1 Benjamin Nevas

Inquiry Through Action Research: Effects of the Edmodo Microblog on Student Engagement and Performance

Research Question Beginning my research, I started with the question: Does the microblog Edmodo raise student achievement and student motivation in ways comparable to the benefits reported with traditional computer-mediated communication (CMCs)? A CMC is a platform like the Blackboard or WebCT programs employed by many colleges. Describing a microblog is more challenging; it is such new technology that even the definition of a microblog is difficult to find. According to Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary, there is a definition for “microblogging,” which is a “short posts to a personal blog, esp. about happenings of the moment.” A better definition comes from the Wikipedia dictionary, which has a lengthier but more descriptive definition:
Micro-blogging is a form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates or micromedia such as photos or audio clips and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio or the web. The content of a micro-blog differs from a traditional blog in that it is typically more topical, smaller in aggregate file size (e.g. text, audio or video) but is the same in that people utilize it for both business and individual reasons. Many micro-blogs provide this short commentary

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on a person-to-person level, or share news about a company's products and services. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microblog.

I began researching not to what degree the benefits of using Edmodo improve engagement and achievement, only whether such benefits exist. The reason I started with using a blog instead of a CMC is that I do not have access to the CMC to which the high school is subscribed. All CMCs of which I am aware are very expensive subscription software. Shortly after beginning my research, I also formed the subquestion: Is the cost in class time, preparation time, and resolving technical issues worth the benefits from using Edmodo? Another question which arose was: What specific features of Edmodo can I use to enhance my classroom? The answer to these questions has been hard to discover, as both the technology itself and my understanding of how to use it have evolved. For example, while I discontinued the use of the “Homework Turn-In” feature at the beginning of my student teaching, due to compatibility issues, Edmodo has since added its own viewer, iScribd’s iPaper, which allows the reader to view a wide variety of file formats directly on Edmodo. I have tried to insert myself into this discussion on Edmodo message boards, such as in: http://www.edmodo.com/blog/2008/10/07/assignment-turn-in-grading-systemlaunched/?disqus_reply=8015046#comment-8015046. What I have found in terms cost/benefits is that as the students and myself have become more comfortable with the technology, more benefits are continually manifesting themselves, such as in the variety of collaborative learning activities which can be accomplished. The activities themselves will be discussed along with my research. To determine what benefits I might expect from using this software, I turned to the literature on both blogs and CMCs. While I used the benefits reported by

3 other researchers as a guideline, I planned for a highly adaptive research model, and it was clear from the beginning that the sheer complexity of this issue could require me to adjust how I will measure the benefits.

Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks Traditional CMCs have been around for a while, yet their effectiveness is still the source of much debate. At the high school level, CMCs take the form of software such as Edline. Edmodo is a new platform in a relatively new field, and as of yet there has been no research that I could find on using microblogs. In fact, literature that from only 5 years ago appears to be outdated. Some refer to blogs as “Web-logs,” the blogs’ archaic predecessors. This makes my research question all the more important, as it is part of a relatively new paradigm in education, the Web 2.0 movement. Web 2.0 is a new conception of how to use the internet, and one that is particularly suited to the needs of diverse learners. In a Web 2.0 environment, the internet is not a place set in stone, where you go to get information on there in whatever form the author has chosen to present it. Instead, you interact directly with the internet, adding information, and tailoring what information you receive and how you receive it. In small ways, this takes the form of customizable web pages, where the user can change fonts, colors, and other aspects of a webpage. More significant aspects include RSS readers which compile the information you are looking, in this class usually blogs, within your own viewer.

4 Text can be converted to audio, and small text can be made much larger. The user, instead of the author, decides what this information is and how it will be presented. The blogosphere, which is the global community of blogs, is an embodiment of this philosophy of how the internet should work. The Web 2.0 movement is carried forward through Ed-tech blogs such as BoxOfTricks (www.BoxOfTricks.net ) where I first discovered Edmodo, and Classroom 2.0 (www.classroom20.com). More teachers than ever before are using blogs, but the results of their practice raise more questions about efficacy than they answer. The difficulty is that there are so many variables, it is nearly impossible to find a general solution to the important questions: “Should I be using some sort of computer-mediated communication;” “What type should I be using: synchronous, asynchronous, hub sites, a class blog, or individual student blogs.” The synchronous/asynchronous question is one currently debated among classroom teachers. Even at the high school where I work, I have heard teachers discuss whether a synchronous platform such as “Twitter” or an asynchronous platform such as “blogger” is the way to go. In the technology world, synchronous means, according to the Online ZDnet Dictionary: “[Something that] refers to events that are synchronized, or coordinated, in time. For example, the interval between transmitting A and B is the same as between B and C, and completing the current operation before the next one is started are considered synchronous operations.” In an educational blog, this can refer to a blog which is run by the teacher. For example, the teacher first poses a question, and then the students answer. It is a more structured and controlled environment. In contrast, and an “asynchronous” blog is one that refers to a blog where information is, according to the ZDnet Dictionary, “not synchronized, or coordinated, in time. The following are considered asynchronous operations. The

