work products of other students. They also have access to their child’s assignments and any grades maintained in the Edmodo gradebook application if the teacher uses it. Unlike with Facebook, parent access is not dependent on any action taken by their child, being fully teacher-managed.
Teachers need to be able to provide a record of interactions they supervise. While the necessity of maintaining physical or electronic records of all Edmodo class interactions is debatable, depending on district or teacher personal records policy, a teacher can elect to save all Edmodo pages as HTML files, a record far more complete than is possible in any FTF environment. Also, students have no control over the fate of their posts. Once posted, posts remain until removed by the teacher. Should a teacher require evidence of misbehavior such as bullying or threats, s/he need only make a copy of the page to use in the course dealing with the situation prior to removing such post from the live group process.
Above I alluded to administrators and district subdomains. It is the case that most teachers using Edmodo today do so through independent accounts established through Edmodo.com. However, many teachers who wish to involve their colleagues in professional learning communities often seek the support of instructional leaders as they share their expertise, requesting that Edmodo create subdomains which are occupied only by the school sites and teachers of their school district. Not only does this extend professional networking capabilities, it provides for backup in the event of an emergency. Edmodo site administrators (which could be a colleague as well as a building administrator) can pop into your account and turn off active posting in an unexpected absence, and just as in FTF classroom supervision, administrators who can attest to the quality of the content of your online learning environment can have your back in the event of an issue. Edmodo district administrators can create new groups alongside district school sites to serve as spaces for colleagues to network and conduct district-wide professional development activities.