Monday, March 26, 2012

Who Moderates Comments on Student Blogs?

"Best Practices" are Always Evolving
One thing that I find amazing about being on "the cutting edge" of technology in education is that there is no road map. How can you have tried and true best practices for things that have only been around for a short time, so short that most people aren't doing them yet?
I think one important reason for our school's success in this area is our willingness to be a learning organization. This is where the importance of reflection plays a big role, as well as the practice of making learning transparent. It is in this spirit that I have been experimenting with discovering best practices for student blogfolios.
I realize that because I have been involved in ed tech for a long time now, I may seem fearless when it comes to the online world. I do tend to err on the side of asking forgiveness instead of permission, and although I am cautious about what I post online, I am not filled with worry- not for myself or my students. When I look back over the last few years, I see that there is an almost constant cycle of reflection happening. It includes discussions with parents and colleagues, as well as the bigger global conversation taking place via blogs, twitter, etc. in which I make efforts to be a participant.
Recently I received an email from a parent who had a concern about having her  child act as moderator for the comments on her blog. Every time I receive a question from a parent, it is an opportunity for me to articulate my reasoning behind the decisions I make. 
"Just wanted some reassurance from you that the school has good spam filters.  My child has been getting comments that are advertisements for products and is deleting them...I'd prefer it if the kids couldn't see the comments on their blogs until they were approved by the teacher."
I had the chance to speak with this parent, and we talked for a while about her concerns. It came out in our discussion that there was only one such spam comment, but nevertheless, the concern remained the same.
Analysis of the Situation:
First of all, we do use a spam filter called Askimet on every student blog. It seems to work quite well, and we have not had many problems with spam comments. In fact, we have had more incidences of the opposite problem, where real comments went into the spam filter. 
In addition, other administrators on the student blog (classroom teachers and myself) also receive comment notifications via email. I have been in the habit of scanning those, although lately I have slacked off a bit, as there have been so many comments. I know that some savvy students have changed some of their moderation settings themselves, as well as changing the admin email from my email to theirs, so I am not receiving emails from each and every comment left on every blog. 
So far this year, with five classes blogging and participation in the Student Blogging Challenge, a quad-blogging project and wide sharing of student blogs, there has only been one inappropriate comment of which I am aware (+ the one spam comment mentioned in the email). This comment was from a student in the blogging challenge. I intercepted the comment before the recipient saw it and deleted it completely from her blog. I then spent approximately 2 weeks tracking the commenter's teacher. I finally got her email and contacted her. I know that I would want to be told if one of my students had left such a comment on another child's blog. Although this student was in China and probably thought that he was anonymous with what he said online (although he left his real name and email), I think it is important that students understand that teachers all over the world are looking out for them.
Should we put students in control?
As administrators of their own blogs, we give students control over many aspects of the blog. With this privilege comes responsibility. With responsibility comes the opportunity to learn. I don't want to take this away from them, but I will, on a case by case basis, if a student demonstrates that they are unworthy of the trust we have placed in them.
Spam is an unfortunate fact of digital life. We must be able to recognize it and know how to deal appropriately with it (ignore, delete, never click on a link). Too many adults do not possess this awareness, and the consequences range from annoying to serious. In my conversation with the concerned parent, I learned that her child recognized the comment as spam and knew exactly what to do with it. The child explained to her mom that I had taught them to recognize spam and what to do (yay!). This reinforces, for me, the correctness of the decision to empower students with responsibility while carefully overseeing and guiding them. Parry Aftab, an expert in internet safety for teens, has a saying I really like: "The best filter is the one between their ears." The world of online interaction is not going away. I want our students to learn digital citizenship under our guidance. 
If we are going to allow students online, we are exposing them to potential risks. We do everything we can to minimize those risks, but there is no filter that is totally foolproof. I compare it to letting your child ride in a car. There are dangers to riding in a car, yet the benefits outweigh the risks, so we do what we can to make the experience as safe as possible, and we focus on the benefit that is gained.

What do you think? Should students have administrative control over their blogs? Why or why not?