5 interval between transmitting A and B is not the same as between B and C. The ability to initiate a transmission at either end. The ability to store and forward messages. Starting the next operation before the current one is completed.” This is a blog that may be more student-centered, such as a system which has students using independent blogs where they communicate through RSS feeds, a system which will be discussed later. Edmodo can be used either way, but I believe its structure lends itself to a synchronous format better; the setup gives students little reason to post outside of a class context. There is one example in my studies to the contrary, however: I did have one student use the blog to share a comic website with his classmates outside of the class context. Other questions raised when deciding to use a class blog include “How should I structure the blogging platform I choose? Should I use a public forum or private forum, or should the blog be student-centered or teacher-centered?” With a public blog, members of the wider community can contribute to class discussion. This serves as a powerful motivator for students. However, it also raises concerns about connecting students to the wider world community. Risks of predators, bigots, or uncivil debate arise. Despite these risks, this is the type of blog that Nam Kim (2007) found most successful because the contact between students and the outside world serves as a powerful motivating force. A private blog, on the other hand, allows for a close monitoring of content, and provides a safer environment. Once a platform is decided upon, the teacher must then decide, “How am I and my students going to use this platform?” There are many different features available on many of these blogs, ranging from planning calendars, assignment posting and collecting, creating workgroups, storing files and media, and many others. Aside from how the teacher is going to use this program, the teacher must ask: “What

6 kind of activities, if any, do I want students to do within this technology?” Once you have decided this, you must examine even further. If you decide to have students work cooperatively or collaboratively through the blog, how exactly do you want the students to use do this? Do I combine work on the computer with face-to-face interaction, or do I keep the interactions purely virtual? I pose these questions not to begin my literature review here, but only to explain what questions led to the development of my final research question, and why I settled upon Edmodo as my software of choice. As I discuss in my literature review, such decisions will affect the quality of final products differently for different types of assignments. The list of questions seems almost endless. Once these questions are answered, however, there is a wide array of technologies to help meet whatever needs the teacher has. For my research, I wanted a private, asynchronous blog with as few extra features as possible. It had to be a blog that is very simple to use for both myself and students, and it must allow the easy creation and monitoring of student workgroups. Furthermore, it must support file sharing, and it must communicate with students and me via email instead of relying on RSS feeds. Ease of use also requires an attractive, elegant interface and a minimum of extra features. Edmodo fit this bill eminently. Still, there are drawbacks from choosing this software, such as: a lack of ownership by students, inability to easily publish finished work, removal from the greater online community, and an inability to personalize information or structure. By personalizing information and structure, I am referring to the new ways of interacting which are prevalent in Web 2.0 software, where information is customizable by the user. Another major drawback is that while all group collaborations are visible to the instructor, student work is private from one another.

7 For certain activities where cheating may be prevalent this may be preferable, however, for others I may have students join all groups so that they can build off one another’s ideas. The collaborative process of building off each other’s ideas is a central component to improving student achievement in both the CMC and blog platforms. Compared to a traditional CMC, these handicaps are comparable, but they do present significant barriers to realizing certain benefits associated with the blog platform. For most teachers, the short answer to all of those difficult questions is: it depends. There are many variables which researchers have been attempting to codify. There is so much uncharted territory that it will probably be years before any conclusive evaluations can be made. My goal is by no means to tackle these grand and complicated problems. They are certainly present in my study, but they are far outside the scope of my research. Deciding simply to use a blog is probably not enough; I must agree with researchers such as Tutty and Klein (2007), Nam Kim (2007), and MacBride and Luehmann (2008) that these platforms show considerable potential, but the benefits are not automatic; the structures must be chosen and managed with care. These choices should be guided by considerations of social justice and diverse learners. To create an equitable classroom and to address the needs of diverse learners, certain types of activities may be more appropriate than others. For example, face-to-face interaction may be highly preferable to purely virtual interaction if there are students who have not used computers extensively before. Choosing software that allows customizable output may be essential if there are students who need to see larger text, have audio supports, or have other difficulties which may require modification. Furthermore, gaining access to computers for students after class may depend largely on the school. If students do

8 not have access to computers at home, and computer labs and the library close at the end of the final class period, complications may be insurmountable. While the modifications which could be made using such software are considerable, access to the technology will be a major factor in determining which software to use, what activities to use with it, or even whether use of a class blog would be possible at all.

