Using a WordPress Moderation plug-in to help cut down on inappropriate content on student blogs

If your students blog in the classroom, there are two basic ways to make sure their writing is appropriate. There are pros and cons to both methods.

Method #1: Students do not have publishing rights. The teacher moderates everything and nothing gets published without teacher approval.

This means the teacher is the bottleneck to the flow of conversation and creativity because the teacher has to check every single post before other students can see it. If you have 30 students in your class and they blog frequently, it quickly becomes overwhelming for the teacher to try to read everything. The benefit to this system is that nothing inappropriate gets online. The downside is that your students are getting bored waiting for you to approve their post, so it’s hard to build momentum in your student blogging network.

Method #2: Students have publishing rights. This means students can publish anything (gasp!), but are trusted to post responsibly. (Especially if they know that they have to login to post or comment, which means they can be held responsible.) The teacher monitors the website and takes down any inappropriate content.

The benefit to this approach is that students can publish their work and respond to their classmates at the speed of thought. The danger is that students might publish inappropriate content that can be viewed by others until it gets taken down (if it gets caught.)

Which method you choose is a personal choice. There’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on your comfort level and the maturity of your students. Here’s how you can set up your student accounts if you use WordPress for your class (or student) blogs:

Setting up your student WordPress accounts

  1. Log into your class WordPress site and click on users.
  2. You can select multiple students and then change their role.
  3. If you want Method #1 and you want a teacher to moderate all content before it gets published, students need to be set up as contributors. This means students will be able to edit and delete their posts, but they won’t be able to publish their posts. (On the post writing screen, when they want to publish something, there will be a button that says “submit for review” instead of “publish.”) Students who are set up as “contributors” cannot publish or edit their own published posts. This means that if a teacher publishes their work and the student goes in and tries to change something, they will have to click the “submit for review” button. (This is a good thing because it means that students can’t go in and add inappropriate content once the teacher has approved their work.)
  4. If you want Method #2 and you want students to be able to publish their own work, student accounts need to be set up as authors. This means students can edit, and delete their own posts as well as publish their own posts. They can also delete and edit their own published work.
  5. If you want to give a trusted student (or another teacher) the power to publish or edit other people’s work, then their account needs to be set up as editors. Editors can do a lot, so be careful who you give this much power to. These people will be able to moderate, edit, change, delete and publish other students work, including both post and comments. When you click on the posts screen, there’s a new option that lets you see all of the posts that are pending approval.

Three WordPress Plug-Ins to Help You Monitor and Cut down Inappropriate Student Content on Your Class Websites

If you do decide to go with method #2 and give your students publishing rights, then you want to use some sort of WordPress plug-in to help monitor what your students are writing. Here are two of the plug-ins used on Educircles –online literature circle and student blogging network. (You need to run your own self hosted WordPress class website in order to install your own plug-ins.)

#1. Moderation plug-in

A lot of big websites (i.e. YouTube, Facebook) use crowd sourcing to get users to flag inappropriate content. Teachers can do the same thing on their class websites and student blogs.

WPMU DEV has a premium WordPress moderation plug-in that lets students and visitors give you a heads up when there’s inappropriate content on the student blogging network. Once you activate this plug-in, it adds a little link to the bottom of your posts (or comments):

If you click on the link, it opens up a pop-up window where students can explain what the problem is. (You can customize the reason drop down list to suit your needs.) This is a pretty neat plug-in because one time, a student blatantly copied and pasted from the internet and another student simply reported the post with a link to the original website. You might need to explain this feature to your students because otherwise they might not know they can report inappropriate content, or they might spend all their time reporting other things. (A lot of my students use this pop-up window to report grammatical and spelling mistakes thinking that the student would get the messages. In fact, only the teacher gets the reports.)

If you run a WordPress multisite install to give each of your students their own blog, then this moderation plug-in will also add a report this blog link at the bottom of all of your students’ sites.

There is one big problem with this plug-in and that’s spam. In fact, I waste a lot of time going through the WPMU DEV moderation plug-in to delete a lot of false alarms.

Here are two examples of a spammed moderation report:

The plug-in developer knows about the spam issue, but it may not be a popular enough request to change.

#2. BuddyPress Moderation Plug-In

If you use BuddyPress, then you can use the free BuddyPress moderation plug-in, so that students can easily flag posts and comments as inappropriate.

BuddyPress is a great plug-in that turns your WordPress class site into a social networking site, but you might not want all of the features in BuddyPress on your class website or student blog. You can still use the BuddyPress moderation plug-in by activating the BuddyPress plug-in, disabling all of the BuddyPress social networking features, and then not using a BuddyPress theme (so that the extended profiles don’t show up.)

I’ve used both the BuddyPress moderation plug-in and the WPMU DEV moderation plug-in in the past.

  • I like the WPMU DEV plug-in a lot because students can write a quick message about why the post is inappropriate, but I really don’t like all of the spam and false alarms that I get with that plug-in.
  • On the other hand, I like the BuddyPress moderation plug-in because you don’t get spam, but the problem is that you don’t know why the students flagged the post as inappropriate. Sometimes students accidentally flagged content but don’t unflag their mistakes. Also, a student might flag content because they know it’s plagiarized, but when you check it out, it may not be obvious why it was flagged in the first place.

I might spend some time this summer seeing if there is a way to keep the WPMU DEV moderation plug-in from catching so much spam. Maybe there’s a way to add a honeypot to catch some of those flies.

#3. Content monitor plug-in

Another neat WPMU DEV premium plug-in is content monitor. You can basically set up your WordPress class website to send a teacher an e-mail every time someone writes a post with an inappropriate word.

Although the obvious use of this plug-in is to catch bad words, I use it to help maintain student privacy and to make sure students aren’t adding personal information to the blog posts. My students aren’t allowed to use their real names when publishing online, so if I add a list of student names, I get a quick e-mail every time someone makes a mistake.

This blog post was written by talking to my computer using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium and Microsoft Word.

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking is voice recognition software. (What’s the difference between Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home and Premium?)
  • The speech software correctly transcribed 98.4% of the words correctly (22 word errors out of 1367 words in the initial draft.)
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 14 punctuation or capitalization errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 97.4%.

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version.

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