Reflections on EdTech
Whew! Was I tired! It was hard to believe that I could have been suffering from post conference exhaustion when I spent the day sitting at my dining room table, but it’s true. Last Wednesday, I spent the day conversing with 400+ people from around the world and expanding my mind at Edmodocon. The online conference, run by and about the education social network platform Edmodo, was really quite the marathon of speakers, with presentations taking place from 10 AM EST until 9 PM, pretty much back to back to back.
The good news is, I think I am getting a badge for participating (if you know your Edmodo, you know that badges are big stuff!). The better news is that the conference was really excellent. While I am still processing many of the resources showcased by the presenters (of which I hope to discuss in future posts) I had a few initial take aways that I wanted to share.
I’ll take 2 seconds to briefly outline what Edmodo is, in case you are not familiar with it. It is essentially a secure social learning platform designed for use in schools and classrooms. It is essentially Facebook for schools. It takes all of the social media connectivity of a Facebook, and creates closed secure classroom sites where students and teachers can interact and collaborate around the curriculum. It is free, and I highly recommend checking it out, even if you have no immediate plans to use it in the classroom.
1) Edmodo, as a company, is IMPRESSIVE. The staff involved with running the conference, introducing and moderating sessions, etc, seemed to all be senior staff members, including at times, the co-founder and head of programming. They all seemed truly humbled to be part of the sacred endeavor of teaching, and I guess that makes sense, considering many of them have backgrounds in education. And of course they put out a great product. But what was most striking to me was how dedicated they were to improving the site, and to really listening to and incorporating feedback from the teachers using it. They introduced several new features either implemented over the summer or coming out shortly, including good docs integration, a more robust gradebook, quiz builder, badge creation, and even a super secret chat option. Over and over again, I saw teachers enter their suggestions into the chat window during the webinars, and the tireless VP Betsy Whalen (@betsywhalen) responding during the session that such a feature was already in the works or “that’s a great idea, we are going to work on that.”
You have a company that has promised never to charge educators for using the service (how they are going to make money seems to be a secret that they are not revealing for now), and yet their customer service to the people they are servicing for free is astounding. In fact, people today seemed genuinely suspicious about the company’s motives, along the lines of “why are you doing this for free? When are you going to pull a Glogster and start charging us?” I believe such suspicion is indicative of how good a job they are doing on the site.
2) On Demand PD: While I have used Edmodo as part of a classroom environment, I was really pleasantly surprised to learn about how much teacher interaction and “on demand PD” is taking place on the site all of the time. I made quite a few teacher connections today on Edmodo, and joined a few groups as well. This is why I would heartily recommend the site even to those who are not going to be using it in the classroom. It is simply a great learning resource.
3) Training: I learned ALOT about teacher training and school implementation. Obviously, this is a huge step. If your teachers are not getting comfortable using Edmodo, it simply will not be used in your school. To that end, Edmodo has some incredible resources for admin and faculty charged with training in the school, as well as for teachers. The Edmodo support section (help.edmodo.com) has TONS of resources, from FAQ’s and tutorials, to ready-made powerpoints for administrators to use during training sessions with staff, to templates and letters to use when rolling out Edmodo across a school or district. I was also introduced to the help.edmodo.com/ideas section, where videos of real world applications of Edmodo in various disciplines are posted. These videos do a great job of concretizing the role of the Edmodo platform for teachers. It answers the question of “What would Edmodo look like in my math class?” etc.
Several presenters spoke about strategies for helping teachers. One theme that emerged was the notion of using Edmodo as a platform for internal professional development, utilizing the network to share presentation files, comments, etc., both during a program and after. Besides Edmodo being a good platform for this in general, this will also “train” the teachers in a much more effective and positive way, as they will be learning by figuring it out on their own.
The other idea regarding teacher training that resonated for me was the importance of not trying to cover too much. The general rule for the goal of training was to get the faculty to log on, to setup a group/class, and to invite students to join. Once that happens, and students start to see what they can do with the site, it will naturally encourage the teachers to progress and try new things.
4) Mobile Learning Options: With free (and frequently updated) mobile apps for iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod), Android, and a mobile browser version for any web connected smartphone, Edmodo is a great option to “pull it all together” in a classroom that is utilizing a “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) or 1:1 approach. It’s a great way to distribute assignments, questions, even polls in real time. And even if you aren’t using these devices in the classroom, having Edmodo accessible to students on their devices is great for working from home as well.
5) Game Based Learning: Finally, I was absolutely blown away by one session in particular, given by Hal Daley, on “Game Based Learning.” I have seen many posts in my Twitter and RSS feeds about gaming in schools, and I must confess that I have mostly ignored it. But this presentation changed my perspective in a major way. Hal is clearly an excellent teacher, as well as an accomplished gamer, and he is apparently using several of the ideas of Lee Sheldon in “The Multiplayer Classroom” to “Gamify” his classes. Hal discussed how Edmodo is a natural partner for gamification. I hope to discuss his ideas in more detail in a future post. For now, here is a link to his presentation.
In short, I entered Edmodocon ’11 already an Edmodo fan, and I came out of it with even more respect for the service and what it can offer educators at all levels. Be sure to check it out!