A few years ago I was an enthusiastic proponent of Moodle. This was partly because our local authority provided it for free, and partly because I was teaching in Year 7 and so anything to support kids with actually getting homework done was a good thing. However, I understood why colleagues were reluctant to master its foibles, didn’t like it’s clunky appearance, and weren’t really prepared to spend the time monitoring discussions or chat. And so in many year teams it lay unused.
It was with some trepidation, then, that I started to use Edmodo with just one of my classes a couple of years ago. It went with mixed success because those students had become used to the greater freedom on Moodle, and so were not overly impressed. But that was exactly what made it appeal to me when I considered my colleagues. So first, let me make clear some excellent advantages of Edmodo for primary schools:
- It’s completely free
- It’s relatively easy to set up
- Students can’t send private messages – everything is shared on the main group page
- Parents can have simple limited access to see things their child is doing
- The online support is quick and helpful, which is great when getting started.
With that in mind, here are my ten tips for setting up Edmodo in your school to make it as easy as possible to manage. I’ve also included links to the official Edmodo support materials. This is not intended to explain how Edmodo can be used. There are lots of better resources online for that, including Edmodo itself, and the excellent resources provided by Simon Haughton at www.simonhaughton.co.uk/edmodo/
Tip 1: Have two accounts (or more!)
If you’re the person leading the set-up of Edmodo, then I’d recommend having two accounts to use. It shouldn’t matter which you set up first, but make sure you start from the off thinking of one of them as your teacher account, and one as your admin account once you’ve set up your school network (see tip 2). Although Edmodo lets you be both with one login, I’ve found it much easier to keep the roles separate. Of course, if you’re the IT administrator rather than a teacher, then you may only need an admin account, but if you’re a classteacher, dealing with both roles in one screen can be a nuisance. I’ve found that by keeping two accounts, I can use my teacher account to manage my own class, but I used the admin account to set up all the classes initially. That way, other teachers can be added to classes as needed, but if and when individual teachers leave, the central adminstration is still managed by a single account which can add/delete classes. Equally, if I leave my school, I can transfer that admin account to someone else, and my absence won’t be problematic. (Oh, and I’ve seen Edmodo themselves suggest it, so you won’t get told off!)
In fact, I also set myself up a mock student account that allowed me to see things as the students do. I never use it now, but in those first few weeks it was invaluable in understanding how the whole networked operates.
Edmodo: How to Sign Up as a Teacher
Tip 2: Do set up your school network.
Edmodo offers a function to set up a school or district network. At first this sounds a bit American and I wasn’t sure about it, but actually it brings several advantages. Most importantly, it makes it easy to handle those cases where kids forget or lose their passwords. It also gives your kids a direct link to a personalised site, such as ourprimaryschool.edmodo.com, and helps you to monitor activities, and even collect statistics about use. It’s another free feature. If your school has a knowledgeable IT technician, you can also note IP addresses to go directly to your school login page when accessing Edmodo. If.
Edmodo: Sign Up for your School Network
Tip 3: Don’t fret about managing lots of groups…
The way Edmodo is organised, it encourages you to set up a new “group” for each class. At secondary this might mean one group for each timetabled set you teach, at primary it makes sense for it to be class groups. Having previously used Moodle, I was initially reluctant about setting up 20+ different groups for our school knowing that many might lay fallow, and so opted for just one per year group. This was a mistake! Even if groups are underused, they cause no bother. On the other hand, if large groups take off they quickly become unwieldy
It’s actually very easy to manage larger numbers of smaller groups. For example, when setting homework it is possible that you’d want different deadlines for different classes. That is possible with larger groups because you can create subgroups, but actually it would have been much easier to have kept to one group per class. That’s my intention for next academic year! If you then want to send a message, homework or link to more than one class, it’s as easy as selecting them from the list and sending it to all at once.
Next year, my intention is to include even more groups to make it easier to differentiate content. So, for example, as Y5 leader I might include:
- 5A homework
- 5B homework
- 5A discussion
- 5B discussion
- Y5 general
If I want to set the same homework for both classes, then I can simply add both names to the task; but more importantly, by keeping homework separate from discussion, if a child wants to see just a list of homework tasks, this will be presented to them as a clickable option.
