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Edmodo: Introducing the virtual classroom

Girl on sofa with laptop and papers

Image courtesy of Alessandro Valli via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at using Edmodo as an alternative to blogs for running web-based English language courses.

In my previous post, I discussed how blogs could be used to design, deliver and manage a complete English course. However, using blogs for this purpose has a number of potential weaknesses.

First, blogging platforms don’t have in built assessment tools. Second, while the comment/reply feature of blogs does allow for some interaction between course participants, it can get a little unstructured if there are a lot of learning activities. Finally, student privacy is a concern. Fortunately, there are some free, web-based learning management systems (LMS) that help with these problems. One such LMS is Claco; however, my favourite, which I have been using for about four years, is Edmodo.

Edmodo allows teachers to set up private, online learning environments for their students. On my blog, I posted the following learning module:

Figure 1: Learning Module

Figure 1: Learning Module

If the lesson was being done in face-to-face mode, the topic could be introduced with a general discussion about recycling before starting the reading activity. This could have been done on the blog using the comment/reply feature of the blog; however, as there are a lot of learning activities, these replies may become quite disorganized. I use the different Edmodo tools to break up the learning activities and allow for more interaction between participants.

Notes and Polls

I use these to get students thinking about the theme and start a conversation. I like the fact that the students aren’t just selecting an answer for the poll but also making comments. Notes and polls (and quizzes and assignments) can either be sent to the whole class, groups or to individual students.

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Notes can also be used to give students more information, for example to introduce a grammar point.

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Students can also post if they have a question or need to discuss something.

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Quizzes

After reading and listening activities, students may need to do a comprehension quiz. The Edmodo quiz tool allows quizzes to be easily set up and offers features such as different question types, time limit, randomisation, and can be linked to the grade book.

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Assignments

After writing activities or projects, students may need to submit work for grading. The Edmodo assignment tool allows assignments to be easily set up and linked to the grade book.

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Grade Book

All assignments and quizzes can be linked to the grade book. Other nice features include the ability to award badges to students and exporting the grade book to a spreadsheet tool such as Excel. Students can also see their grades.

Figure 8: Grade Book

Figure 8: Grade Book

The above tools will help you make your online lesson more interactive. But Edmodo also has some other helpful tools. The Group tool allows you to group students into smaller working groups. Subscription and notification tools allow class participants to keep up to date with all new learning activities. The Planner tool allows you to highlight important dates and deadlines for your students. And the Library tool allows you to store and share all course related documents.

While the above examples demonstrate how Edmodo can be used in a fully online English class, I have also used it extensively with my face-to-face students. My daughter’s teacher (year 6) also uses Edmodo with her classes, but as a supplement to regular classroom learning. My daughter will go to her Edmodo class when she is at home to check for homework, deadlines and other learning materials. It allows me, as a parent, to see how she is progressing.


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Using blogs to create web-based English courses

Blogging on a laptop

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at whether blogs can be used to deliver web-based English language courses, using an example from his own experience.

In my previous posts, I discussed how blogs could be used to deliver a lesson and showcase student work. These posts were examples of how blog owners can post information to the Web on a regular basis and how blog readers can add comments.

However, over the last decade or so, blogs have become a lot more sophisticated; now extra pages can be added for additional information and widgets (tools) can be added to sidebars that add a lot of functionality and personalization (see figure 1 below). These extra features have changed the traditional blog into an interactive website which can be used in a variety of ways, one of which is to deliver English-language courses. Furthermore, blogs are easy to set up, modify and manage, so with just a little practice, even the most technophobic educator can become a competent online course builder.

web2english course home page

Figure 1: web2english course home page

The first choice is to decide on which blogging platform to use. This may seem a difficult decision to make as there are so many free blogging platforms available. Three of the most popular are blogger, tumblr and Moveable Type, and all are great platforms. But my favourite is WordPress. I have used WordPress for designing and delivering a wide range of blogs, from my own portfolio, to educational technology and English teaching sites. One such site, web2english, will be featured in this post.

web2english was an experimental English course set up to see if a fully-online course could be designed, delivered and managed using web-based tools (a DIYLMS, a do-it-yourself learning management system as opposed to using large-scale, enterprise-level learning management systems such as Blackboard and Moodle). Only six students were enrolled in the course, but I have run similar courses with up to twenty students enrolled. The course consisted of eleven modules: an introductory module conducted face-to-face to familiarize students with the web-based tools, and ten study modules done fully online (see table 1 below), but with a weekly face-to-face “study” morning for students only. End of course feedback from all students was very positive.

Course Schedule

Table 1: Course Schedule

 

Using Posts on the Blog

Posts were used to deliver to students modules of learning activities, with the current learning module always on top (click here to see posts). Within the posts, hyperlinks were used to direct students to the learning materials (e.g. reading and listening texts on different websites or links to documents directly uploaded to the blog). Students could use the comment feature of the posts to interact with the teacher and peers; however, as each post contained a wide range of learning activities, I split up the module into individual learning activities and posted these on another web-based tool, edmodo, thereby giving students more opportunities to interact.

Using Pages on the Blog

While posts were used for the weekly learning modules, which were dynamic in nature, Pages were used to display information that wouldn’t change. In web2english, pages have been used for the course outline, schedule and assessment rubrics. There was also a page which was used to aggregate all student work (see figure 2 below). This enabled students to quickly view and comment on other students’ blogs and podcasts and to access their collaborative presentations.

Page that aggregates student work

Figure 2: Page that aggregates student work

The number of pages that can be added to a WordPress blog is unlimited; however, the width of the blog restricts the number of pages that can be displayed in the menu bar along the top. Fortunately, depending on the theme, pages can be organized into sub-menus. Figure 3 shows an example of this in another blog.

