I got an email today from the father of one of my sophomores in which he confessed that he doesn’t have the need to connect to me in more ways than the good old fashioned telephone or email. I genuinely appreciate this kind of candor, and I intend to meet that parent where he is on the technology continuum. If email and telephone calls work for him, they work for me too!
I just want to offer the parents of all my students options so communicating with me is easy. If communicating is easy, then I can become aware of issues as they arise. Some parents might be using social media like Twitter or Google+ at work or on their mobile devices; therefore it might be a quick way to get a heads up. Some parents might have their own WordPress blogs and so commenting might be very easy. I have the blog and Twitter so parents don’t have to contact me if they are merely curious about what their kid is doing in English class. They can browse this blog weekly or once in a while, without having to feel like they are bothering anyone. I dutifully write this blog weekly and so far I am thrilled when I get a response with a supportive comment or a question. So please, feel free to contact me however you feel most comfortable.
This week, I wanted to briefly detail how we use Edmodo. Edmodo is a free web-based piece of software that is similar to Blackboard used at some area universities. It allows me to communicate with my students about assignments, to post assignments and quizzes, to keep track of grades, and also to directly message students in a closed, safe online environment. Kids generally feel comfortable with it because it looks and feels a lot like Facebook. I don’t use Facebook, mostly because I am not of the generation that came of age with it. I know there is a debate among educators to use Facebook for school activities, but I am not among these educators. Right now, having used it for two weeks with 75 students, I can report that most students are comfortable with it. There are still a few who are having trouble with it and that’s why I’m enlisting parents to help verify that their student is able to connect and navigate on edmodo easily. If they are not, please contact me immediately and I will sit down one-on-one with those students.
I invite you to take a look! I do ask, however, that you talk to your student about whether or not he/she feels comfortable with you setting up a parent account. Parent accounts allow parents to view all the course content (assignments, grades, comments, etc) without the students really ever seeing you there. I don’t think students have anything to fear from their parents having accounts, but some students might want to “do it on their own” and so I encourage you to have this discussion with your son or daughter. If your son/daughter is comfortable with it, he/she can give you the personalized “parent access code” that appears on their edmodo homepage. Here are some instructions on how to activate parent accounts.
What I like so far about Edmodo is that I can post assignments there with due dates and students can submit directly there. This cuts down on the shuffling of papers coming in and going out during class. I like that. It also allows me to grade work immediately and students can see their grades immediately. This of course puts the onus on me to keep up with it, but with access even from my smartphone, I find that I can work from remote locations, like when I’m at the playground with my kids and I have a few minutes on the park bench to read a couple papers.
While this will help keep better track of nightly homework, I don’t expect it to make my job of reading, responding to, and grading student essays any easier. The school has been using a subscription-based service called Turnitin for the past two or three years now and I’ve been pleased with the grading interface, even though students still complain that it takes forever to get back their essays.
Even with the aid of all these new technologies, I expect that it will still take me two to three weeks to finish grading a class set of essays. The only benefit of using the online system is that students can get results as I grade, whereas when I grade by hand, I don’t hand back papers until I’ve finished grading all of them.
Getting back to Edmodo, I am not very impressed with the gradebook functions. I am not able to calculate weighted grades on Edmodo. I’ve been doing weighted grades for about ten years now so I have to get comfortable with the point system again. Right now, I’m telling myself that I’ll see how the gradebook works on Edmodo for term 1 and if I’m unsatisfied with it, I will switch to Engrade, which many of my colleagues use.
One other feature that Edmodo has is access to a support community of educators who use it. I will post a few questions to that community to see if there is a way to get more out of the seemingly simplistic grade book. I’ll keep you posted on that one. You don’t have to worry that any of this means that student grades might suffer. I always keep a paper back up and this discussion is about which platform I use to do all the calculations. So far, Edmodo is working because it allows students immediate access to their grades so they know how they’re doing at all times, as long as their teacher keeps up with the grading.
Keeping up with the posting of grades has been the biggest challenge with my junior SAM and my MGC classes, mostly because I have given students the choice to hand hw in on edmodo or on paper in class. Because I then have to sift through stacks of paper and then scroll and click through pages of turned in assignments on Edmodo, I have been slower to post grades.
But I”m working on it! I’m confident that once I’m certain that students are comfortable using Edmodo and know how to reach me for help, it will make us more productive with our class time.
And so far, I have enjoyed every minute in class with your wonderful kids!