Edmodo Beginnings

Over the past few years I have know about grading packages with on line log in capabilities for students. Most of these required up front purchase of desktop grade book software. In 2012 a colleague introduced me to JupiterGrades. I experimented with the package briefly but found that I hit pay walls when I wanted to do something beyond maintain a personal grade book. I could not generate student log ins with purchasing an annual subscription. I was also not all that impressed with the interface which felt almost DOS like at times. 

Spring 2013 I discovered Engrade - a market leader that is free and very capable. I was so impressed I moved all five sections of three different courses into Engrade. I also offered an Engrade session during staff development day and a number of faculty adopted the package. 

Late in the term another instructor introduced me to CourseSites, a very powerful learning management system platform. I am using CourseSites this term with the 30 students in SC 130 Physical Science. Some issues such as the five course limit, lack of single single sign-on, the absence of a physical attendance module, and the known high cost of institutional level licensing of BlackBoard Learn (the parent entity), have led some faculty to seek out alternative learning management systems. 

A former chair of the Information and Communication Technology committee at the college noted that he was very pleased with Edmodo. He claimed that there were no file storage limits as are encountered in Engrade. 

I had taken a brief look at Edmodo during the spring of 2013 but was put off initially by an interface that seemed almost too cute for college students and a system that seemed to focus on delivery capabilities that appeared to be more appropriate to elementary school. 

In August 2013 while working with CourseSites, I learned that the PDF converter used in CourseSites, Crocodoc, was also used by Edmodo. This caught my eye and piqued my interest once again.

With no one faculty member using all three packages and being able to comment with direct experiential knowledge of all three packages, I decided to retain Engrade for statistics and deploy Edmodo in Ethnobotany. Ethnobotany did not have written assignments to turn in, but this term I had already added two writing assignments to better align the course to one of the Micronesian Studies program learning outcomes.

Edmodo definitely requires thinking differently. Engrade starts an instructor with entering student names, setting up a grade book, and then introducing extended capabilities. CourseSites is a mind shift to a content and interaction focused orientation with a grade book module almost appearing as if it were an afterthought. That said, once student lists are uploaded by the instructor, the gradebook is populated.

Edmodo, on start up, has no grade book. Edmodo, as far as I could discern, also does not permit the uploading of lists of students, ID numbers, nor email addresses. My own experience was that the grade book capability only substantiated after students were logging into Edmodo and I had made a grade assignment within Edmodo. Like a Zen koan, Edmodo appears to ask the question "Does a grade book exist if there are no students and no assignments?" Engrade would answer yes - one can set up a class with a grade book that is empty of students and assignments. The grade book comes first. Edmodo would aver. A chicken and egg question coupled with the sound of a tree falling in a forest empty of ears.

As I try to grok Edmodo my conception is that in order to simplify the interface for elementary school students, Edmodo does not substantiate capabilities within the package until there is a reason to do so. Whatever the reason, I opted to generate a one question quiz and deploy that in order to get the grade book module to appear. I needed the module because only that module has a "New Grade" button that lets me enter off line grades for assignments, tests, presentations, and other events in physical space. Thus one has to deliver at least one on line assignment or quiz. 

The quiz options in Edmodo are far richer than Engrade's multiple choice only. Questions you have previously written are stored and available via the "Load First Question" link.

As one might note, the chrome in Edmodo looks like Engrade looks like FaceBook - blue bars and white screens. 

Getting students logged in requires that the student take the initiative. I opted to send a Join URL to the students.

This would prove confusing for the students. Many students access their college email from the WebMail interface. The link does not work if clicked on in an email in the WebMail interface. This alone stops some students. The student has to know to "right-click" on the the link to open the link in a new tab. Even if the student does this, the student is not ushered into Edmodo proper. The student is actually taken to the front page.

There are no special directions to the student as to what to do. One of my students tried to use their college email login to access Edmodo - logical because that is a universal login for all systems at the college. Many of my students are accustomed to systems such as Engrade and CourseSites where they have a username and login password. Some came to me asking what their username and password is for Edmodo. I had to explain that they log themselves in. Which also means that I have to explain that they need to use their real name because I have no idea that Jexystar88 is Tulpe Kilafwakun. 