Menus and sub-menus of pages

Figure 3: Menus and sub-menus of pages

 

Using Widgets on the Blog

While blogs are great for displaying information and getting feedback in the form of comments, other tools need to be used to make teaching and learning more effective. To do this, blog “widgets” can be used (see figure 1 above). Widgets are simply objects that allow tools to be embedded into blogs. For example, on the course home page, I used the twitter feed widget in web2english to display the latest tweets by students (they were expected to post a minimum of ten tweets per module). Text widgets were also used to add linked images on the home page. These widgets allowed students to quickly access tools for taking quizzes, doing surveys, making their own blogs and podcasts, and accessing aggregated pages of student work on Netvibes and Dipity.

While using blog posts, pages and widgets is an easy, cost-effective way to build a DIYLMS powerful enough host an online English course, be it fully online or as part of a blended-learning environment, there are some important issues that need addressing. Blogs are great for exposing learning materials and student work to a wider audience; however, this brings up the question of privacy. Fortunately, blog posts and pages can be password protected. Student assessment is also an issue as blogs have no built in assessment tools. In web2english, I used a web-based tool called ClassMarker which, for a yearly fee of $25, allowed me to quickly create assessments and provide a student grade book. I could have also used the free test tool within edmodo. One other problem with free blogs is advertising. But these can be blocked, for a fee of course ($30 dollars a year for WordPress).


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Enhancing the PPP Model by adding an extra P for “Publish”

College student using computerSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how to adapt the PPP model for task-based learning using digital tools.

Despite many objections from the proponents of task-based learning (TBL), the PPP model, present + practice + produce, is still commonly used in education. One of the main objections is that the PPP model is too teacher-centric; educators should be presenting less and more emphasis should be given to students to acquire the required knowledge independently. However, the reality is that for a lot of students, particularly those with weak English language skills or those in the early stages of the learning cycle, there is still a need for content to be selected and presented using traditional, focus-on-form, methods. So rather than throwing out the PPP model, I try to use technology to enhance the model by adding an extra P, i.e. Publish. Not only does publishing motivate students by giving them an audience, it also allows the produced content to become a valuable learning resource for other students. In addition, the publishing stage can be designed to use activities that are more task-based in nature.

SD_PPP and 4P models

Figure 1: PPP and 4P models

As an example, I will outline a lesson that I have used with a class of Emirati students studying in a university preparatory programme in the UAE. As the students in the class have weak English skills and the lesson is of the focus-on-form type, using the PPP model for the lesson is perhaps the most appropriate. All students in the programme have a computer (either laptop or iPad) so teachers are encouraged to use technology as part of the teaching process. My technological tool of choice is the blog. Not only do blogs allow me to present content that students can access anytime and anywhere, but the comment feature of blogs gives students an opportunity to contribute towards their learning. In the lesson outlined below (see figure 2, or click here for online version), the focus is on frequency adverbs.

Example of a lesson delivered via a blog

Figure 2: Lesson delivered via a blog

This lesson is broken into six parts: PRESENT 1, PRESENT 2, PRACTICE, PRODUCE, PUBLISH and follow up.

  1. PRESENT 1: The teacher engages the students by using the pictures and text in the course book to introduce the grammar point implicitly.
  2. PRESENT 2: A video is used to explicitly focus on the grammar point. Students can, and do, watch the video as many times as they like. (Note: I used screenr.com to record the short video, which was then uploaded to my channel on vimeo.com).
  3. PRACTICE: Students do a controlled writing activity in the course book, checking their answers when finished. I usually allow students to work in pairs at this stage – it adds variety and it also stops students from referring to the answer sheet too quickly.
  4. PRODUCE: Students do a free writing activity from the course book. I give help to individual students if necessary.
  5. PUBLISH: Students publish their free writing as a comment to the blog post (lesson). As all comments are moderated, I can help students make corrections before the comments are made public (this helps put students at ease by decreasing the risk of ridicule from their classmates).
  6. Follow up: This is done after the class is finished. If a comment contains substandard work, I will email students to resubmit. However, this is rare as I try to get all students to complete the work in class time so most mistakes have already been caught. I also let some key mistakes go through, as I can then correct these and use the corrections to raise all students’ awareness (see figure 2). I will then add a general comment highlighting some common mistakes and adding links for extra practice (see figure 3). In a later class, we read over the student submissions and my general comments, and do the extra activities, in or out of class, depending on time.
Example of correcting a student's mistake

Figure 3: Correcting a mistake

Examples of general mistakes

Figure 4: General mistakes and extra practice

There are a number of benefits to using a blog to deliver lessons in this way. First, students can proceed through the materials at their own pace; the teacher’s role becomes that of facilitator, able to spend more time personalizing the learning of both weaker and stronger students. This makes the lesson less teacher centred, a common complaint about the PPP model. Second, the comment feature of the blog enables students to become creators of learning content. As they know that their classmates will read their comments, they are thus motivated to produce better content. This content is also at the “just-right” level for their classmates, hence becoming a reinforcement of the language focus. Third, the students have anytime/anywhere access to the content, useful for review purposes or for students who are absent. Fourth, the format caters to the “flipped” classroom model. Students could watch the video and do the controlled writing before coming to class, thereby giving more time to work on freer writing activities in class. Finally, delivering lessons via a blog means that students have a record of class learning over a term or year. In addition, parents can also view what their children are learning and doing at school.

To finish off, it is important to note that lessons delivered via blogs don’t require students to have computers in the classroom. They could use smartphones to view the video and publish their work. Alternatively, as most students will have access to computers at home, flip the classroom and let them watch the video introduction at home before coming to class. During class time, students could work with the paper-based course book and other resources. The publishing of student work could also be done as homework.

Finally, publishing student work is not just restricted to PPP-style lessons; it could be used with all lesson types.