Edmodo: Create a Group
Tip 4: …but try to avoid a later proliferation of groups
I found it easiest to set up the groups we were planning to use over the summer holidays. By doing that under the admin account, I could then keep an eye on activities in all of those groups from one central login. It means that even if individual teachers don’t monitor closely, or are absent or suddenly leave, I can still monitor and manage those groups. For that reason, I have discouraged colleagues from setting up their own groups, even though this is relatively simple to do.
Tip 5: Do standardise children’s log-ins
I’m still not sure if I see this as an advantage or not, but the way Edmodo groups are set up requires every child to sign up with an account and then sign into the relevant classes. There is no option for centrally setting up accounts with a spreadsheet or similar. At our school we’ve managed this approach with Y4 up and it went smoothly as a single ICT lesson, but it does require some preparation. Because the software doesn’t dictate how this is done, we found it useful to dictate a little. In fact, I set up cards for all the children in my year group and gave them the username and password I wanted them to use. The username was based on our network logins, and the passwords were randomly allocated. It avoided the likelihood that children would instantly forget a foolish username, and reduced the likelihood of them not remembering their passwords. It didn’t solve all the problems, but it certainly reduced them. Be aware, though, that simple usernames like “jsmith” are long likely to have been taken! Note that students don’t need to enter an email address to sign up; parents and teachers do.
Edmodo: Join a Group
Tip 6: Do get parents on-board
One of the great advantages of Edmodo is that it is far more reassuring for parents to have some access to the website. Parents can set up their own accounts which are directly linked to those of their child. This allows them to see any homework that’s been set, and any discussions that take place between you and the individual child. They don’t, though, allow them to see anything of other children’s information. We used the initial parents’ meetings at the start of the year to explain the introduction of Edmodo and encouraged parents to sign up. It hasn’t had a massive uptake, but it has comforted some of those who are less enthusiastic about e-learning and worry about e-safety. It’s also worth noting that Edmodo has apps for both iPhones and Android which many parents find more useful, and you can use Edmodo to send messages directly to the parents of particular groups.
Edmodo: How to Sign Up Parents
Tip 7: Do use the Edmodo support community
I was amazed at how efficient this was. As a teacher, the support link appears in the communities section, and works just like another Edmodo group. It allows you to post questions or seek help, and to receive pretty fast responses from one of the Edmodo staff members – normally in less than a few hours, often in minutes (I presume depending on US time!) There are also tonnes of help pages which explain how the various elements work.
Tip 8: Learn about co-ownership
If you’ve set up your groups as a single admin account, then you will need to add other teachers as co-teachers of the relevant groups to give them full rights to set homework, etc. (and to stop them getting homework alerts as if they were students!). Do this by getting them to join the group using the group code, and then finding them in the members list. Again, it’s a bit of admin at the start of the year, but well worth doing to make managing the whole thing easier.
Edmodo: Add a co-teacher to your group
Tip 9: Use badges
Edmodo comes with a few standard badges which allow you to award little icons to individual children. I couldn’t work out whether it was worth it at first, but I’ve been astounded by how much ten-year-olds value those little icons on their profile pages. The great thing is that it’s also relatively easy to create badges of your own by uploading small images. We have tables badges, house point badges, reading badges… all sorts. They’re simple to award (a couple of clicks) and they show up on the child’s profile and are shared with parents. It’s a great extension of our rewards scheme, and they can’t lose them in the washing machine!
Tip 10: Recruit a few like-minded teachers to get started.
As always with technological things, it’s much easier to get things moving if you can get a groundswell of action at the beginning. I was greatly pleased that a couple of IT-minded teachers joined our staff just as I was launching Edmodo as it meant that we had a ‘champion’ of sorts in almost all our year groups. That alone helped to get things off to a better start.
As with all things like this, it takes a while to get started with everything, and doubtless there will be things I’ve missed that you’ll discover in the early days of using Edmodo. I’d suggest that the summer term is a great time to start exploring Edmodo perhaps with a single class, or two keen teachers, just to see how everything works. That way, over the summer you can iron out any problems and start in earnest across the groups in September. Be aware, too, that each September your children will need to join new groups for their new classes; what better time to revisit those important e-safety messages?
If you’re thinking of getting started with Edmodo, please feel free to ask me queries either here or on Twitter. I also have a Word document booklet to support colleagues getting started with Edmodo that I’m happy to share if people contact me.