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Edmodo – Free Microblogging Site for Educators

Over the past few weeks we have noticed that a new microblogging site for teachers has been garnering a great deal of interest. Edmodo represents the blood and sweat of Jeff O’Hara and Nic Borg, two techies who work in the field of education.

As has been my experience, even though teaching is a full-time job most who work in the profession take on additional school-related responsibilities, whether it be monitoring student organizations or updating district curriculum. Most do so even though there is no extra pay and the additional work adds countless hours to an already busy schedule.

Edmodo
So it was no surprise to find two young men, each with full time jobs, going beyond the call of duty to try to create a meaningful tool for teachers. However, we were even more impressed than usual as these two individuals were seeking to make their work available to educators beyond their home district, and doing so at no cost to users.

These two men have to be onto something since Edmodo has been featured on several tech-oriented sites including SomewhatFrank, Teach 42, and Reflection 2.0.

So we spent some time talking with Jeff to learn about their work especially the rationale for building a microblogging platform for educators. We present our information below in our traditional, unedited question and answer format.

Can you give our readers a brief summary of you and your partner Nic Borg’s backgrounds and how the two of you came to collaborate on the creation of Edmodo?

Both Nic & my backgrounds are primarily in the technology side of education.  Nic just graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Computer Science but he has been working at Kaneland High School in Elburn, Illinois for the last 5 years, building web based tools for them.  He is currently employed full-time there.

I have been working at Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, Illinois for the last nine years in their IT dept.  I’ve handled everything from desktop support, managing Network & Server infrastructure, and the management of their web infrastructure. 

CUSD200
About 2 years ago I had the idea of doing a “Youtube for Education” and was thinking about how I would get the project off the ground.  I had been aware of Nic’s work as my wife teaches at Kaneland HS. I ended up contacting him to see if he wanted to work together on a project.  We did an initial meeting and he liked the idea but was too busy at the time to take anything else on.  I kind of let the idea linger, and about a year ago Nic contacted me out of the blue and said he was ready to start working on some projects together if I was interested.  We brainstormed for a few months just trying to see what we wanted to work on.  I had been using twitter.com (a microblogging platform) a lot and thought something similar would be ideal as a learning platform. That’s where the idea for Edmodo was born.

Ultimately, what was the basic impetus for the two of you launching your own blog platform for educators and where did the title/name Edmodo originate? Were there not already many options available to educators?

I had been a little bored with my day job and though there were a number of cool web tools coming out in the past, there were not that many coming out for use in the classroom. 

The name Edmodo is completely made up, but is a slight play on Gizmodo.com, a very popular gadget blog. Ed obviously stands for education.  We wanted something catchy, easy to say and a domain we could actually afford to purchase.

What has been the source of funding for the start-up costs for the site? Are there costs for educators to implement the tool in their classrooms? Can you give readers a sense of participation rates?

Nic and I have been the sole source of funding for Edmodo.  Luckily funding a start-up is very cheap in today’s world if you already have the talent to accomplish what you need to do.  Nic and I have done everything ourselves and have not had any outside costs as a result of hiring any work out. 

Currently, there are no costs for Educator’s to use Edmodo in it’s current state and we want to keep it that way.  We are less than 2 weeks old and already have over 1700 user accounts created.  A lot of the accounts are teachers testing the system out and using it with other teachers, but there are quite a few that have already implemented Edmodo in the classroom which makes us very happy.

Can you give our readers an overview of the concept of microblogging, specifically as it pertains to education? Are there specific advantages created by microblogging, especially as compared to other traditional blogging forms?

IllustirAccording to Wikipedia: Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually up to 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by everyone or if chosen by the user, a select group. We feel the ease of use that microblogging platforms provide makes it a better way to communicate with students than the tradition blogging platform.  Traditional blogging platforms are  designed to communicate long posts to a large group of people. Microblogging platforms are really designed for interaction and communication in short posts and we feel that is an advantage to a teacher in getting their students to interact in classroom activities. 

Can you give readers a couple of specific examples of how Edmodo can be of use in the classroom? Again, what about Edmodo gives educators additional tools over that of other blogging software?

Well my wife is a high school teacher and she just started using it with her students this week.  She’s been using it to post daily assignments and her students are using it to answer questions regarding the assignments.  I know she also plans on using it to have students submit their assignments through Edmodo.  My wife has also created groups for committee’s that she is the head of and plans on using it as a tool for managing communication with other committee members. 

As another potential use, a lot of teachers have students find articles to bring to class. Now a teacher could have the student submit a link to the articles in Edmodo instead of printing them out.  We know a lot of schools are trying to be greener and use less paper and using online tools can help with decreasing the amount of paper usage. 

We think there are so many other ways that Edmodo could be use and think every teacher using it will use it in a slightly different way.  We also believe that privacy & ease of use is the primary reason a teacher should use a tool like Edmodo over a traditional blogging tool for communicating with students. 

Is Edmodo primarily a tool for teachers or does the platform provide students additional options if their classroom teacher gets the ball rolling?

Edmodo
This is not just a tool for the teachers, it’s a tool for students to ask questions either within the classroom timeline or pose to the teacher directly.  Teachers can use Edmodo to have their students submit their assignments.  There is also a calendar that teachers can use to post events and assignment due dates.  Edmodo is designed with privacy in mind but it also gives the teacher the ability to make anything public at his or her discretion.  Another thing, Edmodo is not a finished product, we still have ideas to bring additional classroom features to the platform in the future. Things such as a grade system & parent interaction.  Grades will be a little tricky as we want to be compatible with other grade-book systems that a teacher may already be using.

What have been your most significant learnings as you seek to get such a platform rolling? Are there other benefits to the two of you beyond what you may have learned about creating a microblogging platform of your own?

We have learned so much technically & socially while working on Edmodo. Where do I start? I think one of the big things I’ve learned is you really have to engage teachers and find out what they are looking for in a tool while your building it.  We have gone to great lengths to find out what teachers want in an online tool.  Luckily even though Nic & I aren’t teachers ourselves, we are surrounded by them everyday and they have been an enormous help to us in building Edmodo.  Some other benefits have been all of the great and supportive people we have met along the way.  We would have never of met those people if we hadn’t thought of some crazy idea and decided to get the ball rolling on it.

Flickr photo courtesy of Illustir.

September 20, 2008   4 Comments