Edmodo, it’s not you, it’s me. Okay, it’s both of us.

Edmodo profile

I adore Edmodo. Long before my school went one-to-one, I was seeking out ways to streamline the work submission process and better methods of tracking student work. It’s hard for me to believe that my friend Mike only told me about it a year or so ago, since it now serves as the nerve center of all my classes, including my college courses. It’s how I quiz, assign homework, and share resources with my students. I’ve tried every competitor, but I’m still married to Edmodo. Nearpod is nice but pricey, Schoology wasn’t really intuitive, and I don’t like anything about Blackboard, so while it’s in some ways a marriage of convenience, it works remarkably well for me and my students.

But I want to be in love. Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy spending time with Edmodo. I feel like we know each other at this point; I know not to let my students take quizzes through the iOS app (because it will crash and the kids will lose their responses), Edmodo knows when to send my assignments (provided I tell it), and I think I focus more on the strengths of our relationship than the weaknesses. But, if pressed, I might admit to occasionally longing for a more functional library, or easier methods of collaboration, or even a cleaner interface. I’m not proud; if you really care about someone or something, you don’t give him/her/it a list of ways to change. So it’s with a heavy heart that I offer my suggestions to the good people of Edmodo. I still care, and I have no plan on leaving, but I want us to be better. I think we can be better. But you have to take the first step. Edmodo, you have to change, because I’m not as happy as I once was.
Edmodo smileys

  1. Grow up. When we met, it didn’t matter to me that you looked a bit immature. I knew what was beneath your appearance was most important, and I felt like others would see that once they met you. But I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed when I showed you off to some of my college friends and they thought you were a little young for me. “I don’t think you should ask us to get to know Edmodo,” they agreed. “It seems a little young.”Seriously: there’s no reason Edmodo shouldn’t be sweeping college campuses across the country. It’s a simple, powerful way to organize a class, and most younger professors don’t want to carry around a hernia-inducing shoulder bag filled with student papers. But a lot of profs and adjuncts I’ve spoken with are reluctant to use a site that puts such a premium on badges and asks students to respond with smiley or frowny faces based on how much they liked an assignment. Why not offer teachers some level of control over which Edmodo features they integrate into their classes? It wouldn’t require a major overhaul of the site; just some options in a user’s settings regarding user feedback, badges, etc. It isn’t impossible to provide some user-selectable skins so our college students don’t feel infantilized when we direct them to Edmodo.com.
    Sorting options Edmodo
  2. Clean yourself up. It’s kind of cool to be young and unkempt. You can get away with it when you’re growing up because when you have a lot going for you, most people will look past a bit of messiness. It almost becomes part of your charm. But you’re getting older now, and it might be time to get organized. Sift through your stuff and start sorting out the important stuff from the junk. Let’s make this place livable. My Edmodo feed reminds me of my Facebook feed, and that’s not a good thing. Posts comes in waves, and there aren’t filtering options sufficient for cutting through the clutter. Alerts rise above the noise to some extent, but I would love to have granular control over what’s displayed in my feed, and certain limitations (like having to switch to a class to view only its posts rather than that being a sorting option) seem unnecessary. The solution is simple: more robust sorting options. And if that doesn’t seem like enough, consider changing the default interface so that it offers two or three examples of a particular post type, then a little + sign the user clicks to expand the view and see all the posts of that kind. I’m absolutely certain most users don’t want to be overwhelmed by a cluttered, busy interface with dozens of posts scrolling by.

    The. Worst.

    The. Worst.