In the above screen the student has to click on "I'm a Student" to sign up. The URL does retain the code, thus once logged in the student can ask to join Ethnobotany. The onus, however, is still on the student to request being added to Ethnobotany. Note too that Edmodo has a pathological aversion to using words such as class and course. Edmodo uses the term Group for everything. One does not create a class or a course, one creates a group. This is undoubtedly also some form of philosophical choice. Some on line commentators refer to Edmodo as a "safe social network" for students, teachers, and their parents. 

As Edmodo was built to be used by the pre-email set, and email address is optional on sign-up, although I suspect the package is far more functional for a college student if they enter an email address.

Once substantiated, the gradebook is accessed from the triangular wave form button. Columns can be added using the New Grade button. 

With my use of Engrade, CourseSites, and Edmodo this term, I am finding I have to change out my mental software modules and mindsets as I move from package to package. Clearly they are simply different tools. While one can chisel wood with a screwdriver, that is not what a screwdriver is for. These three tools are simply different tools with different targets. 

For speed reasons alone I would not dare to try to use CourseSites in my 86 student statistics course - our Internet pipes are not fast enough. With all assignments being in physical space, Engrade is perfect for statistics. Physical Science, however, has writing wired into the core, and the on line marking capabilities with my ten metric, 50 point rubric, seems to be a capability unique to CourseSites. CourseSites is, however, complex and vast. Edmodo seems to be simpler, cleaner, and faster. Engrade appears to have two main external JavaScript routines, CourseSites has 30 or more external JavaScript routines to load per page. Edmodo loads five external JavaScript routines on one of its pages, and embeds a good bit of JavaScript code directly into the page code. Out here in the mid-Pacific, speed is a necessary consideration.

Written work will not be submitted until later in the term, I will be fascinated to see what capabilities I have in Edmodo for marking that written work.

Assignments are straightforward to set-up, no deep philosophical koans to solve here. The description text box expands to handle hefty amounts of text. Raw hyperlinks get converted to clickable links in the post.

Assignments can be scheduled for release.

Attendance can be done using the Class Charts seating chart app/module. One has to add this in to Edmodo, the module is free. The module does not appear to support post-hoc attendance entry. The module appears to be intended to allow a teacher to take role in real time using an iPad type device.

I happened to open the app on a non-class day and the app logged attendance for that day. I can remove the errant attendance, but it is unclear how to add attendance for prior weeks.

Note the grid at the bottom. Of course this is early days, first contact, and I am still finding my way around.

Edmodo seems to have a focus on community building - both with students and other instructors. One can search for other instructors and connect with them.

Marking a short answer quiz.

Edmodo automatically marks multiple-choice. This particular quiz had four multiple choice and one short answer question. The quiz waited for me to indicate whether the short answer was correct or not and then the quiz was logged into the grade book.

The short answer quiz handled a multi-sentence response. Note that I clicked on correct above. I also had the option of partial credit if the question had been worth more points.

01 September: The grade book, populated by actual course data. Note that as third week begins, not all students have logged into Edmodo. The inability to enter a roster for a class is interesting to me, but undoubtedly a deal killer for some faculty. In essence, my students have to "buy in" sufficiently to want to log on. I cannot force them to be students of mine, they must choose to be students of mine. My early warning is going to be very interesting indeed.

The third tab of the progress report includes Insights into mood reactions of the students, performance on recent assignment, student acticity, and popular content (to date I have yet to post content in Edmodo). clicking on the Primitive plants link leads to the next screen.

Quiz performance is summarized on the next screen both for individual students and item analysis. Grey apparently means that the question was not answered. Edmodo counts those as automatically wrong for purposes of the grade book.

Quizzes are far more flexible and capable than a package such as Engrade offers. I can attach uploaded files or files from a folder in my library. Finding the place to store material is not obvious in Edmodo. One first goes Home and then clicks on a Group that one has created. In that screen is Folders. One can then set up folders. Uploaded material can only be uploaded to folders. Folders get added to your library. Folders cannot contain subfolders.

Clicking on the library icon opened my library - one image and two hyperlinks. There is a 100 Mb upload limit but storage space is unlimited according to Edmodo. I know of no other free LMS with grade book capabilities that offers unlimited storage. Not sure how that free lunch is paid for.

Polls are an interesting feature. They suggest that something I sensed to be true is also perceived to be true by the students. The students enter thinking they know their plants. In just a few days they are less certain they really know their plants. 

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