Should my class blog, tweet, Google App, Moodle, Desire2Learn, or Edmodo? Arrghhh!!!

Do you want to use social media, web 2.0 tools, and/or a learning management system for your class or course program? Do you feel overwhelmed with the absurd amount of choice, and those ‘techie’ annoying types that make you feel like a Super Noob? I’m hoping this post can help you out.

Every year around this time I reflect on the tools and spaces we’ve been using throughout the year. Will we use them again? Were they effective? Did they help us expand our learning, or were they just pretty things in a tool box? Here are some of my own criteria, based on being a teacher of middle schoolers in a class with an assortment of technology.

Device agnostic: I have a multi-device environment in which mobile dominates. So, I don’t mean the space needs to be seen on any or most devices. I mean it’s gotta work just as well on a mobile device as it does a laptop. What’s more, it hopefully includes apps (third party or otherwise) for ease of use.

Simple, elegant, minimalist design: ‘Nuff said.

Engineering: It’s fast, and it works. Not most of the time – all of the time. Also, it does a few things really well, not a million things badly.

Used by people outside of education: This isn’t because I have some bizarre inferiority complex with apps and LMSs, feeling like it’s illegitimate if someone else doesn’t use it. I’ve just noticed a pattern: if a digital tool or space is being designed solely for education, it usually sucks like a leach.

Easy privacy settings: Because if it’s complex, then it can’t be trusted, especially for school.

 

I’ve created the matrix below to help you should you need it. Some points to keep in mind about it:

  • By no means is it an exhaustive list of all options.
  • It is focussed on my own context as YRDSB Ontario educator, and is mostly intended for my colleagues, so definitely represents a bias from this context. Hopefully it’s useful to others.

Click here for the native Google document.

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Comments

  1. says

    I believe you touched on something very important for educators to to do before choosing a social media platform for teaching/communication: look at many aspects before choosing. Probably a lesson many have learned the hard way. Thanks for sharing your decision-making process–it helps to see how others think!

  2. says

    To follow-up on your initial question of “Should your class… ?”, the answer is simple: do you think that their learning would be enhanced by these tools? I find some teachers on opposite spectrums sometimes. We know the type who will not add / change for improvements and couldn’t care less about innovation. The opposite of that is the “DaVinci” tester – you know, the one that tries everything for the sake of trying but leaves things in tangles and moves on to try other things without context. After checking your Google docs, I realized that I was on the very last column as a WordPress and Buddypress user.

    Given my experience in this area, I don’t hold this over people. I have average tech knowledge as far as I know. Although things may seem presentable and functional in my site / classroom, only my wife gets to see the chaos behind the scene. Next to someone like Mr. Jared Bennett, teacher consultant at the HWDSB, I’m a pup. Here’s the thing though, he never made me feel inadequate. Oh, and he too has his own lair of chaos behind the scene.

    If I could add to your suggestion, if you feel that you need to try something new and more difficult (but deem it necessary for your classes, ASK YOUR PLN). I found that ALL of mine was very open and actually excited for my new endeavours. Do what’s right for you, do what’s right for your class. The rest will sort itself out.

  3. says

    Hi Royan,
    Thanks for this very comprehensive matrix. I’m often asked by teachers which platform I think is best, and I always hem and haw and say “it depends”. Your matrix provides a MUCH more holistic response! I will definitely share it with teachers I know.
    I agree with Fred’s “DaVinci tester” statement – but sometimes as a teacher, you have to do a bit of testing to see what works best for you and your students, as long as student achievement is always the measuring stick used to determine whether or not a platform/device/digital tool is useful and appropriate. It is also important not to overwhelm yourself or more importantly, your students. I think too many “new mediums” at once does nothing but create confusion.
    As someone new to social media in the classroom, I really liked starting with the D2L because I found, as a newbie to the tech world, it was pretty easy to use and so safe for students. We started by using one tool on the D2L at a time, and added more tools as we developed our skills. As my students (and I) grew in our capabilities, they wanted to be able to do more – more sharing and collaborating with documents for example, and they wanted a blog tool with more capabilities for customization. But the D2L was a great starting point for them (and me) to see how digital tools could support and enhance learning.

  4. Mark Marcantonio says

    Excellent matrix. I highly appreciate the categories “open to strangers”, “open to parents”. Those are both critical questions that are always asked by my administration. The latter is critical if you need/want parent buy in, especially with a BYOD model.

