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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6 Replies to “When Jerks Comment”

  1. Great post, Doug, and the timing is perfect for my planning for the start of school next week.

    So far I’ve been keeping my students’ comments about their classmates’ writing private and spam-free through the use of Google Groups and Google Documents. I certainly see the value in making the comments public, so perhaps I’ll take it up a notch this year and post their comments on my blog for others to read and review.

    A few questions for your readers:

    Even if teachers never post students’ full or last names, is it an accepted practice to get parental permission to post the comments publicly?

    Has anyone experienced any backlash because of a comment that wasn’t entirely supportive, and how have you handled this?

    Does anyone have any guidelines they’d like to share that can be posted when soliciting comments?

    Besides an announcement on twitter, what process do you use to solicit comments?

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  2. I love this: “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.” The tech fixes are there, but for slow learners like me, a couple are do-able right away and seem to make the most sense to me: dashboard (keep your blogs in a single system??) and approval (maybe because I’m a high school teacher I knew there’d be a need for this right up front). P. Beene mentioned using Google to keep the spam away and that makes sense for a non-techie person like me. The frustration at not having some of the fancier items in the Google Ed Apps (whatever it is called!!!) may be worth it if I don’t have to figure out how to “do” the rest of those techie fixes in order to just begin and ensure that some reasonable level of security is available. Thanks, as always, for pointing out the stumbling blocks and the routes around them.

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  3. Good points Doug – as usual.
    When I did a workshop recently (and it certainly takes effort not to give “pigeon PD” where the guest swoops in, plops something down and flies away), I brought up the “dealing with negative comments” as a great class discussion. Many of the folks I was dealing with had no Internet access and draconian filters, so they were considering paper blogging. The interesting thing is that many preferred making a “private paper blog” (i.e. one situated in the library where the TL could supervise the posting of comments) over a “public paper blog” (i.e. one in the hall with blank sticky notes and carte blanche). I understand their fear/caution. My current class blogs are private. Right now it’s enough for them to know they are sharing with the entire grade or school division. Yes, I’m (temporarily) denying them a more authentic audience but I want them to make the errors some of them do in terms of “thinking before posting” in a safe area. My older kids have made their wiki available to visitors via a request-able guest log-in but they like the intimacy of working together in “their” space. I will seriously reconsider my position based on your arguments but I may also try some compromise tactics such as creating a school Twitter account and publicizing comments through that track. Thanks for the food for thought.

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  4. I apologize for my (spit) comment. I simply wanted to offer another suggestion. Some retired people are very sensitive!

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  5. Thanks for your comments, Diana. A little bit of healthy paranoia can be good to help consider all of the angles. I’d be interested in hearing how it goes if you decide to open up a bit. Provided you get good people commenting, it should be very motivating for the students.

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  6. No sensitivity felt, Peter. You just happened to be on my mind with your spit reply a while back. When I created the original post, I thought of you and your love for Edmodo. But, there are people who just want the ability to hand in a file and avoid the complexities of setting up a LMS.

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