Interview: Edmodo VP Answers Questions About How Teachers Adopt The Service

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I am frankly excited about the learning platform, Edmodo, which I wrote about earlier this week. As I stated, Edmodo is a free service offered to teachers to help them to better connect with – and teach – their students using a secure online environment.

I reached out to the Edmodo team. I was puzzled why Edmodo was not in use in every school district. I’m a parent; why wasn’t my school district using this excellent-sounding service? I imagined that there must be some type of lengthy process or problems to overcome, in the adoption of the service. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Betsy Whalen, Edmodo’s VP of Social Media and Marketing. She set me straight on the typical process which teachers use to get started with Edmodo.

Q. I’m imaging that the process of getting Edmodo up and running is kind of hard for some teachers. Can you explain what’s involved?

Betsy: To help you understand the process, I want to give you a little background on how Edmodo got started. It was created by two Tech Directors in a Chicago school district. They were frustrated at the time, because they were told to shut down Facebook and other sites from school access. So, all of the good resources on the Internet were being effectively blocked from teaching.

In response to this, they created a safe environment in which teachers could control what their students could see on the Internet. Teachers also control student access to their virtual classroom on Edmodo, with a password. No private information about students is collected at all – it’s all administered by the teacher.

Once they had the environment created, the Tech Directors – who are our two founders – made it available for free to any teacher who wanted to use it. That was in late 2008. Since then, it’s caught on mostly by word-of-mouth among teachers.

The short answer to your question, is that the process for starting to work with Edmodo is really easy. Teachers just need to go to the Edmodo site, click on “I’m a Teacher”, and that’s it.

Q. You’re right, that’s a lot simpler than I imagined. But, how about teachers who are not as technology-confident? What about the technology divide among kids, also; for example, are teachers ever concerned that parents are going to complain about the use of Edmodo if their child does not have Internet access from home?

Betsy: It used to be the case that teachers and school boards were concerned about the technology divide among students, you’re right. But we’ve seen that change a lot in the last few years. Schools are now taking the approach, that we need to prepare students to live in a connected world. Now, when kids don’t have Internet connection from home, the thought is that we need to connect twice as much at school.

Having a computer at home is no longer the obstacle that it used to be, either. Any cell phone with a browser can be used with Edmodo. These days, kids are mostly connecting to the Internet using their mobile devices, so that really helps. Also, Edmodo can be accessed from any computer – like those in a public library.

Q. OK, so if I’m a teacher and I’m interested in Edmodo, I should just get started.

Betsy: Exactly. That’s what most of the teachers using Edmodo have done. The teachers are leading the way with this.

In fact, because of the wide-spread adoption of Edmodo by teachers, it’s the Tech Directors and administrators in schools who are the ones playing catch-up. Usually in schools, the Tech Directors and administrators make all the technology decisions; they meet and decide, and then roll out new tools to the schools.

With Edmodo, it’s been the opposite. Administrators have approached us, telling us that they’ve discovered that teachers in their district are using Edmodo – and they are asking for help from us to catch up and see what’s going on. As a result, we’ve provided district-level analytics and reporting as part of Edmodo. Administrators can see at-a-glance, which schools are using Edmodo, and how many teachers.

Q. What has the administrator reaction to Edmodo been?

Betsy: Edmodo has been very well received by administrators, because we not only help teachers to educate students better – and we’re free – but we also help districts to save money. There is a huge cost savings from not having to print out all of the materials used in a classroom. We’re providing a library of resources in the cloud, instead. Also, schools find that they don’t need to provide students with flash drives, for example; that’s another cost savings which is happening.

Q. What’s next for Edmodo?

Betsy: The team at Edmodo is really responsive to what our teachers and educators tell us that they need in the platform. One message that we want to get out there, is to let teachers know to communicate with us. We release new features every few weeks. The features in the product are what teachers have requested. It’s their environment, so we want to make sure that it fits what they need.

Also, teachers should know that Edmodo is really a professional development tool for teachers. Along with the teaching environment, we also have a community for like-minded teachers. They can share resources and information with each other.