  5. says

    As others have said here, Royan, thank you so much for sharing such a comprehensive list. I usually think about my choices around this time of year as well, but this year, my thoughts are a little different than usual: do we need to pick just one choice? In the past, I’ve had my students keep a blog on our Board blogging platform (a WP/BP combo thanks to the incredible @mrjarbenne), and I started this year with the same intention. This year though, our Board got Google Apps for Ed, and I quickly had my students activate their own GoogleDocs account. We also have two class Twitter accounts, and students constantly tweet out their learning on these accounts. (As one student said to me yesterday, “What am I going to do next year, Miss Dunsiger, when the teacher doesn’t say, ‘take a picture and tweet it?'” :))

    These different tools have worked well for different students. Some students love having their work public, and they created their public blog and share everything on it. It’s their digital portfolio. Other students, still like having a blog for a digital portfolio, but they don’t want it to be public. They created a private one thanks to our Board’s platform. Still other students love the ease in sharing their work via GoogleDocs, and they use Google Apps for everything. Then all of the students — either via links, videos, photographs, or all three — share their work on Twitter because they like the social learning. They also love that their parents can see their work right away and sometimes even comment on it right away as well. I don’t want these tweets to get “lost,” so every night, I Storify them, and put them on a Daily Shoot blog, where parents that are not as comfortable with Twitter can still view them.

    I think it’s the combination and the choice that works. Next year, I will still give these options, and we’ll see what happens. I just love that all students have created a digital portfolio that works for them, and maybe that’s what’s most important. What do others think? I’m curious to hear!

    Aviva
    http://www.weinspirefutures.com

    • royanlee says

      Hey Aviva,

      I’m actually going the opposite way. Where I used to be a fan of a multitude of tools and spaces, I’m increasingly a fan of less. As less as possible, in fact. I find it takes a while for students to get comfortable in these spaces, and having many of them just exacerbates some of the problems. I also don’t like spending a lot of time answering the question: “Where is that posted/do we post that again, Mr. Lee?”

      Moreover, do you ever find that being in all these online/cloud spaces increases workload in an unreasonable way? For a while there, I felt like I was actually teaching a subject called Social Media. That’s when I knew I had to pull back.

      Thanks so much for your constant conversation. I learn so much from our discussions.

      • says

        I can understand what you’re saying, Royan, and for some students, I help guide them to using one particular tool because of their strengths and needs. For most students though, my rule is that they need to email me where they’ll be sharing their work (be it GoogleDocs, a blog, or Twitter). Then I make a list in Evernote, and I can then easily access each student’s work.

        I have enough students that are super comfortable/confident with each platform that they can assist the others with the tools themselves. It’s like my own “class Geek Squad.” :) I’m happy to say that I haven’t answered one question this year on how do I post/share that? Maybe if I did, I’d be re-examining options.

        Thanks for always giving me lots to think about! I enjoy our conversations for sure!

        Aviva
        http://www.weinspirefutures.com

  6. says

    Nice job, Royan. I used it as inspiration for my blog post for tomorrow. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of your points but you’ve started some summer time thinking for those who have read it.

    • royanlee says

      Thanks Doug!

      Ya, I’m certain many will disagree on points here and there. Would be interested to know which ones you part ways on. Blog it!

  7. says

    WordPress can (and probably should) be hosted locally on your district servers. And since Kidblog is just WordPress, shouldn’t it be “not at all” on how techie you need to be?

    I’m a big fan of local solutions, we run GAFE, Moodle, and WordPress. Every student has a wp blog if they want.

  8. says

    I do understand why Moodle doesn’t get much love in your chart, but I have personally found it to be a fabulous tool. It allows my students to take care of almost everything I want them to do online, reducing the number of places I have to set up and send them. Moodle can even be used to create full, online classes and includes things like wikis, quizzes, peer editing modules, and collaborative glossaries. Teachers may also collect assignments from students and grade them with customizable rubrics through Moodle. It does have a learning curve because it can do so much. Obviously not the choice if you just want students to do one type of online task like just discussion or just accessing information. Also, it is much easier for a teacher to use Moodle with the classroom if the teacher’s district maintains it or pays a third party to host it.

