Monday, June 22, 2015

Maarit Kostamo: Quality in blended learning – Self-reflection blog post about the use of Edmodo in Pilot Course

The need to digitise myself and to develop my ICT skills were the first and foremost reasons for participating in this project and for choosing the Edmodo language group as my team. I had only given a couple of electronic exams in the past on Moodle but not really used Moodle or any other electronic learning (eLearning from now on) platform for my courses so I wanted to gain some information on what quality blended learning, including the effective use of online platforms, could be like. I therefore chose the Edmodo language group, as it felt like the most pertinent group for my needs and also, because I am a foreign language teacher myself.

I had two language groups at my school to choose from for the purposes of this project. One was a French group doing their second course on B3 (basic level)-French and the other was also a French group doing their fourth course on B3 (basic level)-French. Both groups had a fairly low number of participants as French is not a hugely popular subject at the moment. However, I thought that the participants on their very first French course would have a lot on their plates to begin with, so the other French group seemed more promising for the trial on eLearning materials.

Our course in our fourth study period ran from 2nd March until 7th April, which translates into 5,5 weeks or 11 lessons. 6 of these lessons were to be given face to face and 5 would be distance learning lessons. Normally the students on such a course would receive 6 face-to-face lessons and guided distance learning exercises to complete on their own during the distance learning lessons times at home and these exercises would then be checked by the students themselves from the hand-outs provided by the teacher. However, for the purposes of this project, I thought I'd try giving the distance learning lessons myself via Skype, Adobe Connect Pro (ACP) and Edmodo rather than having my students do guided exercises and studying on their own. Also, I chose to use Edmodo as an eLearning platform for the course where students would post their essays, do their word tests and final test and where they would ultimately give their feedback.

As an eLearning platform, Edmodo, like many other platforms, allows its users to share and gather information in one place, give tests and quizzes in one place and also, to use this platform as a communication tool. I will now present three ways in which I used Edmodo. First, I started my use of Edmodo by sharing some online material such as Quizlet quizzes, TV5 Monde (French language TV channel) links to videos and online dictionaries to my students. I do not know how many of them made use of these materials.

Second, I then decided to give them their first wordtest online. This proved to be problematic, as the use of special French characters such as û, ç cedille and é and è accents was difficult for the students. Eventually, however, they learned to produce all four characters without problems. The second problem was to do with the way Edmodo lets its teacher users correct fill in the blank - exercises. It only allows the teacher to give one correct answer, which is rather restrictive in the case of languages, so I was having to do second marking all the time with these types of exercises, which I eventually decided to abandon and only use the short answer exercises.

The third way that I decided to use Edmodo was to post my power point presentations into the folders of the course so that my students could access them during our online lessons. This was a pre-emptive move, as I had both anticipated problems with the use ACP and had thought it beneficial for the students to share my power point presentations with them via Edmodo anyway. This turn out to be a smart move as ACP stopped working for some of students during the second session of our online lessons.

To summarise my points so far, I would claim that Edmodo is very useful as a platform for sharing information such as weblinks, for giving online exams and for sharing learning materials in general via the folders. 

The high point of the course for me was definitely the fact that I got to try my hand at giving online lectures. I had set up an ACP room for this and had decided that during the online lectures we would concentrate on learning grammar and doing oral exercises. These are in line with the learning objectives stipulated by the national core curriculum for adults. As ACP didn't work during our second online lecture during which we also used Skype, I asked my students to go on Edmodo and look at the slides from there. As far as plan B's go, this worked well.

What I learned from giving online lectures is that 1) it requires a lot of effort from the teacher to give online lectures, as everything has to be carefully planned in advance. 2) it is very important to engage the students in the online lecture, for example by calling them by name so that they feel like they are part of the process. 3) The time of the day needs to be considered and as my lectures took part between 7pm and 9 pm in the evenings, it also required me to be full of energy so that my lectures would seem interesting, interactive and informative (my three 'I's of good teaching). Online lecturing does in no way delete the need for face-to-face teaching but as far as online learning goes, this can be an alternative, albeit a demanding one, to make students study grammar online.  

The role of the student participation on free conversation on this platform was limited. As this was my first time using Edmodo, I decided that my students would only have to follow guidelines, i.e. do the exercises that I set for them to do online. They succeeded well in this so their role can now be expanded to cover more versatile ground. That is why in my current, teaching period 5 English course n:o 7, my students are doing a Food and Agriculture project online on Edmodo, where they work as learning pairs. The number of students (5) on the course is so low that forming learning teams is impossible. What my students have to do is they will read English articles online, produce English to Finnish glossaries, exercises, answer keys, a presentation and give feedback to each other during and after the project and I will give my feedback about the project after the project has been completed.  

As can be seen from the description above, I intend to use Edmodo on my future language courses, including the summer upper secondary school courses this June 2015.
Finally, how did Edmodo improve the quality of my teaching? At the beginning of the project, my purpose was to increase my ICT skills, which I can safely say have improved by leaps and bounds. I am now much more comfortable with and confident about using a variety of online platforms, applications and programs for the benefit of my students. The use of Edmodo has allowed me to digitise my exams, which is one of the key requirements for the future of language teaching at upper secondary school level with regard to the fast approaching electronic matriculation examination. I think Edmodo has made my teaching more engaging, even face-to-face teaching as students are now more familiar with each other and it has forced me to be resourceful when faced with what felt like insurmountable problems. Finally, Edmodo has pushed me, if not to my limits, then at least towards becoming a better teacher.

Maarit Kostamo, Kouvolan iltalukio (Kouvola upper secondary evening school for adults), Finland

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