Is edmodo safe for schools?

The initial version of this article (May 2011) reflects a personal opinion Nordin Zuber and is not endorsed by edmodo. Please do feel encouraged to edit, update and alter to reflect your views, comments and experiences. The intent is that over time this article will evolve into a consolidated view of the majority of edmodo users, rather than one person's ideas :-) Dissenting views can and should be incorporated into this document.

In the news:

edmodo has just posted a wonderful summary of good practices for online safety with edmodo.

Keeping the edmodo group private to the class : the edmodo security model

Students working in an online school environment must be in a safe and secure environment. As with a physical classroom, a key requirement in the virtual classroom is that only authorised people can view or participate in that virtual classroom. In the edmodo security model, the edmodo application manages the user accounts, while the teacher manages online spaces - "edmodo groups" - for their classes. Students need to know the teacher managed group password to join and participate in that that teacher's online space. Students then log in with their personal user account and password, and edmodo automatically places them into their current groups - they don't need the group password any more. Once all class members have joined the teacher's edmodo group, the teacher should lock the group - new members will not be able to join, even if they have the group password. It is up to the teacher to monitor who is joining the group. When new students arrive, the teacher unlocks the group, edmodo generates a new group password for new joining students. Again - when all members are joined, the teacher should lock the group again.

So to recap: Each student has their own login id, which they manage themselves. Teachers also have their own login id, and they create groups for their classes, each protected by a unique group code. A student needs a group code to join a teacher's group. If a student has several teachers using edmodo, the student will need to obtain the unique edmodo group code from each of their teachers to join that teacher's class group. Each teacher manages their own groups. A central account manager is not required to manage access to the edmodo groups and teachers don't need to spend hours adding student names and passwords to a class group.

Warning: There is a weakness in the security model if you are using the generic edmodo service: anyone can pretend to be a teacher. This is largely a nuisance factor - the masquerading teacher would not get into other edmodo class groups without obtaining a group code and would be immediately noticed by the managing (valid) teacher, but they could start their own group and this undermines confidence in edmodo. However if the school registers with edmodo, and creates a school edmodo subdomain (the "school edmodo"), teacher accounts are validated and managed by the school edmodo administrator(s). It is strongly recommended to have an edmodo subdomain for the school - easy to sign up and it's free - so not reason not to do it.

Monitoring Student Online Behaviour

A major concern with students using online applications is cyber-bullying and the posting of inappropriate messages.

The edmodo security model provides two key features to minimise the opportunities for cyber-bullying:
  1. All students in the edmodo group are identified - they have unique user names and have been accepted by the teacher into the class edmodo group. Anonymous messages are not possible if the teacher is managing their edmodo group.
  2. Students cannot send private messages to other students: students may only write messages to the teacher or to the whole edmodo group. If a student is going to engage in online bullying through edmodo, the teacher and all the other students will see the messages.

As with most aspects of the edmodo security model, it is up to the teacher to monitor student messages. If students are doing the wrong thing, then the teacher must take action. A wise teacher will turn on the edmodo feature for email notification of all messages. In this way the teacher doesn't have to constantly scrutinise every message - but they have an offline (off edmodo) record of all messages.

Read-Only mode

A new feature (2011) is the Read-Only mode. A teacher may set a student in their group to "Read Only" mode - allowing the student to continue to read messages in the edmodo class group and access most of the features, but prevented from writing messages to the class group. The student will only be able to message the teacher directly.

The Read-Only mode is recommended for:
  • students currently experiencing difficulty using edmodo responsibly (as a temporary sanction),
  • students with emotional and behavioural difficulties who write posts which scare or threaten other class members
  • students with parents who do not wish them to contribute to the edmodo class conversation

If required, a teacher may set their entire class to "Read-Only" mode - although this would effectively turn the edmodo group into a teacher broadcast channel.

Parent Access to edmodo

edmodo provides means for parents to interact with the teacher and to see (only) their child's posts and work. This is a relatively new feature and does not seem to be in regular use in NSW DEC schools. If you understand the edmodo parent model, please explain here.

Monitoring Teacher Behaviour

It is in both student and the teacher interests that all online communication between student and teacher is visible and auditable. Since student/teacher direct messaging within edmodo is not visible by other members of the edmodo group, it is critical for child protection purposes that this conversation can be monitored by some else within the school system.

If your school has an edmodo school subdomain, the school edmodo administrator has the ability to view all messages - including those posted between students and teachers. It is thus strongly recommended to have an edmodo subdomain and a member of the school executive be made a school edmodo administrator.

Copyright Issues

Copyright issues are a concern for teachers when they provide means for students to upload and share digital material with the class. Teacher should discuss copyright explicitly with students and how it applies to the edmodo class group. For example: putting a copyright digital text book on edmodo is the wrong thing to do. Again - it is up to the teacher to monitor student use of edmodo.

Data Security & Privacy

How secure is the data placed on edmodo? Need to find out about edmodo data security and their privacy policy. It looks likes files are stored on an Amazon server which is a good sign.

A wise teacher would have backup copies of all their key digital resources and not rely on edmodo as their primary file storage location.

School Reputation

So long as the edmodo group membership is restricted to class members, school reputation should not be a concern beyond students following expected online behaviour. However if parent accounts are permitted, or the teacher creates a public page on edmodo for the class (only the teacher can do this), teachers and schools will have to think about how messages on edmodo influence perceptions of the school. Any thoughts? I think a school would actually get a good reputation for using edmodo - so long as teachers using edmodo are managing their group.

Reliability : Availability & Support

edmodo itself has proven to be a reliable service. While at times the site can be slow (especially during application upgrades), availability is high overall. Does anyone have statistics?

A question often asked is "How long will edmodo be around? And how long will it be free?" There is no way to answer this - although edmodo is very successful (1.5 million students using edmodo by mid 2011) so it is unlikely to disappear. The edmodo founders have stated they wish to keep the current edmodo features free of charge. Realistically, if in future they felt they had to change this, schools would have to assess the value of the proposition at the time. If the price was prohibitive, it is hard to imagine another market entrant would not fill the gap with a cost effective solution.

The edmodo support team is highly responsive - both to calls for help and suggestion for new features. For example, the Read-Only feature was implemented as a response to a challenge we faced at one of our schools. edmodo also hosts edmodo teacher communities which connect teachers to the knowledge and enthusiasm of thousands of colleagues.

A summary of the edmodo security model: it's what teachers already do.

The surprising thing about edmodo is how well it takes what teachers already do - making sure only the right people are in the classroom and then monitoring and influencing student conversation - and then uses those practices as the core of the edmodo security model. It must be emphasised though that, just like in the physical classroom, the onus is on each teacher to be responsible for and manage their own edmodo class group: edmodo is as secure and as safe as the teacher makes it for their class. If the teacher is not regularly present in their edmodo virtual classroom, or at least monitoring remotely through email, it is like leaving their physical classroom unattended. Teachers should only use edmodo when they feel they can be in that virtual classroom. To further strengthen security, it is strongly recommended schools register with edmodo to create a school subdomain and a school edmodo administrator so that teachers accounts can be validated and monitored.

So long as the teacher is doing in their virtual classroom what they do their physical classroom, edmodo is safe for use in school.

See also: Best Practices - Managing the safety and security of your edmodo group