With any educational endeavor on the Internet, there requires a certain level of supervision from the teacher leading the students. Whether it be shielding our students from pornographic images to offensive language, never before has the need to supervise and monitor students and websites been greatest. As Web 2.0 (blogs, flikr, social bookmarking, wikis) plays an increasing use in our classrooms, many educators may fail to notice the inappropriate comment, word, or image that may one day suddenly appear on the social site they’re using with their students. Unfortunately this week, that educator was me.
Before I relate the experience, it has come to my attention lately that many of us that blog about education don’t always paint a complete picture of what’s happening in the classroom (thank you Bud for pointing that out). Along with the accents and hues of a painting, so must the tints and shadows exist for the viewer to more greatly appreciate the work. Before I risk continuing the whole “my blog is a work of art” metaphor (because I feel that it’s closer to a doodle than a piece of art), I’ll stop myself to share what I discovered this week about the Storybook Online Network that I shared during one of the March is Reading Month posts. Among the many student-authored stories on the site, there is a fantastic “submit your own story starter” feature in which anyone can submit one paragraph to start a new story. Similarly if you see a story that’s been started and want to contribute another paragraph to the project it’s as simple as filling out the form and submitting your writing. The ability to work collaboratively on “round robin” stories and mash-up writing becomes very engaging and attractive, however the downside (which I just realized this week) is something that all teachers should be aware of, and have probably experienced at one point or another.
While reading one of the stories that was still a work in progress, one of my students urged me to quickly come look at her computer while she hid the screen from other students’ eyes. I rushed over to take a peek and found several entries on more than one story which were nothing more than filthy words, profane language, and pathetic and juvenile attempts to derail the efforts of those writing the story. Needless to say I contacted the admin of the site to notify him or her of the problem, but was faced with a more pressing concern of the other students reading the site and using it for their own writing projects. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that while my students may use the site at home (I have no control over their Internet use there), we would have to stop using the site in school as I have no effective way of monitoring the dozens of new submissions and stories that are posted on the site each day. The anonymous nature of the site, while encouraging students of different background and abilities to share their writing, also encourages malicious users that are just looking for an easy way to ruin someone’s work. I have yet to determine what I will do. The concept of the site is brilliant, but the execution of the anonymous user submission is a problem. Until I figure out where to go next I just wanted to share the warning, and remind any teachers using their Internet for collaborative or social purposes to carefully select sites and closely monitor what your students are looking at online.