One of the great promises of educational technology is to “expand learning beyond the classroom walls.” Now, that can mean a lot of things, but I’ve long thought of it as a way to transform my paltry 55 minutes a day into a 24/7, full access, virtual learning extravaganza (okay, that may be a bit of a naïve exaggeration).
To that end, I’ve tried all manner of tools to serve as my digital extension of my classroom, anything from full-fledged VLEs like Moodle, to wikis, blogs, and forums before finally discovering Edmodo. All have been successful to some extent, but nothing has come as close to my ideal of a true boundless learning environment as Edmodo; I’m regularly astonished by how much of their free-time my students are willing to spend on there!
So what does Edmodo do that the others don’t? Well, in a way, it’s what it doesn’t do. Edmodo isn’t the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of learning environment that many sites try to be. It does a few things, and it does them very well. Chief among those really-well-done things is its approach to communication.
At its core, Edmodo is a communication platform, modelled on modern social networking sites like Facebook. In fact, the first thing most students say when they login is “it’s just like Facebook!” And it is, which is why it’s so effective; Edmodo embraces the model of communication kids are used to (which is rapidly moving more to short-form messaging). Students who would never email me with questions about assignments have readily (and frequently) posted such questions on Edmodo. They claim that it’s more casual, less of a “big deal” (I guess they see emails like I see a hand-written mailed letter). Students who rarely want to participate in class discussions don’t hesitate to reply to topics on Edmodo (in fact, I’ve got a couple of threads that are still active after two months!). The format is familiar, so students can focus on ideas instead of the context in which they present those ideas. And they enjoy it.
My students are on spring break right now, but a few of them are still posting and commenting on Edmodo. Not because I asked them to, but because they have access, the motivation, and a familiar place to share their ideas.
Edmodo’s still young, and there are still areas that could use improvement, but as long as they continue to provide a context for communication that makes sense to my students, I’ll continue to be a loyal user.
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