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All things in eModeration: Moderating Class Blogs and Facebook Student Groups

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Once in a Blue Moon
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This post is a response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge on eModeration. It is primarily aimed at EFL teachers of young learners, teens and young adults but I hope teachers of other disciplines and age groups will find some areas of interest. It will try to answer the following questions:

  • What is moderation and why is it important?
  • What should we moderate in class blogs and Facebook student groups? 
  • What are the challenges involved and how can we deal effectively with them?

What is moderation?

In general terms, moderation is the process of eliminating or lessening extremes. It is used to ensure normality throughout the medium on which it is being conducted.

In computing terms, a moderator needs to:

  • monitor and often censor inappropriate comments and posts that are left for public display
  • keep users on topic
  • keep the discussion thread free of personal insults and derogatory comments.

Why moderating?

Merely creating an online community such as a class blog or a Facebook group does not necessarily lead to productive discussions or learning. Additionally, we should not assume that students, regardless of their age, are aware of concepts such as responsible online conduct and digital citizenship. What if their posts are not always appropriate? What about spam and flaming?

Consequently, the teacher’s role in moderating and facilitating purposeful discussions and contributions is vital. As a moderator you will have to take informed decisions about:

  • when a post or comment should be approved.
  • how to organise online discussions and motivate students to participate in them.
  • how to help students feel part of a learning community.
  • how to develop their digital literacy skills’ so that moderation can gradually become less frequent.

 Class Blogs

 

Dream classroom
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The degree and criteria against which to evaluate what should or shouldn’t be moderated might depend on various factors such as the age of your students or whether they have been introduced to eSafety and Digital Citizenship skills. In the early stages, while students should be given freedom over the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on your blog and that a high degree of etiquette is maintained. And as your blog will probably be public, you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read inappropriate comments or be exposed to potentially suspicious links contained in them? To my experience, this rarely happens but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your online community from the potential risk.

For class blogs I would suggest the following:

  • Make sure your students are aware of the rules and guidelines of the blog so that they know what is or isn’t appropriate. If possible, involve them in the decision making. It will encourage greater ownership and motivation to respect the rules.
  • Consistency is important. Decide in advance whether posts or comments that contain accuracy mistakes will be accepted or not. I personally think that rejecting such content can be extremely discouraging for students but it clearly depends on the primary aims of your blog. I publish comments even if they contain mistakes to reinforce students’ communication skills and sense of community. As far as posts are concerned, I adopt a process writing approach where students submit their first draft and then revise their work according to my feedback. You need to make your own decisions as a class and stick to them.
  • Decide in advance whether or not you are going to moderate YLs & teens’ personal pictures. While there is not a consensus decision on this, you should know that according to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for example, you need the parents’ consent to post a picture of an under 13 year-old-child. My piece of advice? Students of all ages love posting their pictures on class blogs and might feel disappointed to see them turned down. I generally advise students to attach creative commons licensed pictures but when someone attaches a picture of themselves, I use skitch to blur the face even when the parents don’t mind their kid’s picture posted online.  
  • Be aware of the links students might share on posts or comments. I think that not allowing students to share links would not reflect reality since we all do on a regular basis. Instead, teach them that not all links are innocent and that they should check before they share with their classmates. In any case, moderate before you post. Quite recently, a student of mine left the following comment on our blog:
A comment from our class blog
A comment on our class blog

 

Although the student is a responsible internet user, I thought it was essential that I first ensure the link was a safe one and that it did not direct students to illegal game downloads. 

 

  • As I have already written on a previous post, teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

1      Relevant to the post.

2      Complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.

3      Proofread by the students for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

As a moderator, you might also need to provide timely intervention when a discussion goes off topic or when an argument should be resolved. Sometimes students might transfer an argument that started in class to the blog especially when they feel active parts of this online community. Your role as a moderator and facilitator can be vital in such cases.

Facebook student groups

Facebook Expert
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Unlike blogs, Facebook groups do not allow administrators to approve comments before they are published. All you can do is delete posts and comments or even remove members in case things get out of hand. For this reason, I would suggest that teachers create a Facebook group only when they have introduced their students to concepts such as appropriate online behaviour and responsible digital citizenship. Having said that, I do believe Facebook can be a great learning platform if used effectively. Our students are there anyway so why not make learning more approachable to them? I totally appreciate protected platforms such as Edmodo or Schoology which might be essential in certain cases. However, adopting a constant risk-averse approach can be counterproductive and unrealistic. Students need to be given the opportunity to take risks in real contexts otherwise they won’t be able to manage risk effectively.

