Using Web 2.0 to Create an Online School Community

Robert Meehan quoteWe often hear about the importance of teachers building relationships and communicating with our students’ and their families, as well as the importance of building a positive classroom environment. Open lines of communication and a positive relationship help to improve student performance and classroom behavior. However, it is not just important for teachers in the building to create these meaningful relationships with students and their families. It is also the job of school leadership and administration to communicate and collaborate with all community stakeholders, including the teachers, the students, the parents, and the community.

However, with all the other responsibilities and paperwork that administrators get bogged down with, how is it possible to build meaningful relationships with the community? Of course there are the “old-fashioned” (but still just as necessary ways) like: attending sporting events, making parent phone calls, talking to and supervising students in the hallway, faculty meetings and e-mails, and having an open door policy. Perhaps there is a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly newsletter that goes out to the parents, students, And while these are all still very important ways to make contact with the community, administrators can do so much more by harnessing the power of technology to further increase communication and involvement with their school’s community.

So, here are some Web 2.0 tools that can be used by administration to build school community and increase communication with stakeholders.

Facebook:

One of my students once said, “Mrs. Lewis – you must be old; no one uses Facebook anymore.” I just laughed and said, “Well, I must be.” So even though Facebook is for “old people,” it is still a great resource to communicate with your stakeholders. Facebook can be used to:

  • Post reminders about upcoming school events
  • Post announcements about closings, fundraisers, results of sporting events
  • Post links to blogs or education memes for parents and teachers (Ex: post a link to reading comprehension strategies)
  • Discuss the school vision or school goals
  • Allow parents, community members, and alumni to share pictures and posts about their experiences
  • Allow your school’s website to run a widget with your Facebook feed

While there are many pros to Facebook, including the ease at which it can be updated and the ease of interacting with the community, there are some cons. The biggest con is making sure that all members of the Facebook page are utilizing it appropriately and that administration is keeping up with the posts and comments. Because the group is open to all stakeholders, administration must be prepared for negative posts or backlash. Have a plan of action on how your team will respond when this happens. Also, you will want to make sure that you respond quickly to Facebook messages or posts, especially those that discuss concerns.

For more details and ideas about how to use Facebook to build a school community, you should read David Harstein’s article “How Schools Can Use Facebook to Build an Online Community”. He shares more in-depth ideas on ways to use Facebook, as well as provides ideas to protect the school and students on social media.

Twitter

Twitter can be used by administration to build a school community in many ways and is very similar to Facebook, with the exception of the 140 character limit. Again, the administration can make a school account to post updates, important news items, and pictures/statuses about school events. Like Facebook, you can also link your Twitter feed to your school’s website for real-time updates.

Twitter also allows users to create hashtags. By creating a #schoolhashtag, the administration can thread all tweets into a feed. This allows anyone to click on the hashtag and see posts about the school. Teachers can make posts about what is going on in their classrooms, students can make posts about projects and their learning, parents can make posts about their children or teachers. Parents and students can share tweets, by retweeting, with their families and friends.

Like Facebook there is the concern of monitoring posts and making sure they are appropriate. However, on Twitter, since it is not a page you control, you do lose some ability to determine what posts are allowed on your page and you cannot delete certain comments/posts. So again, it is very important that staff remain diligent in monitoring posts and that you have a plan of action for if inappropriate use arises. Another downside to Twitter is that you only have 140 characters to share information.

If you’re interested in more specific details or ideas on how to use Twitter in your school or classroom, check out the article “5 Ways Twitter Strengthens a School’s Learning Community” by Joe Mazza and “5 Ways School Leaders Can Make the Most of Twitter” by Kate Schimel.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is still a social media platform, but you would use it differently from Facebook and Twitter. Many schools are beginning to create group accounts, and LinkedIn is about developing connections and marketing.

You can use linked in to:

  • Promote school-wide fundraising initiatives
  • Connect with and recruit potential teachers
  • Connect with parents and students who work in the professional world (this may also allow you to create partnerships with professionals in your community, which in turn could lead to internship or PBL opportunities for your students)
  • Create Showcase Pages for departments and faculty, sports teams, and clubs
  • Share “blog” posts about school activities or learning strategies for parents and students (put staff members or students in charge of creating these posts)

The benefit of LinkedIn is you have complete control over your page and its comments, and it can be a great resource for marketing/building a public image. The downside of LinkedIn is that it is not as widely used by parents and students as Facebook and Twitter. However, Forbes Online did recently make a post about how and why high school students should be using LinkedIn (Read it here), so you could always have students create LinkedIn accounts and have your staff teach them and model for them how to build an online portfolio and presence that they can use when applying for colleges and jobs.

