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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Using Edmodo as a Virtual Learning Environment

This year I have been using Edmodo with some of my groups to encourage them to do further practice out of class. I have been fairly successful with adult learners but not so with my teenage groups, who shy away from any type of homework whatsoever. This is understandable, as many have busy lives with constant exams at school, and some are not even allowed to use the computer during the week.

In this post I am going to focus on how I have used Edmodo as a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) with my FCE adult class.

Reasons for using a VLE

Most of the students on the FCE course were not at FCE level. This is a very common phenomenon here in Spain. Most of the members of this particular group had passed the PET exam and wanted to continue, with the objective of sitting the FCE exam at the end of the year. Of course, with 3 hours´class time a week it is impossible to go from B1 to B2 in nine months, unless students are going to be putting in a lot of work outside class. In fact, most students are not sitting the exam this summer, but have decided to move the goalposts back towards the December exam (after lots of discussion of how realistic their expectations were). In any case, whether they are intending to sit the exam in July or December, all students really need to be practising English at home - reviewing vocabulary and grammar, improving their listening skills and doing exam practice.

I provide students with homework at least once a week. This typically consists of an exercise we haven't had time to do in class, some extra grammar practice, and FCE writing tasks. However, I think students need to be pointed in the right direction and encouraged to do more. Given a list of resources and choice, English homework can be more motivating and interesting because students can focus on areas they personally have difficulty with, and there are many more options such as videos and games that students enjoy more than traditional homework.

The VLE allows me to share resources, including links to websites, documents, videos etc with my learners which, because it is optional, encourages these adults to take more responsibility for their own learning.

Why Edmodo?

I had previously tried using a blog with adult groups, where I would set homework (usually a written response to a task) but this never really kicked off. Some students would comment and leave a response, but it would typically be the same students every time. Others never even bothered visiting the blog. I had hoped they would take the initiative and write posts of their own, but unfortunately this never happened.

I had also tried using Tuenti with teenage learners and Gmail, hoping students would chat and email each other.

Last year my adults often used email to send me their homework, but they weren't doing anything else online.
Edmodo seemed the ideal solution to this as it allows students to send in assignments but also has a library where the teacher can add links and resources for students to access.

Edmodo allows the teacher to set up different classes, where each student needs a code or invitation in order to join. You can send messages, notifications and alerts. Private messages and alerts mean the student receives an email notifying them of the action. This is especially useful at the beginning, when students are not in the habit of going into Edmodo and checking what is new.

The other nice thing about Edmodo is that it is visually similar to Facebook. Students should be familar with the idea of a "wall" where public posts and links can be shared, making using Edmodo easier.



How we use Edmodo

Firstly, I started adding resources to the library. The library is a directory where you can keep everything in nice neat folders, which you can share with specific groups of learners. You can also link to the library in posts, so if you want to share a specific resource, you can add the link to the library entry in a message or post.

I added links to useful websites for exam training and practice, vocabulary practice, listening sites and so on. I keep adding things as a discover them, and when I do so, I post it on the wall as well as adding it to the relevant folder in the library.

I also added some documents like pdfs I have on my computer such as a copy of resources we have looked at in class, reference materials and listening exercises along with the mp3 files.

When a student wants to practice a skill or language point, they can go to the library and look for something to do.

I often give students FCE writing tasks to do. These are sometimes those that come up in our course book and sometimes past papers. I add the task as an assignment on Edmodo, with the instructions. Students can write their piece in a Word document and upload to Edmodo using the TURN IN button next to the assignment in question. I can then open the document directly in Edmodo, make comments and corrections using the annotation feature, and give the piece a mark. This mark goes on the student's records in Edmodo, so I and the student can see the different marks they have received during the course. I then download the annotated version in pdf format and send back to the student.

Future aspirations

I am thinking of gearing towards a flipped or semi-flipped classroom in the future. This will only work with adult learners, and even then will depend on the circumstances. However, many of my students at the moment are out of work, have plenty of free time, and need to improve their level in a short period of time.
This is especially true for university students, teachers and anyone preparing to sit state exams in Spain, as a B1 or B2 certified level is required. People are in a rush to get a certificate, but once they realise that many hours of study and practice are required, I think a flipped approach could work. Students would be required to do certain tasks at home before the lesson, and then in class we would be able to focus on problematic areas, exam techniques and so on, taking more of a Demand High approach.

Conclusions

Edmodo has worked reasonably well for me this year, although it hasn't been without its problems. I have had students joining the class throughout the year, and every time a new student appeared, I would have to show them how to use Edmodo again. I plan on making video tutorials next year to help avoid this problem, however many people prefer a face-to-face explanation.

I also hope that in the future students will become more active and take advantage of the platform to share things - videos, articles etc, making Edmodo not only a place to study but also somewhere to socialise in English.

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