Most of what I mentioned about blogging applies to Facebook as well but below are some tips special to student Facebook groups:

  • Create a closed group for your students so that you can ensure only accepted members can access and post there.
  • Promote students who are willing and involved to administrators. It will take the burden off you and they will be given a great learning opportunity. You will also encourage a sense of ownership and belonging to the group.
  • Do not become Facebook friends with your students unless of course you do not post personal stuff on your account. Posting a family picture, teasing a friend online or checking in at a club might be things you wouldn’t like your students to know. it can be hard to decline requests but it will make your life so much easier. There are a few tips I can share on that so I intend to write a follow up post 🙂
  • Do not delete posts or comments just because you or other students don’t agree with some opinions expressed. On the contrary, encourage debate and use it as an opportunity to show students that freedom of speech is vital as long as people justify their opinions politely. 
  • If students spam or make inappropriate contributions I think you have every right to delete their posts or comments. After all, you are there to ensure students’ security and learning. Talk to the student in private and try to understand the reasons behind their actions. Sometimes teenagers or young adults just like to break the rules. I also think that, without identifying the student, you should use the incident as a topic for a class discussion. Instead of giving tedious lectures on inappropriate online behaviour, encourage students to comment on the incident and see for themselves why spamming or flaming is inappropriate.
  • As already mentioned, use this online community to promote responsible and wise social media use; turn mistakes into learning opportunities. I remember I once asked students to post a picture from their summer holiday and write something about it. We had already talked about privacy and digital footprint so I was surprised to see a picture of my 20-year-old student posing rather suggestively in her bikini. She was a nice girl and I’m sure she didn’t mean to provoke her classmates. After all, it is difficult to define the norms when young people are exposed to nude or semi-nude TV images all the time. The good thing about the incident was that it proved to be a great topic for a class discussion on digital identities which encouraged the girl to remove the picture herself.

A final piece of advice

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Moderation involves students’ participation to online communities and this is something that only you can encourage no matter how powerful a tool is. If participation is optional not all students are likely to contribute. On the other hand, if it is mandatory or marked it might feel like another task that needs to be done. It would be better to integrate it into your course so that students perceive it as an essential part of their learning. For example, you might start a discussion in class that could be continued online; or instead of asking them to write an essay, you could post a relevant video, ask them to discuss it with classmates online and then write something on this.

 

 

 

How do you moderate your students’ class blogs or Facebook groups? Would you add or remove anything from the above tips? I would be very interested to read your views 🙂

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4 Key Challenges and Solutions to Class Blogging

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kozzi.com

 

In my last posts I talked about the benefits of class blogging and shared my personal class blogging experience. Today I’ll be focusing on the next step: the challenges you need to take into consideration and the steps I recommend taking.

Choosing a Blogging platform

I would first recommend setting the criteria against which to evaluate a blog service. Among excellent blogging options available,blogger was considered ideal to my teaching situation for the following reasons:

  • It is free of charge and easy to set up.
  • It is not blocked by my school filtering software.
  • There are security options available e.g. comments pending approval from the administrator to ensure that only appropriate comments are posted on the blog.
  • Videos and pictures can be easily embedded.
  • Students don’t need to have email accounts to leave comments.

Although I’ve been very satisfied with the service, I noticed a serious disadvantage; it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. So, I took the decision to move our class blog to edublogs, a platform which is never blocked by protective filters as it is especially designed for education. The only drawback is that in order to embed videos and use a number of widgets you need to upgrade to a paid edublogs subscription, but the price is fairly low. Other options include kidblog, WordPress and Posterous. They all offer a plethora of features and come with both free and paid plans. So, my advice would be: set the criteria first, devote some time researching and finally choose the platform that best suits your needs 🙂

Ensuring students’ security online

Issues such as Internet safety, cyber-bullying and lack of netiquette lead institutions to block social networks depriving students of the positive aspects achieved when collaborating as part of a global community. Therefore, raising awareness of online safety and of the digital footprint students leave behind is of paramount importance (Ward, 2004:7).

While there is not a consensus decision on what should be shared online (pictures, names, private versus public blogs), it is suggested that educators have clear guidelines so that students and parents are aware of what is appropriate (Burt, 2010). Actively involving students in creating these guidelines would be even more effective and would encourage greater ownership and motivation.

A student is adding his group contributions to our blog guidelines

While students should be given freedom over their posts and the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on the blog and that nobody’s feelings are hurt. And as your blog will be probably public (an informed decision you also need to make), you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read comments made by mean or impolite people? To my experience, this rarely happens (we have never received such comments) but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your students from the potential risk.

Tagging

Our list

Blog posting can become confusing as a blog expands making it difficult for readers to find their way to earlier contributions. Training learners to organize their work under relevant tags is therefore essential. Tags let writers classify their posts according to keywords by producing a link under each post. Clicking any of those takes visitors to an archive page containing only posts categorized under this label. To make scanning even easier, a list of all the blog tags can be displayed in the sidebar of your blog, sorted alphabetically or by frequency of use.

