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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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Making the most of e-books for academic skills

Woman with e-book readerSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, talks about his experience of introducing tablets into the classroom. Sean will be hosting a webinar on the topic of making the most of e-books for academic skills on 14th and 19th November.

Over the last five years, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in the United Arab Emirates have systematically introduced laptops into the teaching and learning environment. Now, all students are expected to have a laptop in class. In addition, last year, the use of iPads was introduced in the university preparatory programme. With all students having some form of computing device, it made sense to change from using paper-based books to e-books. So after trialing e-books last semester, this semester saw a full implementation of e-books across the system. All 19,000 students are using only e-books. In total, almost 150,000 e-books have been bought this semester.

I believe that this has been the biggest rollout of e-books anywhere in the world. As an educational technology coordinator at HCT, I have been responsible for making this e-book initiative go as smoothly as possible. With the e-books being delivered over eight different vendor platforms, and with so many titles involved, this has been quite a struggle at times.

So why put up with the struggle? What are the real benefits of using e-books?

Moving to a paperless learning environment is certainly one. And seeing my eleven-year-old daughter heaving an overloaded bag to school every day, it would definitely make sense to have all textbooks in digital format stored on lightweight, portable computing devices. After all, most students now need to use some form of computing device for their schoolwork. But, somewhat surprisingly, we have had a large number of students complain about their e-books. Surely this tech-savvy generation of students would prefer e-books; but, no, they want it on paper! I think the reason for this lies behind the quality of current e-books. They are difficult to read and even harder to annotate, particularly on less mobile computing devices.

However, there are some e-book platforms that are very exciting and interactive. Without doubt, the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf is one of these and is at the cutting edge of e-book technology; feedback from both instructors and students has been very positive. This video shows some of the great features:

Having been using and evaluating e-books for almost a year now, Oxford University Press have asked me to run two webinars on making the most of e-books for academic skills. In the webinar, I will start with a general discussion on e-books, outlining the reasons for using them and how they can enhance students’ learning. As part of this lead-in discussion, Puentedura’s (2006) SAMR model [Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition] will be introduced to show how technology in general, and e-books in particular, can be introduced into the teaching and learning environment to enhance students’ learning. Then, based on the SAMR model, you will be shown specific examples of how to use academic skills coursebooks from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf with your students, including Q: Skills for Success, Effective Academic Writing and Inside Reading.

However, despite these e-books providing students and instructors with an exciting learning experience, there is still room to do more, especially at the modification and redefinition stages of the SAMR model. In the final part of the webinar, I will make suggestions of how to not only improve the actual learning activities in the e-books, but also look at ways in which the content can be used as a springboard into more constructivist, collaborative activities.

Please join me for the webinars on either 14th or 19th November.

References

Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformatiom, Technology, and Education. Presentation given August 18, 2006 as part of the Strengthening Your District Through Technology workshops, Maine, US.
Puentedura, R. (2011): Thinking About Change in Learning and Technology. Presentation given September 25, 2012 at the 1st Global Mobile Learning Conference, Al Ain, UAE.


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Using Blogs to Add Value to the Writing Process

Asian woman with laptopSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can add value to the student writing process by using blog posts in writing tasks.

There is no doubt that writing to a wider audience motivates the writer and results in work of higher quality being produced. However, it is rare that student writing goes beyond the teacher. It may be opened up for peer review, but this usually involves no more than one or two of the writer’s classmates.

One way to create a wider audience is to post student work on blogs. In a previous post, I discussed how the comment area of a class blog post or page could be used by students to post their work. In this post, I will discuss how students can use their individual blogs to publish their work, thereby making it available to a wider audience.

However, it’s important to realize that students shouldn’t just publish to blogs without their work going through traditional drafting/feedback processes; students may be reluctant to post work on blogs without feedback from their teachers and poorly crafted work may also lead to students being ridiculed by their peers. In addition, when grading online texts such as blog posts, it’s important to design grading rubrics that take into account the multimedia features that traditional texts don’t allow.

To illustrate the process, let’s look at an online lesson I used with my students (see Figure 1). [Note: While the lesson below describes a fully online course, I also use a similar methodology with face-to-face classes.]

