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? 


Denise Krebs said...

Great post! You make many important observations.

I agree that we should give the students reigns on the administration of their blogs. They should be able to learn about spam, and read critically to see if the comment is of value to be on their blog. It empowers them, and it prepares them for a lifetime of digital learning and producing. I think it's great that you are forging ahead with making them digital good citizens. And kudos for the good report on the student who knew you had taught about spam.

I'm impressed that you tracked down the teacher of the author of the inappropriate comment. I like how you said, "I think it is important that students understand that teachers all over the world are looking out for them."

My students and I share admin responsibility. They are administrators (and I am, as well) of their blogs. They are responsible for approving or unapproving comments. However, the email address on their blogs is my teacher email, so I do see the comments run through my inbox. Like you, I glance at them, but I haven't had troubles yet.

This year, one concern I have more than before is the quality of the comments MY students are leaving. I have a few who are not very capable writers, and I assume they are leaving some poor comments during the student challenge. Other students & teachers may rightly be spamming my student's comments. I should have made some different rules for some of them, and I guess it's not too late. Perhaps, they can only comment on classmates' blogs until they are released with some quality comment experience. I need to get on that!

Anyway, thanks again for a terrific and challenging post!


Anonymous said...

Andrea and Denise,
First, Andrea, your post about moderating comments was well written and showed deep reflection as we move through this uncharted water called tech/blogging, etc. This is our first year with student blogs and so far so good. I did have one incident and the student confided in me right away when it occurred. I moderate their comments similar to the way you and Denise do. Started being very conscientious and then have slacked off a bit.
As a teacher, I would definitely want to know if any of my students posted anything inappropriate. Good for you and thanks for pushing my thinking more.

I, too, am more liberal as is the other 8th grade language arts teacher.

I hope if you ever read my inappropriate comments from my students, you'll let me know. I, too, know what you mean about students whose posts are poorly written. I cringe sometimes when I see poorly constructed sentences, grammar/spelling errors. I make my students write their posts on a Word document where it shows a lot of spelling errors and grammar suggestions. Then, they can post it to their blog or wherever they're posting.

You, two, have a good week.

sinikkalw said...

Thank you for this enlightening post! I'm wondering how old your "bloggers" are. I think it depends on the age of the students a little bit, how much responsibility you can give them when it comes to administering their blogs.

My students are 16-18 years old, and they will soon have been blogging for a whole school year. I let them set up their blogs independently, and they are also the only admins. So far it has been fine but reading your post, I was reminded that I really need to have a spam lesson with them, and check whether they have had to delete any unpleasant comments.

Andrea said...

Thank you, Denise, Kris and Sinikkalw for adding your thoughts to the conversation.

@Denise and Kris- I agree that quality (or lack thereof) is a much bigger issue in student commenting than rude or inappropriate comments or spam comments. We have been working, in a number of different ways, to address the teaching of quality commenting. My personal-professional belief at this point is that if the comment is not blatantly inappropriate, it should be approved, even if it is rife with errors. My reasoning is that I don't want to inhibit students from writing; I want to see them write and write until they learn how.
I am thinking that perhaps I need to write a blog post sharing all of the strategies and resources we have used in our efforts to improve student commenting.

@Sinikkalw -Our bloggers are in grades 3-7 (ages 8-13). There has been a progression from being authors and commenters on the classroom blogs to having their own blogs, but as soon as they get their own blogs, they are given administrator status. This is because I want them to have the enjoyable experience of choosing and creating that is part of blogging, as well as the learning experience that comes with moderating comments and being in control of what the blog becomes.
I am also an administrator on every student blog and, on many of the blogs, there is another teacher set as admin as well. We are thinking of adding this as another choice for parents on our school's media release.

Anonymous said...

I think you should post about the strategies and resources you've used to improve student commenting. Thanks

Miranda Bounds said...

Mrs. Hernandez,

My name is Miranda Bounds, and I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. I think that you handled the situation with your parent very well. I believe that it is hard for parents, who were not born in an age of technology to adjust to the idea that this is going to be a part of their child's everyday life. Like you stated in your post, technology isn't going anywhere. I think it is best to teach students how to be responsible with internet safety and it is part of our job to help guide them in this process. A major part of my EDM 310 class, is that we learn not by cramming in facts, but by doing our own research and "getting our hands dirty" to find answers for ourselves.

Also, I must add that I do think that letting students be the sole administrators on their school blogs really should be determined by the age and maturity level of the class.

Thanks for the post. I enjoy reading them and will be looking back to your blog frequently for guidance in my own journey to become an educator.

Allison Cullars said...

My name is Allison Cullars, and I am in Edm 310 at the University of South Alabama. I agree that by blogging students are involed in a learning experience. I to believe that some students should not be allowed to put whatever they want on their blogs. Teachers need to revise students blog post and comments in order to make sure students do not put anything negative. As for spam, it will always be around we just have to be cautious and watch out for it. I like the way you handled the situation with the parent.

I enjoy reading your post and plan to visit your blog often.

Abigail Cooke said...

I am currently a Secondary Education student at the University of South Alabama, in Mobile, Alabama, taking EDM 310. This class focuses on blogging and learning how to use today’s technology and applying it in the classroom. All of the students in EDM 310 were assigned a different teacher’s blog to read and summarize on our own blog. First of all, I think that parents have a serious problem allowing their children to use the internet. They have been taught not to put personal information and such on the internet, and even though this is still true, they need to understand that the internet is a great resource for students. Part of our career as teachers, today, is to teach students how to use the internet effectively and responsibly. Parents trusted educators years ago to teach their children their basic needs in math, science, and history, and now they need to trust educators to teach their children to use the internet. The idea of moderation of comments needs to be based on the age of the child. If we are talking about young students, then I think that teachers should read the comments before they are posted, but if we are talking about high school students, then I think they are old enough to read and sort through their own work and comments. I liked the way you handled the situation with the parent. Thanks for the great post!