Commenting

Promoting and teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community and help learners develop their literacy skills. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

  • proofread for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • relevant to the post.
  • complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.
  • do not reveal any personal information.

Devote one or two sessions to teach quality comments and as a follow-up, ask students to comment on each other’s posts. You can also ask students to create guidelines for quality comments and then post them on a blog page for reference.

The list can go on but I’d really love to hear from you first. Have you heard of or experienced any additional challenges regarding class blogging? Can you add other solutions to the challenges above? I would appreciate your thoughts 🙂

References
Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

 

 

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Class blogging

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This post is aimed at teachers who consider starting a class blog.  It is based on my personal research on class blogging combined with my experience over the last two years.

What is a class blog?

A Blog or weblog is a virtual space for people to post their work to Web pages displayed in reverse chronological order with an option for readers to leave comments regarding these posts (Eastment, 2005: 358; Davis & McGrail, 2009:74). Among a number of types of blogs that fit pedagogical purposes, the class blog is the result of a joint effort of an entire class and is considered to foster a feeling of class community by optimizing teacher-student communication and peer interaction (McDowell, 2004; Miceli et al, 2010: 323).

Why should we set up a class blog?

  • Because it encourages learner-centredness

Consistent with learner-centred principles, class blogs require students to actively construct meaning, organize their thoughts and become more active inside and outside the classroom by reviewing material and seeking external knowledge resources (Du & Wagner, 2005:4,10).

By inviting students to post their personal work and share their views and beliefs we give them a voice; Students feel personally significant and sense that they matter to their teacher and their classmates ; this encourages them to become more actively engaged and invest a higher level of mental energy in the task.

Publication not only makes materials accessible for subsequent reflection but also offers the opportunity for feedback, which, in turn, scaffolds learners’ knowledge construction. Finally, if collaboratively implemented, blog projects can also encourage increased verbal exchanges, negotiation, peer interaction and social integration, all of which are so valuable to learning.

Of course it would be naïve to imply that by simply setting up a class blog we encourage learner-centred learning. If we continue to be in total control, don’t encourage collaboration and reflection and don’t involve them in the decision making, we simply dominate the whole thing and do not place learners in the centre of the learning experience. It’s a personal decision of course and you know better than anyone else what is good or not for your classes. I just believe that if you want to give more space to your students, class blogging can definitely help you with this.

  • Because it is user friendly

Unlike standard websites, blogs allow users with little or no technical background experience to create, design and maintain the blog ( Du & Wagner 2005:2). This makes classroom integration more natural, without the need of teaching hard technical skills (McDowell, 2004; Godwin-Jones, 2003); it is also consistent with learner-centered principles which require technologies and educational practices to be appropriate for learners’ cognitive abilities (Vincent, 2010).

When I started, my knowledge of setting up and running a blog was extremely limited. I remember not knowing basic vocabulary such as tagging, blogroll and widgets. It goes without saying I couldn’t embed a video or change the blog layout. There are plenty of tutorials available on YouTube like this one. I’m going to share more on a forthcoming post but I’m sure you can find them on your own if you just type key words such as “how to set up a blog” “embed a video” etc on Google. So, even if it seems hard to you right now, you will end up agreeing that blogs are very user friendly.

  • Because it fosters a sense of interactive audience

By posting their work on the Internet, the students have the opportunity to extend their audience beyond classmates (Ward, 2004:2-3). This awareness encourages a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of the students who may be more motivated and thoughtful in both content and structure (Kitzmann, 2003:1).

Take my students as an example: by knowing that what they write is going to appear on the web they automatically become more conscious and more responsible writers, proofread their posts and seek guidance and advice from me or their classmates without being told to. Isn’t that great?

They have a reason and an extended audience for writing and this is why they want to present something that they will feel proud of 🙂

Commenting to each other’s posts or receiving comments from a wider audience can also be very powerful. Not only does it promote interactivity and reflection but also fosters a learning community in and outside the classroom. This two way communication through posts and comments enables students to become both the author and the audience and therefore benefit from the advantages of both forms (Wrede, 2003).

What are the basic steps in setting up and maintaining a successful blog?

Well, researching and getting informed would be one of the first tips I would give…but I just noticed this post is getting too long. More practical tips on a forthcoming post. If you want to dig more into the topic you’ll find a lot of resources in the references below 🙂

References

Davis, A. P. & McGrail, E. (2009). The joy of blogging.  Educational Leadership,66(6): 74-77.