Figure 1: Overview of online lesson

Figure 1: Overview of online lesson

The topic, protecting the environment, was presented in the form of web-based reading and listening activities, with both practice and graded quizzes (activities 1-4). In activity 5, students were required to write about protecting the environment, personalizing it by giving their opinions. Before starting the writing, students were given some tips about the language in focus (see Figure 2). Students were also given some more writing tips with the instructions for the first draft (see Figure 3).

Figure 2: Tips about language in focus

Figure 2: Tips about language in focus

Figure 3: First draft with writing tips

Figure 3: First draft with writing tips

Figure 4: Second draft

Figure 4: Second draft

It’s important to note that despite the lesson being done in fully online mode, it followed a traditional process writing methodology. The rubrics for the task reflect this:

Figure 5: Rubrics for writing task

Figure 5: Rubrics for writing task

Following this process ensured two things: first, both student and teacher could focus on the actual text, thereby ensuring that it was both grammatically and thematically correct; second, and perhaps as a consequence of the first stage, the resultant text was something that the student could be proud of and want to show to a wider audience. The next stage, students posting the text to their individual blogs, was where value is added to the writing process. The rubrics for this task are as follows:

Figure 6: Rubrics for blog task

Figure 6: Rubrics for blog task

In this task, two major components were graded: the first was the aesthetics of the blog, i.e. did it contain graphics and was it formatted correctly; the second was the social interaction side of using blogs. It was not just sufficient to post. Students must also comment on at least two of their classmates’ blog posts. To ensure that they have actually read the posts, the quality of their comments is also graded. Figures 7 and 8 below show an example of a blog post and comments. While two of the comments were just short acknowledgments, the other two do show that the readers did more than just superficially interact with the text.

Figure 7: A blog post

Figure 7: A blog post

Figure 8: Comments on the post

Figure 8: Comments on the post

Not only has the above process ensured that students have been able to correctly use the language focus in the text, the second stage of the process also ensures that students learn how to publish and interact with online texts, a key 21st Century skill.

In addition, by adding a social interaction component to the writing task, student texts are now becoming a valuable learning resource for the class. Rather than having to search for paper- or web-based texts, which may be at an inappropriate level for EFL students, these student-generated texts are pitched at the “just-right” level for their peers.


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Using Twitter with your Students

Twitter birds on a wire

Image credit: StartBloggingOnline.com CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can continue to support their students’ learning outside of the classroom through the use of Twitter.

Twitter is an online social network website and microblogging platform that allows users to post and read text-based messages (often with attached images), called tweets, up to 140 characters long. According to Statistic Brain (2013, May 7), there are over 554 million active registered Twitter users who tweet 58 million times per day, and projected revenue for 2013 is almost $400 million. In this post, I will make some suggestions as to how to use Twitter with your students.

Getting Started

To use Twitter, both you and your students will need to set up Twitter accounts. Once set up, get your students to start following you and their classmates’ Twitter accounts. Figure 1 below shows a typical Twitter home page. There are areas for composing new tweets, keeping track of who follows you and who you are following, viewing trending tweets, and viewing a stream of your tweets and the tweets of people you are following.

Sample Twitter home page

Figure 1: Sample Twitter home page

Using tweets for teaching and learning

Starting conversations: Ask a question. Get students to reply.

A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Figure 2: A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Encourage your students to start conservations. These could be about their learning, but could also be about their daily lives and fun things. One of the advantages of using a tool like Twitter is that it introduces an element of fun into learning, so use this to motivate students. Another advantage of using Twitter conversations rather than open classroom discussions is to give all students, particularly those who are perhaps shy about speaking in English, more opportunities to participate.

A sample conversation initiated by a student

Figure 3: A sample conversation initiated by a student

Posting links to learning materials: Long links will soon use up most of the available 140 characters, so use a service like bitly to create much shorter links. These posts could also be the starting point for more conversations.

A post with two shortened bitly links

Figure 4: A post with two shortened bitly links

This use of Twitter is an effective way to blend the longer, more static posts in traditional blogs with the shorter, more dynamic posts of a microblog. A traditional blog could be used to set up and deliver the learning content of an actual lesson, but Twitter could be used for real-time interaction during the lesson.

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