Making a Change: From Wikis to Social Networking in ENG 315

For the first time in five years, I am starting an ENG 315 course without using a wiki and, instead, will be relying on Edmodo as the primary space for communicating with my students. This is a big pedagogical shift for me, one that (to be honest) invoked a little bit of healthy anxiety when I started teaching a few weeks ago.

Healthy anxiety is good for me as an educator, and since I want to use Edmodo (or educational social networking tools) in smart, creative ways — as well as think carefully about why I have made the shift away from the wiki — I am capturing some of my thinking here.

Wiki Teaching

ENG 315 Wiki Screen Shot
ENG 315 Wiki Screen Shot

My ENG 315 wiki has served many purposes including weekly agendas and assignments, writer’s profile pages, and discussion forums. I appreciate the flexibility that the wiki allows, inviting students to create, share, and comment on work. Also, I encourage students to go back and look at the work submitted in earlier semesters, including a gallery of exceptional work. I would use the wiki to take notes in class, invite responses to discussion prompts, and serve as a space to organize links and other resources. They are able to create links to their Google Docs, but that sometimes works and sometimes (when they forget to make the Docs public) doesn’t work.

The main downfall of the wiki — despite the amount of time that I spend in class to show students how to create new pages, upload files, and find information that I have posted — is that students (at least a few) report that they get “lost” on the wiki. In short, they don’t really know how the architecture of the site works, and they sometimes write over the pages and files of other students, let alone just having trouble getting things posted in the first place. Now, granted, these concerns are usually allayed by the end of the semester, but the general feelings of angst at the beginning of the semester still haunt some of our activities, and I hear about it in my evaluations. They like the wiki, and the integration of technology, but I get the feeling that things could be better.

Switching to Social Networking

ENG 315 Edmodo Screen Shot
ENG 315 Edmodo Screen Shot

So, this past summer I have been thinking quite a bit about how social networks, specifically Edmodo could work as a new pedagogical space. In particular, because it has a mobile app and we can integrate files from other web sources (namely, Google Docs) with ease, I wanted to give it a try. Of course, there is the whole “it looks like FB” approach, and that is something that my students noticed right away as we began last night. Also, their requirements as a part of their teacher ed program have shifted so that they are putting a portfolio online using Mahara, and I think that they could make a link to that easily, too.

I am a bit hesitant, however, because I don’t want to be seen as simply jumping on the social networking bandwagon, nor do I want to give up the viable collaborative features of the wiki so easily. I do worry that the scrolling home screen, with posts disappearing, could cause some difficulty in trying to keep things organized. But, I also think that I will be able to see student work laid out more efficiently by clicking on their name, knowing that they will have attached assignments from their own library to the posts (rather than potentially forgetting links or writing over other files on the wiki). Also, I think that they will be able to share their writing, especially their field notes, in a space that is more comfortable which will, I hope, prompt them to read and respond to one another’s work.

Questions Remaining

So, as I go into this mini teacher-research experiment, I wonder:

  • Will the switch from wikis to social networking have a positive effect on my students’ sense of themselves as technology users?
  • Given my initial nervousness and limited understanding of the Edmodo interface, will I be able to do everything that I have done in the past with wikis in a similar, or at least compatible, manner?
  • Will students feel as invested in creating and maintaining their own “writer’s profile” given that it won’t be as accessible in Edmodo as it is on the wiki (or, at least not as accessible as I imagine it could be)?
  • Will the social network provide more “authentic” opportunities for reading and responding to one another’s work, or will it still be seen as “school” space, only to be used for purposes of class?

Anyone else using Edmodo? Got some tips? Pitfalls to avoid?

Let me know what you are thinking and I will keep coming back to this topic over the course of the semester.

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