For more detail, try reading the article “4 Ways to Use LinkedIn for Your School.”

Podcasts

A podcast is a digital audio file that is uploaded to the internet for download. Podcasts can be made as a part of a series or as stand alone posts. There are many ways school administrators can use podcasts, and I outline a few of them in the video podcast below.

 

The benefit of podcasts is you can use community members to create them, and allow community members to create series about specific topics or share information. You can also create a feed that allows you to post your school’s podcasts on its webpage.

Wikis

A wikipage is available to anyone  and it allows administrators to easily collaborate and share information. They can also be made public or restricted. Like many of the other Web 2.0 tools, Wikis allow you to take your school community outside the constraints of the school day and school itself. It allows collaboration because users can edit and add to wiki documents. However, you do not have to worry about changes being made because wiki tracks changes and you can determine what final version of the product to use.

Administration can use Wikis to:

  • develop and create school newsletters and agendas: community members can add comments or edit at anytime.
  • administration can track data or share spreadsheets and data with faculty and staff
  • offer professional development and PLN opportunities for teachers
  • share calendars and schedules
  • share handbooks for students, parents, and teachers – allow faculty input when creating these documents or other new policies and procedures
  • teachers can post their lesson plans for review, comment, and collaboration with other teachers
  • upload photos of school events and student work
  • it also has the capability to create a “bookmarking” page that allows you to link to multiple other sites that students, parents, and faculty can use as resources

If you’re interested in Wikis, check out Wikispaces and their post about using Wikispaces for education.

These are just a few of the Web 2.0 resources available to assist administrators in developing school communities.For more ideas on apps and Web 2.0 tools available to administrators, check out “The 21st Principal’s Big List of Must-Have Tech Knowledge.”

However, as with any initiative, none of these resources will work without stakeholder buy-in. Also, understand that many people are still frightened by the idea of posting information on the web, so you will probably need to offer professional development for your teachers (and maybe even parents and community) on why you are using these resources and how to use them. You also need to make sure that you are modeling how to use these resources appropriately, as well as that the use of these resources aligns with your school vision and the culture you want to create.

 

 

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5 Ways to Use Edmodo in the Classroom

While there are many other resources students and teachers can use to connect and share information, Edmodo is one the most popular social learning network sites out there. As a loyal user of Edmodo (six years and going), Edmodo has helped me to transform my classroom into an interactive, student centered environment that encourages my students to use 21st century learning skills.

Edmodo is very easy to maneuver and is extremely user friendly; it can be used through a web browser or through the mobile app (available for both iPhone and Android). Student interest is immediately piqued because of Edmodo’s similarities to Facebook, and it allows the teacher, students, and parents to connect with each other and access class content online. Parents and teachers can also feel comfortable using it because it is a controlled environment – there is no personal information required, and posts can only be seen by the teacher and other students in the “classroom.”

5 Ways to Use Edmodo in the Classroom

Once you have signed up for an account, you can: edit your profile, join PLN groups, create your own groups, and download apps. Some considerations before you begin, however, are:

  • How many of my students have access to the internet and a computer at home?
  • How will I manage assignments for students who do not have access to the internet and computer at home?

I always conduct a technology survey the first day of school; this way I know exactly how many students have access to computers and internet at home, and I can begin thinking of ways to supplement or adjust assignments for the students that do not. So, without further ado, here are 5 ways to use  Edmodo in the classroom.