Review of Literature Research generally shows the greatest benefit of blogs in an educational setting comes from the diverse, regular, engaging interactions through the medium. This is often accomplished by bringing in the outside community to the classroom blogosphere, and through having students utilize their own personal blog. Blogs have been purported to 1) promote reflective thinking; 2) nurture collaboration and relationship building; 3) increase perceived accountability and therefore quality of student work; 4) encourage peer support for one another; 5) increase opportunities for students to receive feedback; 6) extend learning outside the classroom (MacBride and Luehmann, 2008). CMCs have been described as offering similar benefits, including 1) equal participation due to a reduction of social context; 2) Removal of accents or intonation as linguistic limitations; 3) Better learning outcomes over traditional face-to-face courses; 3) Access to diverse perspectives; 4) Enhancement of critical thinking skills, and a long list of other purported benefits (Nam Kim, 2007). These were the aspects I felt to be the most important, but essentially Nam Kim is stating that use of a CMC can help be particularly helpful for diverse learners and those with differing backgrounds.

9 The Edmodo system, which I am utilizing in my class, is called a “microblog,” and is a unique combination of a traditional CMC and a blog. Certain features are present in the microblog but absent in either CMC or blog format, and other features are available in CMC or blog format that are not available on Edmodo. This makes it a unique platform which may solve problems inherent in both blog and CMC models. In attempting to determine whether the same benefits can, at least to some degree, be realized through the use of the microblog. This is a type of system which has not received academic evaluation, as most research is on blogs and CMCs. I am not evaluating the benefits of the blog or CMCs, I am merely attempting to determine whether. Computer mediated communication is also sometimes called computer-mediated asynchronous (or synchronous) communication support systems. We will heretofore be referring to these systems by the simpler acronym CMC. CMCs present ways to engage loosely structured collaborative learning tasks or highly structured cooperative learning tasks (Tutty and Klein, 2007). According to Tutty and Klein, to realize the benefits of a CMC, particular care must be taken with group composition. In certain task heterogeneous groups proved more effective for a wide range of students, while in others a homogenous grouping style was more effective. One of the dominant variables in determining group structure for collaborative group problem solving was whether students worked through a purely virtual environment, or whether there was face-to-face interaction as well (Tutty and Klein, 2007). Although it is easy to create groups within the Edmodo format, and provide messaging and file sharing communication tools between group members, how the groups are structured and whether contact is virtual or face-toface will still be important variables.

10 Apart from the “traditional” CMCs, teachers may also utilize a decentralized, public blogging platform. There are many different ways to incorporate blogs. There are centralized blogs, or “hub” sites, where students access information and participate in a forum. Edmodo is a hub site, as it is a single website that students and teachers utilize. There is also a decentralized blog format where each student has ownership of his or her own blog, and participate in discussions based on interest in a particular RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. Each has benefits: the centralized blog is easy to control and helps create an online community, while the decentralized blogs allow students a greater share of ownership and a more natural framework for communication. Blogs allow users to acquire resources, express thoughts, and read peer posts. Beyond this, they allow students to publish work, and engage in the “global textbook,” an endlessly large and communicative external network with whom students may communicate. This can lead to enhanced motivation and increased feedback, which is vital to the students’ acceptance of the new technology (Nam Kim, 2007). As with the CMCs, however, the benefits to learning and motivation are not automatic, and the proper utilization of this technology is a complicated algorithm. In increasing student engagement and performance, acceptance of and comfort with the technology is vital, as Nam Kim (2007) has noted. Maintaining this acceptance and comfort must be a central focus when maintaining a classroom blog. Towards this end, a study that I found useful was a work by Karen Richardson, entitled “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” Richardson (2007) defines trolls as “a person who posts rude or offensive messages on the Internet, such as in online discussion

11 forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants.” When working with a closed system class blog, the dangers of inappropriate outside influences are removed. From teachers I have surveyed, however, one of the greatest concerns about using a class blog is centered on the possibility of inappropriate posts. What is required of the teacher is a constant vigilance that is not always able to be maintained. Edmodo does not allow students to directly message other students; conflicts can, however, take place on the main page. Such conflicts could be arguments between students, or possibly bullying. In Richardson’s study, she examined how civil discourse can be maintained on a class blog. Recommendations for creating explicit rules include: Using “I” statements to make it clear that you are speaking for yourself; avoid labeling groups of people; discuss ideas, not people; don’t respond to provocations; realize what you say and what others thing you said may be two different things (Richardson, 2008). These rules must be made explicit for high school students. Unfortunately, I was not aware of Richardson’s finding until after I had begun my first intervention, and my own class rules could be made more explicit using Richardson’s guidelines. I have not had difficulty with inappropriate posts, but I could certainly see this as a potential problem in other classes.

