Edmodo's rapidly growing network of teachers, students and education technology publishers are helping it develop into a free learning management system.
There is another sense in which Edmodo really does function as an open social network -- one for teachers interested in connecting with other teachers in their specialties and sharing curriculum. For example, a search on "polynomials and factoring" brings up a list of documents and links to external resources on that topic, along with a directory of other instructors who have "checked in" as teaching that topic.
Teachers can also join communities for curriculum focus areas such as math, science, language arts, and social studies, as well as communities sponsored by publishers of educational apps and multimedia or by organizations like Khan Academy that publish free educational resources. These communities include discussion groups where teachers can ask questions, brainstorm ideas and share digital materials they've developed for their own classes. Even those teachers who don't use the Edmodo online classroom with their students may participate in some of these communities. It's also become common for education conferences and professional training events to create their own Edmodo groups for participants, and teachers who encounter Edmodo for the first time in those settings often bring it back to their schools and districts.
Teachers can sign up for free. They can also easily invite colleagues to join, meaning Edmodo is following the classic pattern for viral growth through employee adoption of Web applications that may or may not be endorsed by the employer.
Schools and school districts can sign up for institutional accounts, which are also free but allow the creation of a separate subdomain for the teachers it employs. That makes it possible for an administrator to send district-wide communications through the system or access an analytics dashboard showing the activity of school personnel.
Perhaps because these administrative functions are free, Edmodo has not faced the kind of backlash and resentment that Yammer has sometimes prompted in the corporate world, where employees could sign up for free but organizations had to buy their way into gaining administrative control over accounts. Of course, whatever friction that freemium plan presented wasn't enough to stop Yammer from enjoying rapid growth and attracting a $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft. Yet so far Edmodo has decided to stick with making its system free, not freemium, to teachers and school systems. The main avenue to profiting from the community it has attracted is its apps marketplace, in which it takes a transaction fee for every purchase.
"I know there are some other districts using Blackboard, which is pretty expensive," said Mikulecky, the teacher from Midlothian. She was part of a pilot group that began using Edmodo and particularly liked the way it allowed them to share curriculum and ideas about teaching strategies. "We call it our anchor for learning," she said.
Other teachers and instructional technology specialists from the Midlothian Independent School District chimed in to say they were impressed by how well Edmodo responded to their requests and made changes when the site software didn't function quite the way they thought it should.
The biggest demand from teachers is for simplification, Edmodo's Hutter said. "It's not about features anymore. What teachers want is less. They want to know is: How can I have a really simple place to share content with students?"
Meanwhile, for all those Web software vendors with tutorial and assessment apps for the K-12 market, Edmodo is becoming the essential business partner. That's fine with Dan Harris, president and CEO of Brainingcamp, the creator of a series of visual and interactive math teaching tools. "The nice thing about Edmodo is it's all integrated," he said.
Reaching educators in lots of different school systems was difficult for a small company "before we got into the world of apps," Harris said, but in addition to providing a marketing channel, Edmodo gives him application programming interfaces to add quiz results to a teacher's dashboard. "Everything is choreographed inside of Edmodo," he said.
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