Engagement through Digital Conversations

I’ve started using edmodo again this year.  I had played with it years ago when it was little more than a discussion platform for students.  I gave up on it when my district made it clear that social networking was evil inappropriate for educational purposes.  Soon after, the folks at edmodo decided to change the look and make it much more Facebook-like, and then began to add more features at an amazing rate.  It has become much more of an instructional tool than ever before.

This year, in a strange twist, my district decided to purchase a district license for edmodo. The social networking policy hasn’t changed, but edmodo is now a de facto exception.  As I began to use it and train others in its use, it was clear that this would become an integral part of my classroom this year.  In fact, you can expect a future post about the assessment tools and their usefulness for classroom teachers.

As the year began and I introduced my students to edmodo, I knew that they would find it engaging (although we require that all discussions be “school related”) for its social interactions and the taboo of 11-year-olds using their own “Facebook”.  What I didn’t expect is the level of self-motivation that this medium would provide.

I posted on edmodo several items to help my students prepare for an upcoming quiz, including Quizlet flashcards and reminders of the date of the assessment.  One evening last week, just prior to the quiz day, I noticed that one of my students had posted a study guide for the quiz.  He had created his own outline of the content and a fill-in-the-blank practice quiz, and then posted it online for all of his peers to use!

In my wildest imagination, I had not expected that I would have students volunteering to do extra work and share it freely without any reward in the first month of using this tool.

Obviously, my experiences might be unique.  Your students may not take to it as mine have.  You might need to use the “badge” feature as a sort of intangible reward system, offering badges to students who show citizenship, leadership, effort, etc.  But, this is definitely a tool with lots of potential, and a great example of how digital conversations can be powerful ways to engage your students.

How do you engage your students using online tools?

photo credit: timsackton via photo pin cc


Will It Blend?

It seems that the Educational “Meme of the Month” is blended learning.  Thanks to plugs from NBC’s Education Nation event and high-profile articles in the Huffington Post, Grand Rapids Press, and other news outlets, blended education is seriously “trending”.

As an educator, I see great promise in an education system that mixes self-paced online education with classroom instruction.  I recognize the potential for loosening the chains on our high-performing students, giving them the freedom to learn in an accelerated way.  I see the opportunity for more attention to be placed on the lowest achieving students as a teacher’s workload is diminished (by those advanced students “teaching themselves”).

I witness all of this and I wonder: Will this change ever really come to public education?

I have every right to be skeptical.  I’ve seen my share of doomed initiatives and watered-down reforms fail miserably.  I’ve gotten excited about upcoming changes, only to see those changes derailed and postponed and eventually cancelled due to lack of funding.  It’s ridiculously depressing and it has led me to be uncharacteristically jaded about new ideas in education.

And, that’s why–for now–I’m going to keep my head down, keep my feet on the ground, and avoid gazing up at those sparkly lights in the sky.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

Am I being too cynical?