Description of Context and Frame of Reference From a young age I have grown up with computers. My brother Dave was one of the first pioneers on the internet, in the days when it was populated with message boards. We had a Commodore 64 in the basement, and I knew enough DOS to get around. In elementary school, we learned typing on banks of Apple II

12 computers, inserting enormous floppy disks into enormous disk readers. As I matured, so did the technology on which I worked. In 5th grade, we moved to Bigfork, Montana. Even there, computer classes and typing classes were mandatory. We also practiced typing and using Powerpoint, as well as using the Internet. Looking back, it is incredible that computer literacy was so strongly stressed in an environment where few students would continue their education. After middle school I moved to Missoula, Montana. In high school I took a class on PASCAL computer programming and a class on HTML web design. While I remember little from these classes, the increased computer literacy and typing skills have proved invaluable. During my second year in college, the school began using a CMC called Blackboard. I do not remember if we had this before my sophomore year, but I do recall why it suddenly became so important. The school had growing concerns over copyright laws, and the cost of course packets had increased exponentially. In response, professors discovered that if they scanned their documents as PDFs, they could upload them onto Blackboard and distribute them for free. It is interesting that the sudden appearance of this technology was based in mundane problem solving, at least for many professors, rather than pedagogical reasons. In graduate school was the first time I had seen a CMC used to its full potential, and the first time I had seen a class blog in action. Ph.D. candidate Julian Jefferies created a class blog for a Social Contexts in Education course. This blog served as a foundational aspect of the class. Assignments were to be posted on the blog, and regular posting was mandatory. While I did not like the mandatory posting aspect, I did enjoy having projects posted on the blog. I also watched

13 several videos that students had posted on the blog. Every week, two students would be required to make in-depth blog entries on the homework reading; every student would be required to write a response. This was interesting because even when I did not feel engaged in the assignment, the opinions of others were read and considered. My first experience with the world of opportunities available through the traditional CMC came in Dr. O’Connor’s course Teaching Bilingual Students. He went far beyond most professors’ usage of the software, which is to post a syllabus, dispense articles, and occasionally to collect assignments. He used the chat feature to create workgroups with a shared “Whiteboard” space, and created a virtual class. He was not able to come to school, so we held class from home! Dr. O’Connor could monitor our chats by joining the various workgroups. Each group received a different question, and after working through the problem, members were jig-sawed into other groups. While the actual value from this two and a half hour activity was probably comparable to about 20 minutes in a face to face classroom, the possibilities being explored with this technology were fascinating. I must have shared this experience with everyone I knew. Most of my own educational experiences using technology in the classroom involved face-to-face communication alongside virtual collaboration. Face-to-face communication, according to Tutty and Klein (2007), is effective for achieving certain types of academic goals. When knowledge acquisition is a central component, this arrangement proved superior to virtual interaction. However, in projects requiring critical thinking and problem solving, the space and time to think inherent in virtual collaboration is ideal.

14 As I continue my education in technology, I must acknowledge why I find this so personally relevant. In trying to conceptualize what education may look like in the future, I look to my own history for inspiration. I recall that in high school we were using transparencies and slide projectors, with the occasional television on wheels that could be brought into a classroom if needed. I even remember receiving the occasional mimeograph. My own experience even mirrors one of the greatest technological hurdles arising today: the “digital divide.” Unlike many of the other students, I had my own computer at home, and I was able to continue practicing PASCAL for my own enjoyment. I even stole a copy of the PASCAL software from the lab so I could continue to create my own projects at home. The inequality of access to both hardware and software is a major problem. Students should not have to steal their educational materials: this brings me to my own personal connection to the “digital divide.” The “digital divide” is a term used to denote the inequity between students with technology available outside of school, and those who do not. Those without computers and the internet at home may have more difficulty learning and utilizing technology in the classroom. As a teacher, this presents an important moral imperative for pursuing social justice: we must strive to make the “digital divide” a meaningless term. I feel that my own high school, for all its shortcomings, was doing just that in requiring an unusual amount of computer education. It is important not to eschew technology because of differing levels of access; that will only exacerbate the problem. It is important, however, to work with a given demographic in an appropriate way. To determine the demographics of my own class, I had students complete a survey that measured, among other things, access to computers and the internet at home. Since all the students had access to this

