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  1. Socrative – My Initial Reactions (and frustrations)

    April 18, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    After running across the slick web-based feedback tool Socractive, I knew I had to give it a test run with my Freshmen. While Socrative is clearly designed small screen mobile devices (smart phone, iPod, etc), our district unfortunately doesn’t allow students to use their personal electronic devices on the network, so I couldn’t take advantage of all of the tiny web browsers floating around in my students’ pockets and backpacks. Instead, I took the kids to the computer lab to be my guinea pigs – since Socrative is a web app, it should work on any device with a modern web browser.

    I was excited right from the start – Socrative was crazy easy to get going with, both for myself and my students. No setup, or student usernames, or navigating around to find the assignment, just a simple interface and a single “room number” to get in. I decided to go with a Short Answer question, which seemed to work a treat, right up until a student asked if he could resubmit his answer.

    That’s when cracks started to appear in the veneer.

    There was no apparent way to allow students to resubmit a question, so I figured I would just start a second question for the student to use. That turned out to be a Bad Idea; as soon as I opened up a new question, the old one disappeared in a puff of bits, and with it, the student responses.

    Whoops.

    Fortunately, my students are used to the guinea pig treatment and willingly, if not without  frustration, tackled the question a second time. As the responses floated in, I noticed that students who had already submitted their feedback were stuck with a “Waiting for teacher to start an activity…” screen, and I couldn’t find any way to queue up a second activity for those who were waiting to move on (I certainly wasn’t going to go poking around and risk loosing all of my responses again). But the real pain came after the students had left. You see, I had intended to actually use the responses I’d gathered, but apparently responses to real-time questions aren’t saved in Socrative, so when your browser crashes because of your obsessive need to leave a hundred tabs open “just in case,” all those wonderful student responses just dissolve into the ether. Ugh.

    My experience may sound bleak, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet; there’s a good bit of potential there. For a class with more readily available technology access (particularly a 1:1 class) the ease of quick feedback offered by Socrative’s real-time data collection would be a godsend compared to standalone feedback devices. For those of us who have to schedule our lab time a week or more out, it’s more a question of how best to adapt. Given that I intended to keep my feedback for later evaluation, and that I wanted students to move through a set of questions at their own pace, I probably should have set up a quiz instead of using the on-demand questions (note to the folks @ Socrative, it would still be nice if the responses to on-demand activities were saved somewhere). I’d love to hear from teachers using Socrative with a class set of iPods or iPads – that’s where I see its real potential as a “clicker” killer.


  2. My Edmodo Wish List

    April 13, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    As I sit in the lab, watching my students engaging in a discussion on Edmodo, I’m struck by how quickly one site has become the hub around which my classes spin (see my previous post about how Edmodo has changed my classroom). I’m constantly thinking of new ways to make old assignments more vibrant, social, and collaborative. Edmodo is great, but it could be better. Here are a few modifications that would take Edmodo to the next level:

    Gradebook - Here’s a great example of the balance of simplicity. The Edmodo gradebook doesn’t try to do too much – no weighting or custom scales – but it’s almost too simple to be really useful, so here’s what I’d like to see:

    • Student IDs – The gradebook has an export feature, but my desktop gradebook uses the student ID as an import key, so export/import doesn’t work for me (and most others, I imagine).
    • Custom rubrics – I use a 4 point rubric for writing assignments, so it would be nice if my students just saw MS (Meets Standard) instead of a score.
    • Maybe the best solution would be to leave the built-in gradebook as-is, but allow users to replace it with a full featured gradebook. Integration with other services is something Edmodo does really well, so why not save yourself the hassle and outsource your gradebook (might I suggest LearnBoost).

    Calendar - It’s a nice idea, and I love that it automatically adds my assignments, but here’s what I need to really make it useful:

    • Make it public – My school has a web page where all teachers keep a calendar of their assignment due dates, so it would be great if I could embed a public version of my Edmodo calendar right there, at least as a start.
    • Enable CalDAV – Even better, just let me synch the Edmodo calendar with my other calendars! I’ve got calendars in Zimbra, Google, iCal and Edmodo; so far, the only one that doesn’t play nicely with the rest is Edmodo.
    • Alternatively, scrap the built-in calendar all together and let me choose an external calendar service (Google) to embed and update.

    Other Bits - All of the other little ideas floating around in my head:

    • Facebook-style “like” button – While I encourage thoughtful and constructive commentary on posts, there are some times when a solid thumbs up says it all. My students have suggested a “gold star” button, which I think is brilliant!
    • Sticky posts – When the wall gets busy, the important posts get pushed down into the abyss. A simple “sticky” check box would allow me to keep assignments or important posts visible until they are no longer pertinent.
    • A “Posts from the instructor” button – There’s no easy, built-in way for students to only view posts from their teacher(s). I’ve gotten around this using tags, but the system breaks down quickly when I forget to tag a post (which I do fairly often).
    • SSO – Make Edmodo a true one-stop-shop. I already embed Glogs, Animotos and Quizlets, how much better would life be if logging into Edmodo also logged you into all of those sites you use with Edmodo?

    If you’ve got features you’d like to see (of if you think my ideas are just plain batty), leave a comment.


  3. Edmodo Delivers on the Classroom-Without-Walls Promise

    April 5, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    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! (more…)