When Jerks Comment

A few years ago, I had purchased a piece of software to do professional development registration for my employer.  We had put it into place and I had kicked the tires and customized it so that it was unique to us and our requirements.  I was scheduled to do a demonstration to the director of education and her superintendents first thing in the morning.  As was my custom, I was in to my desk by 6 and fired up my web browser to do one last minute check to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten things over night.  To my disgust, the opening screen didn’t appear.  Instead, a solid red screen with a white logo showed. 

I fired off an email to support and he got back relatively quickly.  “Oh, you’ve been hit by a Chinese hacking group that looks for unpatched Apache servers and then defaces them.  Give me an hour and I’ll reload things for you.”  I still remember my reaction.

  • How did he know it was a group of Chinese hackers?
  • If he knew immediately that it attacked unpatched Apache servers, why didn’t he have all the patches applied for us?
  • But, most of all, I remember how violated that I felt.  This was “my baby” – soon to be turned over to the system where it would become “our baby”.

I had done what I thought needed to be done but the ultimate event was determined by someone else and it was completely out of my hands.

Today, I think of teachers who attend one of those quickie summer workshops to catch up on 11 years so they can become 21st Century educators.  “I’m going to blog with my kids”.  Great – it’s absolutely one of the best things to do.  But, are you ready for everything?  How will you and your students react — when jerks comment!  And, if you are making these blogs public, they will comment.  How will you and your students handle this?

The easiest away to avoid this is to just not make your blog public.  However, that takes away the whole point of blogging.  You want your students to reach the end of the writing process and to publish for an audience.  Blogging is the ultimate because you can publish for an audience that you don’t know.  It is so powerful when someone on the other side of town or the other side of the world takes the time to comment.  Comments can be supportive of the premise, they can challenge the premise, and they can be just plain caustic.  I think most people are prepared for the first types but the last one can be a challenge.  Now, I’m not talking the little bit of spit that a Peter might throw my way.  I’ll get him back for that.  I’m talking about profanity, phishing, personal comments and everything nasty that ill-wishing people elect to throw your way.

Was that covered in your summer course?  The situation can be minimized by your platform choice but more importantly, how you configure it.  I won’t go into my preferences but I would think that you should be looking for at least the following settings in whatever platform you are thinking about using.

  • Spam protection – ideally, your system catches the spam before it ever sees the light of day.  Is this a legitimate concern?  Absolutely.  Using this blog as an example, I have added 2,487 posts but my spam catcher has caught 22,648.  I just can’t keep up!
  • Approval – you need to configure your student blogs so that all replies are reviewed before they’re made public.  In a perfect scenario, the teacher alone should see them first;
  • Verify – while it may seem like a good idea that people should have a voice, it’s particularly important in education that that voice isn’t anonymous.  Make sure that visitors are identified with OpenID or the like so that you have a sense that they’re legitimate people;
  • CAPCHA – those annoying little images that have a couple of words obfuscated are tough to deal with but ever tougher on robotic programs or people that just want to do a quick deface job;
  • Geolocate – part of the power of blogging is knowing where people are coming from.  Tracking by location is nice but at least ask for their blog so that you can track back to get a sense of where they’re located;
  • Spell checking – of course, you want your student work to be as perfect as it can be but so should be the responses.  Spell checking makes sure that students are not going to be exposed to bad spelling and make it their own;
  • Dashboard – don’t forget that your time is valuable too.  If you have multiple bloggers and multiple classes, you need to be able to manage things.  Having a single point of entry to see and manage the blogs can be a great timesaver.

But, can there be a bit of sunshine in the process?  Absolutely.  Depending upon the age and preparedness of the students, it can be an education to spend some time looking at a couple of the comments that didn’t make it to the blog.  After all, this is the reality of the blogging world.  If they’re excited about blogging and understand all aspects, we may have a new generation of great bloggers.  Don’t be put off about what possibly could go wrong – deal with it and focus on the benefits when everything goes right.

And, above all – if your students are blogging, don’t forget to ask the Twitter community for a little help.  Let us know and use the tag #comments4kids to seed the process.

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OTR Links for 08/30/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.