15 technology, I can structure my class in a way that requires students to use these materials. In a class where only a few students have limited access, provisions may be able to be made. In a class where few students have this technology, its use might be more teacher-centered, and focused upon what could be done in the school’s own library or computer lab. In fact, it may be that students with less access to this technology at home may require even more exposure at school.

Restate Research Question As my research continued, my question inevitably evolved. Shortly after my first intervention, the focus of my research moved away from a comparison with other software, and became: How can the Edmodo microblog increase student engagement and performance through collaborative learning tasks?

Intervention The first step of the intervention, the introduction, was an opportunity to raise student interest in the software. I began by asking students if they have ever heard of WebCT, or Blackboard; none of the students had. I then explained that in many colleges and universities throughout the country, students were expected to use a program like Blackboard as part of their regular class work. I then showed students my Boston College Blackboard account. This raised expectations for future use of the technology for the students. Nam Kim (2008) notes that “[Student] motivation is influenced by the expectancy of outcomes.” Students noted that this system looked similar to the Edline system used by Milton High School. I explained

16 that Edline is quite different, because its primary purpose is to make materials available online to students. Edline does not have the features for collaboration present in the more extensive Blackboard and WebCT programs. I explained that Edmodo will help us with doing group work, and that it is easy to communicate using this software. I also explained that this was their virtual space, although I would have access, and their posts needed to be appropriate but did not necessarily have to relate to class. The details of an “appropriate post” are outline in my Edmodo Rules Sheet in the Appendix. Next I opened Edmodo, and gave a demonstration of the various features, such as the calendar, assignment section, and timeline-structured posts. My initial intervention to improve pupil performance in collaborative learning involved having students use Edmodo to create collaborative group projects, where such projects may have traditionally taken place without this medium. The assignment called for students in paired groups to create a three slide PowerPoint presentation. I have provided a series of images of late 18th to mid 19th century West Africa, with scenes including housing, daily activities, warriors, leaders and others. Students were asked to find a corresponding image of 18th to 19th century America for three of the images provided. On each slide, students were asked to list similarities and differences between the African images and their American counterparts. This intervention involved several steps. In step 1, my first goal was to increase student interest in using the Edmodo software. Student interest is vital to the success of new technologies, according to Nam Kim (2008). This involved an introduction to the software and a demonstration of how to use it. Before

17 discussing Edmodo further, I handed out directions for their first collaborative project, and showed an example of the finished product. Students were also placed into pairs at this time. In step 3, students were taken to the computer lab, where they set up accounts on the Edmodo server. Pairs were in some cases regrouped, as there were several absences. Absent students were later grouped together. Students were asked to go to the Edmodo site, where they created individual accounts on the Edmodo server. Here is where one of the major benefits of Edmodo becomes apparent; there are very few steps involved in creating an account. Students only need to enter their names, email addresses, password and a code which allows them to enter the class wide workgroup, in this case named U.S. History Rules. As Nam Kim (2008) points out, “students are easily dissatisfied with a system requesting too many steps to obtain online information.” Once all the accounts were created, students were instructed to perform a series of tasks; first, students were given a code to join their paired workgroups. Once they had joined their groups, students were instructed to send a message to the instructor saying “Hello.” Next, they were instructed to send a message to the entire class. Finally, students were asked to download the sample slide for their program, save the slide, and upload it again. Some students had difficulties at this point, and I gave individual help to students who still had difficulty performing these tasks. Next, rules and expectations for usage of Edmodo were presented in verbal and digital form. Successful setup and utilization of the software is crucial; as MacBrid and Luehmann (2008) note, “The benefits… will not be automatic but rather will require thoughtful teacher planning…” This means that to realize better quality products, the teacher must have planned the performance objectives, in this case comparing

