Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Google Classroom vs. Edmodo

This year, I will be using Edmodo and Google Classroom in my teaching. Students will be using Chromebooks to access assignments and resources. In this blog post, I will describe the features in both of these Learning Management Systems (LMS), and attempt to analyze the benefits and shortcomings of each of these systems. 

Google Classroom first went public to all teachers in the 2014-2015 school year, and had been beta tested by a select group of teachers prior to that. It is part of the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite, which is free for all schools. Chances are your school district is already using GAFE. In our district, each student has been assigned a username and password with @ students.district.net subdomain.

To create usernames, consider using a system of graduation year, followed by first initial and last name. For example, Jane Doe who will graduate in 2024, create the username 24jdoe. If the username is already take, add the graduation year at the end again, ex. 24jdoe24. For passwords, I use the lunch numbers our students are assigned in our district. You can add a few letters to the password if needed.

To get started with Google classroom, go to classroom.google.com and log in with your GAFE email. Click the + in the upper right-hand corner to create a new class. You will see a code that students can use to join the class, or you can add students by searching for their GAFE account. In the About tab, you can add materials that won't change frequently, like your syllabus and websites you will allow early finishers to explore. In the Students tab (this is Classmates tab in the student view), everyone in the class can email each other. As an elementary teacher, I am not in favor of students emailing one another. At least with GAFE, they cannot email anyone outside of the district. In the Stream tab, you can add Announcements and Assignments. Students can add Announcements and comment on Assignments and Announcements. 

My favorite thing about Google Classroom is the ability to "Make a Copy for each student" when you add a Google Drive document, slide or sheet as an assignment. Before, this was possible through Doctopus script. Google classroom makes the process much easier. No more running to the copier! Just make a template of what you want the students to work on, add it as an assignment, and set it to make a copy for each student. When the student opens the assignment, it adds a document to the student's Google Drive and shares it on your Drive.  It makes a Classroom folder in your Google Drive where these documents can be found.

One shortcoming of Google Classroom is that the information is not accessible to parents. So, parents cannot check on students assignments without logging in as the student, which is not a good idea when we are trying to teach students to keep their passwords private.

Edmodo was founded in 2008 by two school district employees who wanted to bring social networking to the education field. When you sign in to Edmodo, teachers can join or create groups. Once you create a group, you are given a code that students can use to join the group. Students do not need an email account to join Edmodo. They can create a username and password, which I sometimes create for them. 

Teachers can add resources, like web-links or documents to a personal "library." Inside the group, you can add these resources to a folder that your students can access. Students can then move these resources into their "backpacks." In the group you can post an assignment, poll and quiz or Snapshot to the group's stream. You can pin these posts, so they remain at the top of the stream. 

Snapshot is why I became heavily involved in Edmodo. It provides short formative assessments for Common Core State Standards. This is the easiest assessment tool I have seen that is aligned with the Common Core. The results are beautiful and provide resources for students who are struggling with a concept.

Students cannot message one another in Edmodo, but can post to the group's stream and message the teacher. In the settings section, you can control students' ability to post to the stream. I like to start the year by moderating all posts, at least until I teach some digital citizenship lessons.  The ability for students to be able to send a message directly to the teacher to get clarification on a topic is ideal for students who may be embarrassed to ask for help in front of their peers. Within the group, you can create subgroups, which is ideal for differentiated instruction. 

 The primary reason that I will be using Edmodo this year is because of the new parent apps they created this year. Each student has a parent code that they can share with all the parents/ guardians involved. Parents can not post in the same group stream as the students, however they can message other parents in a parent group. They can see their child's upcoming assignments, scores on completed assignments and quizzes. Plus, they can see all posts their child made, including all messages between the child and teacher. This makes the teaching process transparent and I hope that it will involve more families in the education process. 

Another thing that makes Edmodo stand out is the connections teachers can make with each other. Teachers can grow their Personalized Learning Networks, by posting notes in Subject area communities. Teachers can also connect with other teachers individually, or join groups created by teachers for teachers. Edmodo is like Facebook for education in that regard.

Edmodo recently added a marketplace called Spotlight that is similar to TeachersPayTeachers. Teachers can add free or paid self-created resources to Spotlight, or just make recommendations for other resources, like websites. Teacher-created resources are moderated before they go live on Edmodo.

One shortcoming of Edmodo is it does not seem to offer a digital copying mechanism like Google Classroom. Plus, neither LMS offer an integrated lesson planner. You can read my previous blog post about that.

I've decided to use Edmodo as my primary LMS system, rather than Google classroom, because of the parent apps and Snapshot program. However, I will still use Google Classroom for digital copies.

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