Interview | Find Nic Borg on Edmodo

As co-founder of Edmodo, Nic Borg provides teachers and students a secure social network for classroom use. That’s no small feat, and if it sounds a bit like Facebook for education, Edmodo numbers would surely echo that fact. At two weeks old in mid-September 2008, foreshadowing what was to come, Edmodo had already reached more than 1,700 users. Nic and co-founder Jeff O’Hara celebrated the company’s second birthday breaking the half-million mark; they currently have almost 2 million users and continue to rocket upward. Before launching Edmodo, Nic worked at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Ill., for seven years, building web-based tools and learning management solutions for a
single school district. The goal of Edmodo is to create social media tools that help teachers engage students and to make sure every school in the world has access to them; Edmodo is well on its way to doing just that as it rapidly changes the entire educational landscape for teachers and students everywhere. What does Nic have to say about all this? Life is certainly busier than ever; here, Nic graciously spares a few moments to share a bit of background, some motives, the current situation and future goals.    

Victor: Why’d you create it? 

Nic: As you know, we live in a connected world where students and teachers depend on technology and online resources in their day-to-day lives. When Jeff and I launched Edmodo, our goal was to develop a space that allowed teachers, students and schools to connect in a more engaging way while keeping students safe and protected.

Victor: What is it, exactly? What guides you forward? 

Nic: Edmodo provides classrooms a safe and easy way to connect and collaborate, offering a real-time platform to exchange ideas, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices. We launched in late 2008, but the Edmodo community is responsible for its growth—everything we implement comes directly from teacher requests based on their experiences using the service. 

Victor: A basic question, here, but what does it do and what are the benefits?

Nic: As for teacher and student benefits:

Mobile access – In addition to the free downloadable apps for iPhone and android, Edmodo is accessible from any browser-compatible device, creating an anytime-anywhere learning environment.

Easier classroom management – Edmodo provides several tools that make managing the classroom easier including creating groups, posting homework assignments, and a built-in gradebook, calendar and library. No more grading stacks of paper and writing comments out. All of this can be done online.

Peer connection and professional development – Edmodo communities provide a way for teachers to connect with like-minded educators to exchange ideas, get advice and share resources.

District benefits include:

Districtwide communication: Edmodo subdomains provide a way for districts and/or schools to communicate more effectively between teachers, students, parents and administrators, as well as manage the use of Edmodo within the district.

Dashboard analytics: Administrators can track usage at the user, school or district level for an at-a-glance view of adoption and effectiveness.

User management: District administrators can add and delete users and manage accounts remotely.

Cost savings: Edmodo enables all interaction to take place online.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Nic: Our rapid user growth says a lot about how unique and valuable Edmodo is to educators—and I think it’s what differentiates us from a lot of the online tools currently available. Currently, we have about 2 million users; most of this growth has come from teachers sharing Edmodo with each other. This grass roots growth—teachers sharing tools they like—is something we’re extremely proud of.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Nic: Edmodo was launched in September 2008. Almost immediately, teachers started spreading the word through their professional networks and Twitter—reaching out to their peers and asking their peers  ‘to connect with them on Edmodo’.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Nic: Our goal is to make sure that every school in the world has access to tools that help teachers engage students and allow students to reach their potential, therefore our service is and always will be free for teachers, students and schools.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Nic: There are a number of ways educators are using Edmodo. Teachers set up groups in Edmodo for their classes, afterschool clubs, book clubs, planning committees, etc. Here are a couple examples of it in action:

Engaging students outside classroom walls:  During the State of the Union Address this year, teachers posted real-time discussion questions on Edmodo. Students used the mobile app or website to respond and engage in conversation during the speech.

Professional Development: This past year the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) partnered with Edmodo to provide a dynamic environment for educators to receive conference updates leading up to the conference,  exchange ideas and feedback during the 200+ concurrent sessions (e.g., ‘backchannelling’), and complete conference evaluations. Most importantly, the FETC Edmodo community (edmodo.com/FETC) provided an opportunity for those not attending the conference to remotely join real-time conference session discussions and provided FETC attendees with an opportunity to extend their learning after the conference ended.

Edmodo In Action: We have an Edmodo In Action page on our website which lists videos that show how Edmodo is being used. You can check it out at www.help.edmodo.com/ideas

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Nic: Edmodo offers teacher accounts, student accounts and parent accounts. We also have tools specifically designed for district and school administrators (they can sign up under a teacher account). Edmodo is available to all schools and all grades.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Nic: We are at a pivotal time in education—it’s great to see the widespread adoption of mobile learning, specifically the use of cell phones and tablets in education. More than anything in recent years, mobile learning is creating a profound shift in not only how students learn, but also how educators approach their curriculum, making it much easier for educators to engage students individually and share the content and ideas that meet each student’s individual needs.  It really allows teachers to differentiate instruction on a much larger scale—and Edmodo has become the “homebase for learning” in many of these mobile learning environments. Through Edmodo, educators can communicate with students, share content, engage in classroom discussion and assign and grade student work, allowing educators to leverage the full potential of 1-to-1 learning environments.

In general, it’s a very exciting time to be in education—I see teachers doing creative things with technology in the classroom that were impossible just a short time ago and I can’t wait to see where they take things in the coming years.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Edmodo?

Nic: When I was in my sophomore year in high school, I began working in the technology department at my school district—I continued working there through college and then became a full-time employee after I graduated. During those years, I saw first hand the level of commitment and dedication that being an educator requires. I was continually amazed at the number of hours (not to mention money) teachers put into their jobs. These were not just isolated cases—the majority of teachers were overwhelmingly dedicated to helping their students succeed. So, it became important to me to find opportunities to use technology not only to make teachers lives easier but also help them engage their students.  Hopefully, Edmodo is doing that.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Nic (pictured below, left, with Jeff) …: Classroom teachers will determine the future of education. They are leading the way in student learning and they know better than anyone the tools that work in the classroom. When we provide educators with opportunities to connect with each other and share the strategies and content that works best, all students benefit. The connections that teachers are making—their professional learning networks (PLNs)—are critical not only to their professional satisfaction and improving student performance—they are also the key to innovation. We see this happening every day in our Edmodo communities—whether it’s a group of teachers from across the US planning a virtual field trip that follows the Oregon Trail from classroom to classroom, or two teachers simply looking for new ways to teach long division—when you give teachers the opportunity to connect, powerful things happen.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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