18 African and American society, and set up the technology and assignment carefully to meet those objectives. Step 4, beginning the project, required me to make a decision: do I want them to practice in a purely virtual environment, physically separating pairs or maintaining silence, with all communication through the virtual hub, or engage in a combination of face-to-face and virtual. According to Tutty and Klein (2007), certain types of collaboration occur more efficiently in the virtual environment. While dyads who collaboratively studied for a posttest on acquired information performed better when working face-to-face, on group projects performance was higher in dyads that collaborated exclusively in the virtual setting. In this case, I decided to let students work face-to-face. In the future I may try the purely virtual approach for a similar project, which could, according to Tutty and Klein (2007), improve performance on the group project. These authors suggest that for assignments that call for student creativity, the virtual approach could generate better ideas by giving students all the time they need to process. If properly conducted, this could also be entertaining for the students. During this step in the intervention, students were all able to successfully share files and share work on a single piece of digital material, on the PowerPoint slide. Once most groups had submitted their projects, I began Step 5, presenting the projects. With almost no loss of time, I was able to copy and paste the presentations together and save them as a single presentation. With a lag of about 5 to 10 minutes, we were upstairs, back in the classroom, beginning the presentations. Projects were pieced together using my Cooperating Teacher’s computer, and copying and pasting slides into one presentation. Groups who did

19 not finish worked completed their projects as homework. Not much online collaboration occurred at home, although I could see that slides were uploaded and downloaded from Edmodo, which indicated that they had worked collaboratively on the project. There may have been a combination of phone and internet collaboration. The second intervention came in the form of a purely virtual collaborative learning project. Students worked via Edmodo with their partners from home to create a group project. This project involved having students individually research and write up an abstract on their choice of a historical figure from our unit; options included General Santa Anna, General Taylor, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Steve Austin. Using Edmodo, students would follow a sheet of directions to create a T-shirt with their partners. These T-shirts could not use names, and needed to provide dates, places, images and symbols that relate to their chosen character. In presenting their T-shirts, students were asked to give a brief biography of their characters and how they are represented in the projects. There were mixed results, partially due to an accident in arranging the intervention. I had forgotten to give students their group codes to access their paired project groups Edmodo. In an attempt to remedy this, I got the class schedules of each student, and handed each student a note that their group codes would be posted on Edmodo. However I then hit a second snag. I had uploaded the group codes, but I uploaded them in the Windows Vista .pptx format, which cannot be read by older versions of word or on Apple computers. Over the weekend, students were able to compile their information and create their abstracts, but they could not work collaboratively on their projects until Monday. The due date for the projects was shifted to Wednesday.

20 Once students had all the information they needed, work on the projects through Edmodo seemed easy for most of them. I was monitoring this through how much Edmodo was used in my administrator account. I found that students who used the software extensively created better products, but some students did not utilize the software, and consequently did not create quality products, or no product at all. One group did not have access to computers over the weekend, and collaborated by phone. Their project was successful, but I keep that as a backup alternative since I cannot assess collaborative learning unless it is recorded on Edmodo. In two groups, one partner was unable to reach the other. This led to individual, non-collaborative projects; a possible solution to this, however, is to restructure groups with partners who are attempting to complete the assignment. Such restructuring is easy using Edmodo, and then partners who do not respond and did not see me to make arrangements would have to do the project on their own. My third intervention utilized the collaborative learning possibilities of the students in another dimension. Considering that I have already created an asymmetrical study, using both virtual and face-to-face collaboration, I decided that the best way to increase the value of my study would be to use this technology in third way; using Edmodo for a class-wide collaborative project, where all students contribute to the microblog and build from information given by other students. This was the simplest intervention to run, involving only 2 steps, and allowing for easy, accurate individual assessment. First, all students were instructed to post two facts each on John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. The greatest challenge would be for students who procrastinated; students could not use a fact already given. This also required students to read all prior posts to choose their facts. I also posted

21 examples of what a detailed fact might look like. Students who posted their facts later received a natural consequence of procrastination, which was to find themselves with more work. When working collaboratively, timeliness is a vital skill. During the following class, students were given the second part of the assignment. Using the facts posted by their classmates, they would create a 2 paragraph biography on the character of their choice. Students were not allowed to cut and paste facts; all facts must be restated in their own words. In this two-stage project, the class as a whole is constructed knowledge. Teaching students to learn from one another is a central objective of collaborative learning.

Data Sources These projects serve as three of my data sources. To code these sources, I counted the number of posts to measure engagement with the software. Rather than focus on the exact number of posts, I used this information to determine which students used the software extensively, and which students did not use the software. I compared this data to grades earned on projects, which I used to triangulate the relationship between use of the software and grades on collaborative projects. Additional benefits and difficulties from this initial intervention are outlined in my field notes, another data source. In my field notes I record that unexpected benefits included the speed with which projects could be strung together for their final presentation, and that students no longer need to email projects to themselves to save these projects. While I expected students to share files, I had not thought of Edmodo’s ability to create an individual virtual workspace for the students.

