I can't remember how I found out about edmodo, the (relatively) new site that bills itself as "free private microblogging for educators", but as soon as I did, I immediately liked the idea of it. I mean, c'mon: "free", "private", and "microblogging" were qualities that appealed to me (ok, "microblogging" isn't a quality, but you get the idea I hope), and since I'm always looking for an alternative to my own school district's incredibly cumbersome CMS, I decided to give it a test run with a few of my classes.
I should point out that my students were already used to my insistence that they interface with a computer for their class work almost as much as with me: assignments were posted either on the class website or the class blog, assignments were completed and submitted via the computer, and class notes were hosted on the school server. Therefore, a transition to a slightly different portal was, I felt, not about to disturb their learning process tremendously. I chose the last few weeks of the fall semester to have my 12th graders sign up for edmodo (on a purely voluntary basis), and leave me feedback regarding the following: how easy/difficult it was to sign up, how easy/difficult it was to find messages from me, how easy/difficult it was to leave me a message (which they were obliged to do as part of their agreement to participate), and how they felt the entire experience was compared to the previous means in which content was delivered via the school website.
Another point that I need to make here is that, while edmodo bills itself as a "microblogging" site, it's really quite a bit more than that. Not only can you (or the students) post short messages, an instructor can embed videos and powerpoints (via zoho show or google docs), keep a class calendar, post announcements, links, and even send documents (and receive them) from students. It also looks like there are the beginnings of a gradekeeping system in its basic stages. A teacher can send a message to an entire class, or to just individual students. And, in case you were wondering, no---the students can't send each other private messages.
...to get back to the trial period: the feedback from the students was very positive. About a third of my total students participated in the trial, and all of them reported that edmodo had an easy sign up process, and was very simple to use as a teacher-student communication tool. A few remarked that they liked it much better than the school site, which requires taking an extra set of steps for hosting images, videos or documents to their own server before you can post them on your site, plus requires a clumsy series of steps students must take to access info or data, typically resulting in an error message. I was convinced that the experiment was successful.
For the spring semester, I made a full formal transition to edmodo for three of my five classes, which appear as "groups" on edmodo (which I can view all at once, or filter by class). So far I have had no reported issues or problems, and have used the site to post class notes, links to interesting related sites, issue homework for students who were out on prolonged illnesses, and exchange messages with students who needed to miss class. To complete any one of these tasks, I don't need to complete more than two steps (aside from the main logon), which is probably one of my favorite characteristics of the site. Furthermore, one of edmodo's creators runs the support group (which you are automatically added to), and Jeff replies very promptly to any questions or requests for help or info. After all, edmodo was started by people who work in fields related to teaching and educational technology :)
Anyway, if you want to learn more about how edmodo works, check out the FAQ or just sign up (since it's so easy) and follow them on twitter (@edmodo). Edmodo is definitely a winner, and they've won over a very discriminating (and satisfied) "customer"!
***Author's note: a mere day after I posted this, Edmodo launched version 2.0! The login page is a little less "zen", but more descriptive; the improved layout works well for me (it displays my embeds better, for one thing), and I'm looking forward to trying out the new/upgraded features. All the more reason for you to check it out too!