  9. says

    Royan and all,

    Thinking about the use of social media and technology generally in the classroom has been top of mind for me too. The questions surrounding the ‘why’ of their use get asked of me almost daily, and as Lorraine has said, the answer is usually, “It depends”. What is the focus? Assessment? Intellectual engagement? Social engagement? Pedagogy? And that;’s when the waters get muddied.

    Thomas Ro over at HWDSB has been thinking about this too, He explores how the SAMR model might help us bring technology integration and teacher practice together, not by connecting various tools with each level of SAMR, but rather but identifying which practices match up with or are supported by each level.

    Here is the link to his post where he has made his “Window of Blended Learning” available for all to contribute. I am wondering if those of you who have been using technology in your classes for some time would take a moment to add your thoughts to the model. I work with teachers who are just beginning to think about tech integration, and your knowledge and ideas will be invaluable to us.

    http://rothinks.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/blended-learning-window-model/

    Thanks. I hope in the next week or so that my teachers and I will be ready to add our thinking to the Window too!

    Julie

  10. Lisa Noble says

    Thanks so much for this, Royan…returning to the webiverse after a report-card induced sabbatical, and thanks to @dougpete’s link, starting with this. The thing that struck me as a KPR teacher is that I couldn’t say “yes” to my board supporting any of your systems….that’s a problem for me, right there.

    I also felt Fred’s comment, and know that being a “daVinci tester” is something I need to work on – if I want my students to be comfy with a tool/system – we need to use it consistently.

    We go to Office 365 in the fall, with not a HUGE amount of support (big cheers for the amazing Liz Peachman, who’s doing her best), and I’m intrigued by how I might be able to make that work….

    Lots to dig through here. Thanks again.

  11. says

    Hey Royan,

    I definitely agree with your statement of “absurd amount of choice” when it comes to the tools out there. In HWDSB, our 21st Century Learning team is trying to streamline the toolbox (Google Apps, D2L, Voicethread, Commons (WordPress/Buddypress)) for teachers and make the choice easier by provisioning these tools for all our staff and students. There are definitely some teachers that are comfortable enough with technology to integrate all these tools effectively but there are many teachers who are just beginning to blend the learning in their classroom and would find it difficult to incorporate all of these tools. I feel that our board provisioned tools would meet the diverse needs of our teachers. Not all teachers will want to blog but may want their students to be able to collaborate with each other using Google Docs and provide timely feedback while they work a task. I also recognize that Google Docs may not meet the needs of our primary teachers and students so but perhaps Voicethread would be their entry point because of the ability for students to create and contribute with audio comments. When I look at your matrix, I think the first row is the most important question to ask, “Why would I want to use this?” Once you have that answer, I guess the next question I would consider asking is, “How will it meet the needs of my students and impact their learning?” or “How will this change my practice?”

    Glad I read this post. It furthered my thinking about how I can support teachers in my role.

  12. Gautam Saha says

    I would like to point out some incorrect information in the matrix.
    Moodle has mobile app. Moodle does have mentor/parent role where each parent can only see their child’s grades/work.

  13. says

    Have you entertained the thought of Office365 or are aware of it? We are launching it in our board and I think the tool fits some of your criteria. Like you I want something that works and is consistent. I’m an instructional resource teacher in Peel and we encounter this debate all the time. We also support D2L, nuff said!

  14. says

    I agree that too many different applications can be confusing. However, I do push Dropbox, and it has saved one of my students whose computer crashed 2 weeks before exams.
    Have you tried Wikispaces? I’ve used it for years as a classroom space, and plan on trying out their new Classroom version. Free for educators.

  15. says

    I think the most important question is “Why would I use this?” I’d argue that it’s more important for the students to ask the question than for the teacher.

    Back when I was in a 1:1, I’d have students experiment with a tool like iMovie or garage band or our school Learning Management System (Moodle- and Edmodo-ish), google docs, and more.

    It didn’t take more than a few instances of synchronous use of google docs with screens jumping down with new content, that students chose to do the ‘written thinking’ and idea sharing on forums like Edmodo. Twitter work well for conversation too. When final edits were necessary, most students preferred tracking features on word processing platforms.

    Students also need to learn that the message behind a project will be ‘heard’ differently by the audience if delivered on a different presentation tool.

    When students are working on a project, consider having them break the project into smaller tasks and decide on the optimal platform for completing each of the various tasks.

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