22 Student surveys are another important data source. My initial class survey asked students to rate and describe their computer skills, including skills with specific software and the internet. This survey also ascertained access to computers, the internet, and printers at home. All of the students reported access to these materials. A follow up survey will examine students’ motivation to use the software, and self-measured improvements in using the software and working collaboratively. This survey also allows informs me as to whether blogging capitalizes on the student’s cultural literacies, which according to MacBride and Luehmann (2008) can contribute to success with the technology.Interviews with other teachers on their experiences with using blogs in the classroom also allowed me to tap the experience of others in my research. Two teachers I interviewed have used class blogs, and one of my Cooperating Teachers uses the traditional computer mediated communication provided through online software called Edline. My other cooperating teacher does not believe that blogs, or most other technologies in the classroom, improve student achievement or increase engagement. He believes that the cost in terms of time and energy do not match the benefits from using this technology. The cost/benefit aspect of using a class blog has been something I have commented on in my field notes, and this is a question which is difficult to answer. I have reported in my field notes that the initial investment in time and energy, including learning to use the software, becoming comfortable with the software, and teaching students to do the same required considerable time and effort. As students and I became more comfortable with the technology, the benefits in terms of the quality of collaborative student projects, I felt, began to exceed the time and effort required to run the intervention.

23 I also noted a positive correlation between experience with the software and an increase in student engagement.

Results The results of my initial survey indicate that all students have access to a computer, a printer, and the internet at home. Most students report their computer skills between 8 and 10 out of 10 in a self-assessment, although 4 students rank themselves as a 7 or less. When describing computer skills, most students list “Strong,” with one exception, a student who described himself as “not very strong.” This student, nonetheless, performed at a level equivalent with most of his classmates, as did the students who reported weaker computer skills numerically. In assessing the effectiveness of my initial orientation, I also measured student success against absences during this introduction. As some students were required to do school photos during this period, not everyone was present. Here I was surprised to find no connection between whether they were present at this orientation and success on collaborative projects. Measuring student achievement on the interventions against the number of posts a student has made on Edmodo, I found that even a few posts generally resulted in high grades and quality projects. The more posts, the better the project. No student with fewer than three posts completed both projects, and generally scored lower on completed projects.

Analysis

24 Throughout the course of my interventions, I have noted increased student engagement over time with students’ usage of Edmodo, and improving quality of collaborative conversation between students. Increases in communication between students allowed them to perform progressively more challenging tasks; the second intervention was considerable more difficult than the first intervention, and required more collaboration. As far as improving students’ ability to work collaboratively and use technology to communicate, finding clear connections to increased student achievement has proved difficult. There are too many variables to account for in this study, given its flaws and limitations. If I were to do this study again, I would make considerable adjustments. First, I would have the students work collaboratively on a project without use of Edmodo. This would give a valuable baseline to use for comparison. I would make sure to begin the first intervention on a day when students are not missing for school photographs as well, to remove another possible variable in the study. Most importantly, I would narrow the focus of this study; rather than creating an asymmetric study, I would chose one type of interaction, either face to face, virtual, or whole class collaboration to use consistently. My interventions do not demonstrate a positive correlation with student achievement, but I do believe that conditions for improving student achievement do exist within the context of this study. That students have been able to complete progressively more complicated assignments could be interpreted as a possible increase in student achievement. Also, the correlation between the number of student posts on Edmodo and the quality of the resulting projects suggests that

25 increased use of this software improved students ability to collaboratively problem solve and create products.

Implications For the teacher considering use of a class blog for collaborative projects, I would make several recommendations based on my research. First, I would begin using the blog with only one class. Part of the cost aspect of the cost/benefit ratio is the instructors comfort with the technology. Fortunately, I had made the decision at the beginning of my study to use the blog in only one of my classes. While using the blog, I learned better ways to structure my workgroups; for example, I eventually posted a list of permanent codes which allow all students to access all groups, rather than giving out codes individually. I found this led to considerably less confusion. I also learned how to circumvent challenges with features such as the “Turn-In” feature, and I realized that I must explicitly show students how to save something in a .doc format. This is now unnecessary, however, as the new version of Edmodo solves compatibility problems. Having a chance to work out the bugs, and to get used to the software, is essential before attempting widespread use. I have also learned that a class blog can be incredibly versatile. I practiced using the blog in many ways, including homework turn-in, an assignment calendar, small workgroups, class projects, students working in a computer lab, students working from home, posting alerts and messages, responding to questions about homework, and sharing multimedia with the class. I have reported in my notes that students seem to enjoy learning and using new features, so long as they are modeled and practiced appropriately. When teaching the homework “Turn-In”