Du, H.S., and Wagner, C. (2007). Learning with Weblogs: Enhancing cognitive and social knowledge construction. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications, 50(1). Last accessed 16/04/2011

Eastment, D. (2005). Blogging. ELT Journal, 59(4): 358-361

Jonassen, D.H. (1993). Thinking technology. Educational Technology, 34(4): 34-37

Kitzmann, A.  (2003). That different place: Documenting the self within online environments.  Biography, 26(1): 48-65.

McDowell, D. (2004). Blogging in the K12 classroom. In  B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology.

Miceli, T. , Murray, S. V. and Kennedy, C. (2010). Using an L2 blog to enhance learners’ participation and sense of community. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23 (4): 321-341

Godwin-Jones, B. (2003). Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration. Language Learning & Technology. 7(2): 12-16. Last accessed 26/04/2011 http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/emerging/default.html

Vincent, D. (2010). Learner-centered learning and blogging. Edutech Wiki. Last accessed 15/04/2011  http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Learner-centered_learning_and_blogging

Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

Wrede, O.  (2003). Weblogs and discourse: Weblogs as transformational technology for higher education and academic research. Blogtalk conference paper, Vienna, May 23rd-24th 2003. http://wrede.interfacedesign.org/articles/weblogs-and-discourse

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My class blog learning experience

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Using a class blog in the classroom can be an effective and powerful tool. In this post I’m going to share how I integrated it into my classroom and why this proved to be a wise decision and a great learning experience for both my students and myself.

How it all started

It was April 2012 and we were about to start a collaborative project with my 6th graders. I’ve always been an advocate of project work and considered it a highly learner-centred and effective way for language learning. Students love it as well because it can be totally personalised and creative.

So, the project was called songs parade and it had been successful with many students over the years:

Students work in groups, select their favourite song and turn its lyrics into a cloze for their classmates (a fill-in the gaps quiz). They then make a word document with the quiz, put pictures and give me to make photocopies for their classmates. Each group is to present their project on a different day; they can talk a little bit about the song and singer/band, play the video clip on the IWB (before an IWB was installed in class, we used a CD player, which was also great) and ask their classmates to fill in the gaps. Depending on the group, feedback is given in class or the presenters take the photocopies home, correct them and even give a mark (they love doing this!).

Why not move this project onto a blog?

I was in my first year of my MA and as I was learning wonderful things about technology it dawned on me that it would be great if I could move all this onto a class blog.

The reason for taking that decision was that all project work my students had been involved so far had a particularly limited audience (their classmates) and that after the presentation the projects were filed in their portfolios and got forgotten or even lost. There was of course, some discussion and feedback after each presentation but time never allowed us for a deep and constructive reflection. “A class blog that could host this would be great” I thought, and started researching blogging platforms and services.

Our first class blog

I need to admit that at the time my knowledge of setting up and running a blog was extremely limited but technology is something that can only be learned through trial and error. You can never tell what a tool  is like or whether it works for you unless you get your feet wet, play with it, make mistakes and work out solutions.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the things I didn’t know but also excited I could give my students the opportunity to

  • extend their audience beyond classroom walls.
  • engage in a discussion through comments.
  • go back to what they have created and reflect on it.
  • keep a permanent record of their work.

And that’s how it all started. Looking back, I can confidently say it has been the best project I’ve ever been involved in, not only because it proved to be extremely successful but mainly because of our shared enthusiasm of trying something new. I was not the expert who taught students English but a fellow learner who was learning with them. We made mistakes, got stressed, experimented, laughed our heads off, agreed and disagreed but we enjoyed every single minute of it. This is a sample of my students’ work posted on our very first blog called song parade.

Our current blog

Little by little and as we were discovering the potential of class blogging, we felt that apart from hosting our song projects it could host students’ reflections and anything they wanted to share. So we unanimously decided to rename it to blogging town so as not to restrict ourselves to only music-related content. Since then, students have been blogging about anything: their hobbies, their favourite celebrities, issues such as internet safety and the environment, celebrations, to mention just a few. You can take a look here and here. The range of topics can be really endless and it depends on the particular interests of your students as well as your teaching objectives. It’s totally up to you. I usually set challenges and topics that students can work on collaboratively but individual ideas are always welcome and students know they can write about anything they feel like to. It’s really great to see them taking the initiative to blog without being assigned to. This is what blogging is all about, isn’t it?

I’m not sure if this blog will continue to be hosted on blogger or if I decide to move it to edublog. It’s an informed decision I need to make for the forthcoming school year considering some issues I have encountered on blogger- mainly that it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. You see, you never stop learning, experimenting and working out solutions once you get started. There’s always something better to discover and experiment with; and that’s the beauty of the journey I reckon, isn’t it? 🙂

(On a forthcoming post I’m going to share some practical tips on class blogging based on my experience and what I have found on the way)