Q. One last question, Betsy, before I let you go. How does Edmodo make money?

Betsy: Yes, we get that question a lot. Our pledge is that Edmodo will always be free for teaching and that we will never take advertising. That model doesn’t work for education.

We do have plans to monetize in the longer term. For the immediate-term, we have venture funding from the same venture firm, Union Square Ventures, which backed Twitter, LinkedIn, Formspring, Zynga - many of the popular social media networks.

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Edmodo Helps Teachers Connect with Students Online: Attend Their Webinars For More Details Starting Today

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To quote their site, Edmodo is “a free, secure, social learning platform for teachers, students, schools and districts.” With worldwide use at over 1.5M as of Feb 2011, this popular service enables teachers to connect better with kids, and safely leverage web resources for creative teaching.

Early this month, Edmodo announced new features and capabilities which will take the tool even farther into eduction.

Edmodo At-a-Glance

Some of the social network capabilities which Edmodo provides, include:

  • Enables teachers to post messages for their students
  • Enables teachers to discuss classroom assignments
  • Enables teachers to assign and grade assignments
  • Enables teachers and students to share content and materials
  • Enables teachers to network with other teachers, to share ideas and resources
  • Alerts students through mobile phone apps about new posts
  • Keeps communications safe and secure with built-in privacy controls for each virtual classroom

Edmodo was founded in late 2008. It’s privately held, and appears committed to being a free service to enable easy teacher access. It’s also nice that the Edmodo interface looks a lot like Facebook – which makes it simple and attractive to students.

New Edmodo Features Launched March 3

Edmodo announced several new features on its blog site, which were released on March 3. These new features include:

  • New discussion forum communities, on a wider range of topics for teachers and educators than were available before
  • Read-only access, which teachers can assign to some groups of students
  • Saved assignments, which makes it easy for teachers to keep assignments – and assign them again in the future without having to recreate them

Teacher Reactions and Examples of Use

Videos with examples of how Edmodo can be used in the classroom, is provided at their web site. As one teacher comments, “The difference between the 21st century classroom and the traditional classroom, is that everything that we do not only focuses on 21st-century skills but it is project-based – which means connected to the real-world.” This teacher sees Edmodo as central to enabling better teaching, which is matched to how the current generation of kids learn best.

Some benefits for practical use cited include:

  • Access to learning for kids sick at home or absent for other reasons
  • Access to real-time, real-world current event information and resources
  • Providing teaching opportunities for up-to-date tools like social media
  • Helping prepare kids for use of tools and communication which are relevant for their futures, both business and professional
  • Enabling improved communication and tracking for students of classroom assignments and materials
  • Keeps teachers relevant to students in exciting new ways

Considerations if You Want to Use Edmodo for Your Classroom

Keep these challenges in mind, if you want to use Edmodo for your classroom:

  • You may find that some students lack Internet access and may not have mobile phones available for their use. Work with your school administration, to see if there are ways to make up for the “digital divide” that may unfairly penalize some students or call attention to their lack of resources at home.
  • Discuss adoption of Edmodo with your district’s technology integration specialist. That person can assist you with getting over some of the technology hurdles, including classroom Internet connection and site management.

Resources

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Learning to Tweet in Kindergarten: This Teacher Deserves An Award

Every once in a while, an inspirational story surfaces which deserves notice. This is one such story.

This week, a kindergarten teacher used her blog to describe her use of Twitter in the classroom. Please read her blog entry as it gets to the heart of how social media can add new dimensions to teaching – even for the youngest children.

Her description of how Twitter made it possible for her kindergarten class to learn that “Snow days are really real!” is priceless.

In our estimation, what this teacher  has done so beautifully, is to introduce children to the larger world using social media. She has done this in a controlled and completely safe manner. She has done this in an age-appropriate manner. Best of all, she has touched the imaginations of her children in a way that they will likely remember for the rest of their lives.

Congratulations to this teacher, and to all of the teachers in the #kinderchat discussion group on Twitter who are using social media to trade ideas and resources, ask questions and get answers! Thank-you for your excellence and your example to the rest of us!

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