Electronic Eye April 2013
Sheltered Social Networking and the Library: Journeys with Edmodo, Go Animate and My Big Campus
In addition to the other bold ways that libraries and librarians are making the most of the digital world, one can add sheltered social networking to the list. A sheltered social network is an online community where only certain individuals are allowed to take part. It’s like Facebook, but with walls and a gate that you need to access with a key. Why might a librarian want to use a sheltered social network? If a librarian wants to interact with patrons virtually but also wants to help them protect their online privacy, then a sheltered social network might be just the solution. I’ve been working with my students on two sites this year—Edmodo and My Big Campus. I’ve also been using Go Animate as a part of Edmodo.
Edmodo, which has been around since 2008, is a fine example of sheltered social networking. While it is geared towards the classroom, I can easily see applications of it for the public library, especially for teen programs. Adults who have been approved by Edmodo are allowed to create a class and can invite their students to join their class with the use of a five character code. Once an individual is a part of the Edmodo class, they can do many things that they might do in a traditional class, including completing assignments created by the teacher, taking quizzes, participating in polls, and also interacting with their peers via the activity feed. They also have the chance to earn badges, which are displayed on their profile page. Their profile page allows them to share a limited amount of information about themselves, including a picture of themselves or an avatar and a favorite quote, which they have to choose from a collection of already approved quotes. They can also highlight their future career plans and how they best like to learn.
A few months ago, Edmodo launched their Edmodo store. This is where they sell third party apps that students can use within Edmodo. Many of the apps offer skill practice in a game format; others provide content that can be used for assignments. For instance, there are multimedia units to aid in the teaching of novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My favorite app is one called Go Animate. Go Animate allows young adults the chance to design animated characters and select scenes to create a short video. The characters come alive with either the text to speech capability or when young adults record their own voices. The Go Animate studio also allows them the chance to upload their own images for backgrounds or props that the characters can hold, allowing for even greater personalization.
So what does Edmodo use look like in a library?
I launched an Edmodo site for interested students in my library this past fall and have been working virtually with this core group ever since. The “Book Chat” space was designed to allow people a place to share about what they’re reading and ask for book recommendations. To create some structure to our time together, I decided to have “theme weeks” and invited students to be the hosts for the week. The hosts and I would work on providing content, which included our own book reviews, polls that relate to the topic, assignments to complete, and even quizzes to test their knowledge. We’ve had weeks designated to the future, dragons, time travel, and magic. There are badges for each week that young adults can work towards achieving and a “Come in Costume” avatar changer. Most of the assignments that I created are quick to do and often just introduce a new title by asking students to watch a book trailer that I found on YouTube, or to read an excerpt of the book that I found on a website. To turn in the assignment, students just had to give me their opinion on whether they might want to read that book. This allowed me the chance to get to know their reading interests in a slightly different way.
Since I work in a school library, I’ve also worked with my teachers on designing research assignments that use Edmodo to best advantage. My favorite project thus far has been a “Save the Watershed” environmental research project. Our local watershed is experiencing poor water quality levels, mainly due to human impacts, like small agriculture, over fertilization, and failing septic systems. We used Edmodo to assign students videos to watch and specific websites to use to research the problem. The students were then placed into groups to create a Go Animate video on one watershed problem, such as grass clippings or horse manure. They designed their own character and uploaded images from around our watershed to create a short public service announcement. We then made those animations public as a part of our webpage and have encouraged our neighbors in the watershed to watch them. The students enjoyed tackling this real world science problem and were able to bring their creativity into the process as a part of Go Animate.
There have been some pitfalls. Whenever you allow young adults to interact with one another digitally, you open yourself up to the potential that they won’t always handle themselves in the best possible way. I had my group write a code of conduct that I called our Constitution and had each sign it digitally (meaning that they typed, “I agree to this Constitution” as a reply to the post). There have been a few instances where I’ve had to delete a comment that was outside of what I considered to be appropriate. But this also gave me the opportunity to talk with the student about an aspect of digital citizenship. I sought out the student so that we could have a face to face discussion about it. I felt that being able to reflect on an actual situation that just occurred made the learning more meaningful. Hopefully, that will translate to their other virtual worlds as well.
This has also meant that I’ve had to be vigilant about how closely I monitor my Edmodo space. I used the mobile notifications functionality to push the notifications to my phone to ensure that I was aware of the conversations even if I wasn’t on the site.
What I’ve enjoyed the most about using Edmodo with students is getting a chance to see a different side of them. Some young adults who are a little more reticent to speak face to face have a lot to say in our virtual space. There is even one particular student who I’ve been able to give advice to on what book to read next, in spite of the fact that he does not like it when I try to talk to him about books in the library!
While Edmodo is free, most third-party apps are not. The Edmodo store allows users to use a credit card to buy credits that they can use towards a purchase of a one-year license for the app. The pricing structure varies for each app, but most have a group fee for a class, which is defined as thirty users. There is a fee for add-on users after that. Go Animate is one of the pricier apps at $79. per group and $2.63 for each additional user. Edmodo is not completely limited to the school market, either. An adult who wishes to be given the opportunity to create a class would need to verify their credentials. I am assuming that a public librarian could easily pass muster.
My Big Campus is another sheltered social network that has been created by Lightspeed Systems, who are best known for their filtering and digital safety solutions. Like Edmodo, students can create accounts and be a part of classes that are set up by teachers. They can participate in discussions with their classmates and they can also finish assignments and take tests and quizzes as a part of the interface. Unlike Edmodo, students can also be given the ability to create a blog, post messages to their wall, and follow the walls of their friends. They can even participate in a chat room if their administrator has turned on that functionality. I value the fact that My Big Campus has given most of this functionality an “on and off switch.” A teacher or an administrator can choose what they want to allow users to do. Another big selling point for me about My Big Campus is the MBC Documents section. Each user has the ability to create and edit documents online with a text editor. This allows users to do word processing with whatever machine they have access to and don’t have to worry about uploading and downloading work from whatever online storage space they happen to have.
Another appealing feature of My Big Campus is the collaborative lesson plan collection called “Bundles.” When a teacher makes a lesson bundle for the classroom, it must be shared into the collection. Another teacher can find that bundle and can use it as well, or tailor it to fit their needs. Bundles can include multimedia—especially videos—that can be uploaded to the My Big Campus site.
Both Edmodo and My Big Campus have mobile versions that can be purchased and downloaded into iOS devices and Android devices. The mobile versions do lose some of the full Web functionality, but I am hopeful that they will improve quickly in the months to come.
In short, sheltered social networking is an idea that can help a librarian extend library service into the virtual world. Not only can the books and resources be available in digital form, the librarian can be there as well.
My Big Campus. http://www.mybigcampus.com/
After working for eight years as head librarian at Marymount School of New York in New York City, Kathleen Meulen is now a librarian for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state. Please e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.