Edmodo is probably most easily described as being a child-friendly version of Facebook designed specially for schools.
For the past few months I do admit to becoming a bit concerned about the number of pupils I was hearing about in school who are on Facebook - especially when I know that they will have broken its terms and conditions by lying and pretending that they are over 13 years old when registering. I do teach e-safety lessons fairly regularly but I always think that it's a fine line I have to draw between teaching them how to work with a site that they shouldn't be on in the first place (thus promoting it in a way) and teaching them good e-safety behaviours in general.
I originally signed up to Edmodo two years following @markw29's recommendation. At the time though, whilst what it offered was good, it was a service still in its infancy and it did have a few missing features that made what it offered a bit too basic I felt. Having been keeping tabs on their blog however, over the last month or so I began to notice that the team behind the site had introduced lots of new tools recently. This, coupled with a quick chat with @primarypete_ and @2sparkley, made me want to have another look at the site to see how it had improved since my last visit and to see if it could help me deal with my concerns regarding Facebook use by pupils.
Having done all my school jobs last Saturday, I signed into Edmodo and was pleasantly surprised with what I found - it basically now offered everything anybody could ever want from a school version of Facebook and therefore a fantastic safe online environment for children to use to develop their online behaviours before being 'exposed' to more famous, world-wide, 'adult' websites when they get older.
Here's a quick overview of how to get started on the site yourself:
1. Register as a teacher by going to www.edmodo.com and fill in the on-screen form.
2. Register your school address onto their system and set up a customised sub-domain. This sounds more complicated than what it actually is - all you have to do is choose a unique web address and fill the form in on that page. For example, I work at Parkfield Primary School so filled in the form at parkfield.edmodo.com
3. Set up groups for all the different classes in your school. As these have to be unique, I went for the easy-to-remember titles of 'ParkfieldY3', 'ParkfieldY4' etc.
The website is then extremely easy for children to register with themselves and use:
- Each group has a unique code which (as a teacher) you can find out by hovering over the group's name and going to 'settings'.
- Children sign up by going to your subdomain and filling in the simple form (remembering to enter their year group's code to associate them with their class). Their username needs to be unique but easy to remember - I tried to therefore encourage children to go for their first name followed by a two-digit number (e.g. 'john32' or 'clare86').
- Once logged in, children can then only see their own year group's page - other children in other classes can't see this and no strangers can access this as they don't know the group's secret code which is required when signing up.
- Messages can then be sent to be displayed on this page for everyone to see by just typing what's wanted in the message box at the top and then choosing to send to that's groups name. They appear instantly for all the other children to see and read.
- Files can be uploaded or web links/embed codes can be easily copied/pasted in to attach to a message. Images open up in a nice preview window in the middle of the screen and little thumbnails are shown of websites to illustrate what they show.
- Children can reply to each others' messages by clicking the 'reply' button. They can't send messages privately to each other - only to the whole group. This means that everybody in the group can see any conversations/discussions.
- Children can change their profile picture (and password) by going to the settings menu at the top of the screen - they can either select an avatar from the collection or upload a picture from their computer.
During this past week I've managed to teach Years 4-6 how to access the site, plus a handful of keen Year 3 children who come to my weekly afterschool Internet club too. I made a rule in my head that I would only give out the group code to register with to children who I had taught how to use its features - I didn't want children using the website without knowing its full features. (I gave them all a little card to write down on what their class code was to take home - you can download it here.)
Edmodo is a private website - only children I've allowed and given the code to can join it. The messages appear instantly in the group's timeline and to me this isn't really a problem as no members of the public will be reading them (unlike comments on my school website which only appear publicly after they've been moderated and approved for viewing). I made sure that I emphasised to the children whom I introduced Edmodo to that they were aware that their usage would be monitored and that there were a range of possible sanctions in place which could be implemented if they misused/abused this privilege of being allowed to post instant messages:
- I could reply to messages to give them feedback (e.g. 'Please use correct spellings.')
- I could edit their message to correct any factual inaccuracies - having a teacher account I can edit anyone's message whereas the children can only edit their own.
- I could delete their message if it was unsuitable - again I can do this to any message and the children can only delete their own.
To make sure that they were fully aware of my expectations of how they should use the website, I created a poster and made a quick redirect page on my own website which displays this for 10 seconds to the children before they are then taken to the login page. On this page I also put on links to:
- the free Edmodo iphone app;
- the mobile version of the website;
- a page of information for parents explaining what Edmodo is and what it allows (and doesn't allow) their children to do on it.
As I wanted other members of staff at school to use Edmodo and be able to have the same management/editing tools available as me, I enabled them to join as 'co-teachers':
- Each teacher needs to sign up by going to my school subdomain and filling in the form. They need to enter the school code as a security measure - this (after lots of hunting) I found was available when I logged into my subdomain administrator account and hovered over my school's name on the 'Manage' page (not my school's name shown on the timeline view).
- Once registered, they then needed to 'join' the different year groups - I gave my deputy head the codes for everyone's groups but other teachers I would just give their own year group's code to, to avoid confusion.
- Having done this, you (as each group's creator) then need to go to the list of members for each group (by hovering over its title and going to 'members') and change the teachers to 'co-teachers'.
It's worth point out that co-teachers have access to a variety of useful group admin tools too:
- they can reset the group's code to stop further children from accessing it;
- they can reset a child's password if it has been forgotten;
- they can remove a child from a group (e.g. if they leave the school).
I've only been using Edmodo for one week yet in that time it has been unbelievably successful - I've had six parents personally thank me for finding it, I've had three children in Year 5 who've been using it to write poetry of their own choosing and have even had a bit of debate started after my deputy head put on a poll to find out what everyone's favourite subject is (currently tied between English and ICT)!
In these hard financial times, I'm very grateful to come across a website that offers so much to schools with absolutely no cost whatsoever - everything on Edmodo is completely free! (They also have a great technical support team who have so far responded in a matter of hours to any queries I've had.)
It's still early days at the moment using the website for me - I'm still trying to think up how to best exploit the uses of it to improve children's learning and I know I've still got features of it still to explore - notably the online 'library' (aka digital e-portfolio) I can set up and the online assignment/homework facility it provides - but I've not been so amazed by the capabilities of such a website for a very a long time.
Both my deputy head and head (who just happened to come into my lesson with the head of the LA's technical team at the exact same as I was introducing it to Year 5) seem extremely impressed with the work I've managed to do setting up Edmodo with the children and are looking forward to seeing how it can become embedded even more as a school digital communication tool in future.