You don’t create groups on Edmodo, you create learning communities
I have been using Edmodo as an online learning tool for a little over 1.5 years now. Back at the beginning, I viewed Edmodo as an easy way to post content for my students online, for students to submit their work online and for me to send my students urgent important messages outside of school hours. The way I used it was very one way – teacher to student. The first Edmodo group I set up was for a Year 11 Physics class. When I analyse that page, almost every single post was made by me. Most of these posts have no replies. There were a small number of posts made by students, which were questions directed at me as a teacher and I answered them. This group wasn’t a learning community. It was just a website that had information posted by me.
This year I have been using Edmodo with my Year 7 Integrated Curriculum class, which I teach for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. Our Edmodo group page looks very different to the year 11 page. Firstly there are heaps of posts, probably 5 times as many posts as the Year 11 Physics group. And most importantly, a significant number of those posts are made by students.
I went through the Year 7 Edmodo page and categorised all posts made in August 2012 and here are the stats:
- There were 71 posts during this month
- 46 out of 71 posts were by me
- 25 out of 71 posts were by students
- 62 out of these 71 posts involved a discussion
- This means that these 62 posts had more than one reply comment. These reply comments included students commenting on each other’s work, answering each other’s questions or holding a discussion that was of interest to them
For me this year, Edmodo has transformed from a free alternative to a learning management system to a tool for enhancing a learning community. It is an online space that allows my students to learn from each other beyond the four walls of the classroom and beyond 9am to 3pm. The Year 7 Edmodo group is a much more dynamic and successful learning community than my previous Year 11 group. Why?
Just do a search in Google for creating a successful online learning community and most sites will give you very similar tips.
- An online community is like a traditional community, built on shared qualities, characteristics and purpose.
- A successful online learning community must create value for its members. The online community must be worthwhile for its members to visit regularly.
- Individuals must be supported and empowered to share their knowledge, information and user-created content. A successful learning community must have a majority of members sharing ideas and content that is of value to that community.
So how did I ensure the above three features of the Year 7 Edmodo group this year?
Shared qualities, characteristics and purpose
Year 7s knew from the start of the year that the group was for them to share their learning. While they also post their homework on there too, one of the first things I did was to have them share a summary of a news item of their interest (most reported on NRL pre-season news) and reply to another student’s post with something they have learnt from that student’s posts. Questions asked by students were answered very quickly by me, which assured students that Edmodo was a worthy tool for communication. This set up a sense of shared purpose for the Edmodo group very early on.
One of the ways of creating value in an online community is to allow users to personalise the space. For my Year 11 physics group, I gave them the Edmodo group code and went from there. I didn’t spend time to let them set up their profiles and change their profile pictures. For Year 7s we spent an hour setting up their Edmodo accounts, filling out their Edmodo profiles and choosing an avatar that most represented them. This was done in the second lesson of the school year. So straight away Year 7s was given an opportunity to value Edmodo; this opportunity was not given to Year 11s.
Support and empowerment
Year 7s often post things up that are not 100% related to our school work. Posts like personal art projects they have done, their successes in weekend sport, their views of internet censorship and the death of Niel Armstrong. I actually don’t know why my Year 7s feel empowered to share things they have created or news they think are worthy for their classmates to know on Edmodo. This started very early on in Term 1. Perhaps because their early activities on Edmodo was all to do with sharing their personal interest projects and news. Perhaps in our face to face classes we emphasise on sharing our learninh artefacts. Whatever the impetus is, I hope it stays there because it is one of the strongest driving forces of our learning community.
Note that the above features of successful online learning communities are all related to how people relate and interact with each other and how they emotionally connect with the online space. How come this is rarely discussed in professional dialogue associated with such online tools? I think teachers often do misjustice to educational social networking tools like Edmodo when we promote it to other teachers in professional learning or in conversation when all we talk about are how Edmodo allows students to complete self-marking quizzes. These are all excellent tools for learning but rarely are our conversations and professional learning about the dynamics of human relationships in such online environments. Yet it is these intricate dynamics of human relationships and interactions that would make or break an online learning community. Unless these are made explicit for teachers about to make the online learning journey, we are almost setting them up for failure. It doesn’t matter whether teachers are using Edmodo, Moodle or any other online learning community tool, we must talk about human relationships and interactions.