Conferences & Professional Learning, EdTech

EdTech Conference Takeaways: Edmodo vs. Blackboard

I attended a session on Monday on Digital Assessments. The presenter went over Plickers, and then showed us how she uses Edmodo. I was really impressed with how much mileage she gets out of the Edmodo platform – posting class notes for absent students, turning in assignments, quizzes, and surveys (what an easy way to do voting for Manía Musical!). I also really liked Edmodo’s badge feature – Edmodo has a few built in ones like “Good citizen” and “Hard Worker,” but you can also customize your own – she does “Movie Critic” (watch a historical film and write a page analyzing the historical accuracy – could adapt for foreign languages), “Hot 100” (get a perfect 100 on a test), and “Quizlet Star” (earn a high score on Scatter or Space Race). She uses the badges for extra credit (1 test point per 2 badges earned), but I think it also would contribute to a positive classroom environment – sometimes it’s hard to give good students recognition, but the badges would be an easy (and free!) way to do it.

Anyway, here’s my dilemma: I’ve dabbled in Edmodo before, and I know how easy it is to use. However, my district has purchased Blackboard as our learning management platform. I would like to use Blackboard since many other teachers in our school use it and students quickly become familiar with it, but it is incredibly complicated on the teacher end to create, post, and organize materials. I feel like I have to go through 8 screens to do something that in Edmodo would be 1! I attended a session this morning on differentiation with Blackboard and was quite impressed with all of the different functionalities Blackboard offers to set up formative assessments and tailor future assignments to a students’ needs and abilities. However….despite an excellent presentation by a very skilled and passionate teacher (who works at my school and would be available to help me!), I know that to actually implement what she showed us will require a lot of trial and error and a lot of time on my part. I hate spending an hour or two struggling with technology for something that should have taken 15 minutes at most.

Here are the pros and cons, as I see them:

Pros – Easy to use for both me and my students. Free. Will be able to access my information regardless of whether I change school districts.

Cons – another login for students to remember. Not officially sanctioned by the powers that be.

Pros -universal use across the district. Will be familiar to students, particularly the sophomores who had laptops and used blackboard last year. Lots of robust features. Classes already loaded in. Will make my administrators happy.

Cons – high learning curve for me, big time investment just to post materials.

At this point I’m leaning towards Edmodo, but I have another session on Blackboard to attend – perhaps it will change my mind. And then again, it all depends on how far we are with the 1:1 rollout…if most of my students don’t have school-issued laptops, I may not use much of anything.

Teaching Reflections

Managing BYOD

When I interviewed for my job last spring, I was excited to find out my system is transitioning to 1:1. As I began pre-planning, I realized the transition is less far along than I expected – computers are ordered, but not enough, and none have been distributed to students.  I wanted to go ahead and get my students set up on Edmodo and Quizlet, so I looked into booking a computer lab. Again, no go – labs are not yet available. So instead, on Friday we did some BYOD. It worked, more or less well. I’d like to share some ways that I managed it, as well as what I learned throughout the day.

Extra devices
Most of my students have smartphones, but in every class there were a couple who didn’t (or whose phone was dead).  I have two computers in my classroom I let students use, as well as my own phone. I also brought my laptop and Kindle fire from home.

I’ll go ahead and say that I have GREAT students – they’re really respectful and well-behaved. However, I do not trust them enough to hand them my personal devices without a few precautions. On my laptop, I set up a student account and password protected my account.  I also set up my laptop with the screen facing out (rather than toward a wall) so I could easily see if students were on task.  On the kindle, I set up Kindle Free Time, and only granted access to the Edmodo and Quizlet apps. On my phone, I downloaded Kid’s Place (a parental control app) and the Quizlet app. I have two web browsers pre-loaded on my phone – Chrome and Metro Web. Since I use Chrome for my own facebooking, googling, and other web needs, I granted permission to Metro Web for students to access Edmodo. I wanted to avoid downloading another app because I have very limited memory on my phone, and using a different browser keeps them away from my browsing history, facebook account, and other personal information. Screenshot_2014-08-09-08-27-58

Screen shot of Kid’s Place on my phone. I went ahead and gave permission for Calculator and Word Reference, although they weren’t needed for this class. Kid’s Place is locked with a pin, preventing students (or your small children!) from accessing other apps on your phone, changing settings, or making purchases. 

On my work computers, I was less concerned about my privacy. However, to keep things tidy, I bookmarked the sites students would use in a separate browser. I had my email and class websites open in Chrome, and tabs for Quizlet and Edmodo pulled up in Internet Explorer. I also I had the sites bookmarked and showing on the bookmark bar, in case the tabs got closed.

During Class – Flexibility!
There were a couple of things I wanted my students to do: make an Edmodo account and take the syllabus quiz I had posted there, then make a Quizlet account, join the class I had set up there, and play around with Quizlet’s study tools and games.

A couple of things I learned:

  • You cannot create a new Edmodo account account from the mobile view. Direct students to choose web view!
  • You also could not take the quiz from mobile view – in fact, I’m not sure if any of my students were successful in taking the quiz from an iphone (not all the droids worked either).
  • This may seem obvious, but I had two or three students sign up as teachers.  Make sure they sign up with student accounts.
  • I had paper copies of the syllabus quiz as back up – this was golden! I wanted my students to at least make the account and try to take it online (save paper! easy grading!), but if they had tried and couldn’t, having the paper option available still let them complete the assignment.
  • Some students tried to download the apps, rather than accessing through the browser. For whatever reason, downloading the apps took FOREVER. Unless they get the apps ahead of time (or your school has amazing WiFi), it’s probably faster for them to access the sites through their web browser.

Next time…

  • I think I could have saved some class time if I had asked them to set up their accounts and take the syllabus quiz at home. I came from a school where homework didn’t really get done, so I got out of the habit of assigning it. Last night I got two or three emails notifying me of new requests to join my class on Quizlet – on a Friday night! Even if they set up their accounts and took the syllabus quiz at home, I could follow up in class the next day, help any one who had sign in trouble, and show them the key features of each site.