26 feature, students experienced frustration with compatibility issues, in large part due to a lack of modeling and practice, and this had a negative effect on student engagement. In any of the possible uses of the blog, of which there are many, measuring the cost to benefit over time is important. For example, I don’t think I will use the homework “Turn-In” feature in the future, although I now better understand how to use and model it. This is because I have found it to be much easier to collect homework in hard copy. It is easier to make corrections on a hard copy, and faster to grade. If I were teaching a class in which I expected students to email me their homework, however, the “Turn-In” feature might be preferable. When modeling and practicing use of the blog, it may be useful to create handouts explaining how to use the features of the blog, even if the explanation is relatively short and simple. This can serve as a reference sheet to students who are less comfortable using computers. While there are too many lessons I have learned to list here, I would touch on one other important point; the need for consistency. I feel that my study would have been more successful if I had been able to be more consistent with using the technology. Although the versatility of Edmodo is great, learning how to use it in a certain way takes practice. I interviewed a researcher for CAST from the Boston ADAP program, who had also studied the effectiveness of class. Their research focused primarily on how teachers incorporate blogs into their classrooms. What they found was that teachers who began using blogs as they began their career were far more successful in utilizing them than teachers who later attempted to incorporate blogs into their teaching. The implications of this are quite large, and are directly related

27 to my study. Running interventions such as the collaborative projects I have used have a better likelihood of increasing student performance and engagement when the instructor incorporates the technology into the training and beginning phase of their career. While my study is not able to conclusively identify an increase in student achievement in a symmetrical way, I have shown that students are able to complete increasingly complicated tasks, which might be an indicator of student achievement. Designing a new research model will be imperative to determine to what degree use of a class blog for completing collaborative projects increases student achievement. While I was able to note an increase in engagement, the achievement aspect remains questionable. The difficulty is that there were too many variables which I was unable to foresee and account for. A new research model should make sure that all students have equal access to an orientation during the initial intervention. Using a similar type of assignment and creating a symmetrical study would be of particular importance; this was the Achilles heel of my research. I did not have a method to measure an increase in student achievement between face to face, virtual, and class-wide collaborative projects. Instead, I looked at each intervention as a separate research subject, attempting to examine whether students were able to use Edmodo to successfully meet objectives within a particular framework of the assignment given. The promise of using this technology was, however, evident throughout my research. Although my research does not provide any conclusive evidence that using Edmodo increases student achievement, I did note an increase in student engagement with many of the students. Unexpected benefits manifested

28 themselves throughout the course of my study. While students have worked collaboratively on assignments for other classes, these were always done fact to face, and students used email to share information and files. This created technological difficulties, where students were forced to continually email projects to themselves and to partners. Using Edmodo, students could easily save, access, edit and share all information in one place. This information, such as slides for a presentation, does not ever need to be emailed to the teacher or partners, and the turnaround time between completing projects and presenting is reduced to almost zero. This research also demonstrated the versatility of this software. While using various interventions prevented me from making an accurate analysis of my findings, it allowed me to demonstrate that for a wide variety of objectives and goals, whether you want students working in small groups or large, having time on their own to think through complicated projects between communications, or have students working alongside each other, use of this class blog can serve as an effective medium. Other problems which have plagued this study, such as students who for a weekend would not have access to a computer, or a student without compatible software, have been overcome without undue difficulty. Although monitoring group work becomes more difficult, students can still communicate using other traditional methods, such as email and phone, when necessary. Compatibility issues can be circumvented by using free open source software such as Sun Microsystems Open Office. So long as there is at least some access to computers, I cannot foresee a reason why any student, regardless of any diverse learning needs, who cannot use this software to effectively meet a variety of objectives for collaborative learning projects.

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Sources: Nam Kim, H. (2007). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers & Education, 51, 1342-1352. Tutty, J., Klein, J. (2007). Computer-mediated instruction: a comparison of online and face-to-face collaboration. Education Tech Research, 56, 101-124. MacBride, R., Luehmann, A. (2008). Capitalizing on emerging technologies: a case study of classroom blogging. School Science and Mathematics, 108 (5), 173-184. Richardson, Karen W. (2008). Don’t Feed the Trolls: Using Blogs to Teach Civil Discourse. Learning &

30 Leading with Technology, May 2008, 12-15.

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