  3. Upgrade your space. When you’re first on your own, it doesn’t matter how you live. You’ll move your stuff into any place you can find; aesthetics take a backseat to basic functionality. But time marches on, and now you find yourself at a crossroads. I can’t keep living without expansive living and storage space, and right now, you’re not getting the job done.Edmodo’s library is the reason many teachers at my day job don’t want to use it. Uploading each file individually is TORTURE, and very few services ask users to complete a simple task in such an arduous way. The interface is clunky and unattractive, options are severely limited, and several steps are required to share files. And there’s such a simple solution: partner with a cloud storage service, then bake it into Edmodo. Instead of the Library tab, maybe you click the Storage by CX tab (for more info, check out my cloud storage review blog entry). Partner with a storage provider that can offer students and teachers some serious space (CX provides 10GB, SkyDrive 7GB…just read the review I posted!) and allow me to click one box to share that resource with an individual, school, or district. Finding a partner would allow you to ditch paltry file upload limits and would make Edmodo the center of student work it has the potential to be.
  4. Be nice to authority figures. I don’t know why you think it’s okay to make things so difficult between my folks and me, but it’s not, and you’re stressing me out by not being more open to them. No matter what you think, they’re an important part of our relationship. I need them involved. Even worse is how you treat my boss. Rebelling against authority figures works when you don’t have families to support, but now it just makes me feel like you’re not considering my needs.Our Dean of Faculty asked to see something posted on my Edmodo page last week, so I created her as a student and added her to my class. In the midst of doing this, I realized how weird it was that administrators couldn’t look in on classes that are part of their school or district without becoming users or being provided parent codes. And that parents can’t see their child’s Edmodo assignments without a different parent code for every class. Why not offer a skeleton key option that allows district supervisors to check out every class connected to their schools? Why can’t parents be connected to their kids’ classes with ONE code? Many parents find the process of connecting to five or six classes plus clubs, teams, etc. an arduous process, and we have to make it easier so we encourage them to become involved. The more barriers we create to parent-student-teacher interactions, the less we can expect to get out Edmodo.
  5. Talk to me. Look, I know it seems like I have a lot of complaints. And the truth is, sometimes I see you more for what you can be than what you are. But that’s only because you have such incredible potential! At your best, you can do it all. But there are times when I need to communicate, and you’re not there for me.Why have a Twitter account if you won’t answer user questions on it? Why have a support site if there’s no way for a user to track questions he or she asks? As someone responsible for keeping an entire school running smoothly via Edmodo, I have A LOT of questions that never get answered. I would think you’d want to provide some kind of real support to district level leaders, but up to this point that hasn’t been the case.

So there you have it: five steps to building a better Edmodo. I hope you understand that this doesn’t mean I don’t care…if anything, it means I care more than most. I know we’re going through a rough patch, but if you can just hear me out and make a few small changes, I’m sure we’ll come out of this stronger and smarter.

Plus I really don’t have a lot of options. So I’m probably not going anywhere.

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FETC 2013: Driving, Flying, Speaking, Learning

FETC logo

I spoke here. And it was cool.

Pounding rain had already turned the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway into a treacherous, car-packed Slip-n-Slide by the time I got on the road at around 4:30am, and my broken windshield wipers made the drive a surreal, terrifying journey. Six hours later, I was sitting on a beach chair on the upper deck of the Orange County Convention Center’s Building 1 soaking in the sun, talking to like-minded educators, and wishing I could stay in Orlando until February break (at minimum). FETC is like the older, bigger cousin of most other conferences I’ve attended, and it takes place in a city that made Brooklyn in the winter seem that much more grim upon my return. While I was de-boarding, I sent my last tweet about the conference, and it made me realize something pretty remarkable as I pushed my way through LaGuardia Airport: FETC was the most “connected” conference I’ve ever attended. Despite its intimidating size and breadth, Florida’s biggest ed tech event kept its attendees wired and in touch at every turn.

ImageI was lucky enough to speak to a crowded room about a topic near and dear to me: 1:1 mobile device deployments. My particular line of work has led me to a number of really interesting places (coming soon to SXSW Edu 2013!), and I feel like I could easily fill four hours rather than forty minutes (though my audience might strenuously disagree). I discussed cloud classrooms and the role Edmodo has had in our iPad deployment, and I spent nearly an hour after my presentation meeting with members of the audience, answering questions and providing whatever information I could to school leaders interested in ubiquitous classroom computing. I tweeted during my spiel and openly solicited new members of my Edmodo group. “It infuriates my co-workers when I get some crazy new badge, and I’m assuming one is coming if I get enough group members,” I helpfully explained.

Exhibition Hall

“Where is my mind? Where is my mind? Wheeeeeere is my mind? In the water, see it swimming…”

I was able to check out several other presentations during my time there, and anything I missed I was able to catch up on via Twitter. The best quotes from each presentation were being shared by dozens of active tweeters, so I was able to keep up with the action happening around me even as I spoke at my own presentation. The #FETC hashtag was alive with hundreds of attendees sharing thoughts, offering critiques, and participating in backchannels on a whole host of education technology topics. As a presenter, I was also able to share my materials using Edmodo, and that made life easier when members of the audience asked me to email them slides or wanted to take a look at my sources.

Me

“What’s going on? Why is my face warm? What is this ‘breeze’ you speak of?”

The FETC experience was well worth the trip, and I eagerly anticipate attending with no speaking agenda next year. I walked away impressed with everything about the conference, but I think what impressed me most was how much technology has reshaped these events into collaborative, interactive experiences. We’re no longer limited to engaging with what’s in front of us; now, we can communicate with like-minded people without ever being in the same room, and we can share the best of what we experience with thousands of people with a few clicks. While I spoke, I could hear my iPhone alert me to Edmodo notifications, which told me that a few people followed through on my plaintive group joining request. I was connecting in the moment with the people in front me, and there are myriad ways we can and have stayed connected. And I’m willing to bet FETC is one of a coming tidal wave of conferences that will keep its participants engaged long after the last speech is delivered.