1. APPS

5 Ways to Use Edmodo in the Classroom

This is one of my favorite features about Edmodo. Since my school mainly uses BYOD, and it can be challenging to get students to download every app we use in the classroom. Also, due to district regulations, I cannot require students to sign up for anything that might require an email. Through Edmodo, I can assign different apps I want to use to each group and students immediately have access to them. They do not have to create individual accounts for each app, so it eliminates the need to remember multiple usernames and passwords as well. There are tons of free apps, but some apps do require you to pay for them. The main apps I use are:

  • No Red Ink: This is a grammar website that uses student interests to create sentences for editing. I can assign each group a specific skill and set up assignments for them to complete. Unfortunately, as of June 30th, this app will no longer be available through Edmodo.
  • Office365: As an English teacher, my students are constantly writing and editing. Surprisingly, many students do not actually have a word processor or PowerPoint application on their computers at home. Edmodo has joined up with Office365 and students can access Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel through Edmodo. Not only can they access these applications through Edmodo, but it saves all their documents directly to their Edmodo library! So, no more “I don’t remember where I saved that paper” or “I lost my flashdrive” excuses from students. After they have completed their assignment, they can upload it directly from their Edmodo library and send it to me. It is AMAZING!
  •  UDebate: One of our SOL’s for all English teachers is argumentative writing and persuasive techniques; the UDebate app allows students to participate in moderated discussions within their individual classrooms and with others, including experts in the field, throughout the world. It opens the door for collaboration, critical thinking, and communicating ideas with others while still being in a controlled environment.
  • RefMe: A citation app that allows students to cite their research sources and build a works cited page. Very useful during research to check their already created citations (I’m mean and make them cite the “old-fashioned” way first)!

2. SNAPSHOT

It has a bank of Common Core, TEKS, and SOL aligned questions to create quizzes. All I do is pick which standards I want to assess on Snapshot, and the program sets up the quiz. I use Snapshot a lot for pre-assessing students on reading, writing, and grammar skills; however, it could also be used as a formative assessment at the end of a unit. It works on both the website and the app, so students can truly access it at anytime, and you can access the data at anytime.

5 Ways to Use Edmodo in the Classroom

On the Snapshot dashboard, it shows you how many students took the assessment, how many met the standard, and how many are behind. It also identifies which standards you may need to reteach and makes suggestions for apps, YouTube videos, or lessons through LearnZillion to help reteach those skills.

You can also access an individual student’s data and see which areas that particular student was weak in. Snapshot has been an invaluable time saver and resource for me this school year!

3. INDEPENDENT READING ASSIGNMENTS

My students are required to read for 20 minutes every night each week. Prior to using Edmodo, I would require my students to complete and submit a reading log each week. However, I found they were not utilizing the tool appropriately and were often making up the information or getting it offline. They still submit the reading log outlining the time read with a parent signature, but they also have to make a post to Edmodo by Sunday night sharing their reflections on their reading (not just a summary like the original reading log). The post must be a minimum of 150 words and show thoughtful reflection; they must also respond to at least two other students’ posts. This has been great because it allows for them to have meaningful discussions about the books they are reading, and allows other students to get ideas for books to read.

4. LITERATURE CIRCLES

Within each class, you are able to set up small groups. I set an Edmodo group up for each book group, and discussion and group work are conducted through Edmodo. The students will set up a calendar of when posts and responses are due by, and then each member is responsible for posting at least two times about their topic/role and members must respond to the posts; they can also incorporate YouTube videos or pictures to enhance the discussion. They have preset guidelines they must meet, and all posts must make references back to the text to support their statements! It also allows them to ask questions about the text as they are reading at home versus having to wait to get to school the next day.

5. SUBMITTING PAPERS & PROVIDING FEEDBACK

Students no longer submit their essays or writing to me via paper; assignments are set up and submitted electronically through Edmodo. This has cut down drastically on the paper use in my classroom, as well as eliminates the need for me to trek large groups of papers from home to school. I simply set up the assignment, and the students can upload their documents to the assignment.

It has also changed the way I provide feedback. After receiving the assignment, I am able to read it and annotate it through Edmodo. I can make suggestions and provide feedback directly onto the document, which the student can then access when they check the assignment. While it took awhile to get used to, and initially took longer than hand grading the assignments, I have now cut the time I spend editing and providing feedback in half!

This is just a general overview of ways I use Edmodo in my classroom and is not by any means an exhaustive list of all the things you can do with this resource! If you are interested in learning more about any of the topics I outlined and how I use them, please feel free to comment below or send me a message! Also, Edmodo has a wonderful Help Center on setting everything up and providing ideas on other ways to use Edmodo.

As educators, it is important for us to incorporate technology in our classroom; we must teach our students how to harness the power of technology for collaboration. Edmodo provides a safe and controlled environment for students to learn about and to practice these 21st century skills.

 

 

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