My district has one of the ugliest and least user-friendly web-based communication tools I have ever seen. It's called Web Fusion, or something like that, and looks like it was really cheap and designed to keep teachers from using it. Which, if you're the district tech department, probably means less work for you if people just avoid using your product. After all, it's not like we're trying to make a buck here or anything. I can't even open up the site or work on it from my iPad, which tells you something. I've posted a couple of times this year so far, and maybe 4 or 5 all of last year. But it's just too painful and ugly to spend much time with it. Still, it's what we have, so when I have a message I need to get out and leave there (as opposed to just sending on Gmail) I will use it. Grudgingly.
Last week I stood on the edge of the high dive and took the plunge, partially blindfolded, with my students, into the Edmodo waters. Wow - now THIS is how to do student-parent-school communication. Talk about a tool for flipped instruction!
If you are not familiar with Edmodo, it's kind of a combination of Facebook and Moodle. It's a private, invite only, teacher moderated networking site. I set my Edmodo account up the way I think most other teachers probably set theirs up. I created a separate "group" on the Mr. Mann Edmodo site for each of my classes. Each student enters a private group code to enroll in a class. They can access their account anywhere they access the internet. Thay also have the option - encouraged - to put their email into their Edmodo account. That way, whenever I post an assignment or whatever - let's say on a Friday night, they receive a notice by emal. As a Google Apps For Education district, all our students have their own email account and can use this. But if they have their own email they check more often, they can use that if they want.
As an example, here's what I've done in the past week or so. Twice I've posted an independent reading "bonus" assignment. Read for one hour on the Budget Reduction Day (BRD)/Veterans Day AND get a parent signature for the reading on your reading log, and there will be a treat for you in class (my kids leftover Halloween candy.) Basically reinforcing the benefit of checking the Edmodo account over the weekend - wink. I also posted an assignment asking students to comment on the Perseus play they saw on the field trip last week (I wasn't there - I was attending the AMSA conference) They could write their impressions as a response to my post. As soon as I get their response I can grade it right there on Edmodo and the student can see their grade as soon as I post it. I also posted a "poll" asking students to comment yes or no on whether seeing the play deepened their understanding of the Perseus story. Students can watch the poll to see how their answer compares with the rest of the class.
It's also easy in Edmodo to post links and attachments. I created an assignment that included reading an attached story, viewing a YouTube link, and filling in a Venn Diagram PDF comparing the two. It was simple to create, simple to post, and relatively simple for kids with a little digital skill to complete and send in.
Edmodo had sort of been on my radar, but like so much that's hyped as the latest thing, I didn't take the time to investigate. Now I'm glad I did. Part of creating an Edmodo account is joining the online Edmodo community. Basically, anything I want to learn to do with Edmodo and my students I can get help with from teachers all over the world who are using it every day. And it's fun - for me and my kids - to learn how to use this technology.