It’s 2010, and all of our K-12 schools should have dynamic, interactive websites. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that is not the case today in many schools. I’m contacting different school leaders and educators in advance of my December 14th and 15th workshop series on Google Tools in Oklahoma City, and ran across the following “Technology Support” website for Drumright Public Schools in Oklahoma.

Turn Comment Moderation On

Apparently comment moderation is NOT turned on for the official school website, and no one has seen that in July an educational vendor from Florida left a comment on the site. There is no other content on this “About Technology Support” webpage besides this vendor’s self-promotional comment, which seems to have been copied from email. While this comment is not profane or offensive, it’s certainly not content a school wants on its official website. In the sidebar of the page, the email address of Beasley Technology Inc. of Cushing, Oklahoma is provided. Apparently they helped the Drumright school setup their website powered by Scholastic Communications‘ proprietary content management system / platform.

It’s great to see Drumright schools has moved to a more interactive website! This is a HUGE improvement over the 1999-era Microsoft Frontpage-created websites which are still common for many of our 500+ Oklahoma public school districts. It’s vital, however, that interactive commenting on official school websites be MODERATED regularly by teachers or administrators at the school. This isn’t something which should be outsourced to a vendor (who many not make time to check the comment queue regularly) or to students. Failing to enable comment moderation on a school website leaves the entire organization wide open to a potentially controversial situation, when trolls or others post offensive information as well as links to the site. That type of situation can lead to an unfortunate as well as preventable backlash from parents, the community, and school administrators AGAINST interactive web publishing.

The screenshot below shows the comment moderation dashboard from the WordPress-based blog used for the free, K-12 Online Conference. WordPress is open-source and free. If your school website is not interactive and does not support comment moderation, consider switching to a content management system which is and does.

Comment Moderation on WordPress

I emailed both the Drumright school superintendent as well as Beasley Technology before sharing this post, letting them know about this issue and recommending they enable comment moderation on their website. Hopefully we’ll see many more schools in Oklahoma and elsewhere embrace safe, moderated, interactive web publishing in the months and years ahead. The success and speed of those hyperlinked writing efforts depends (to a large degree) on the positive experiences of “pioneer” schools like Drumright who are moving forward with advanced web platforms for teachers as well as students to utilize.

If your school website or another school website you come across has open commenting but no comment moderation, take a few minutes to let the school administrators know why this is dangerous. Be sure to emphasize your SUPPORT for comment moderation, but your concern that the school should turn ON moderation. If the current vendor or web CMS can’t provide moderation as a feature, that’s a reason to switch to another solution. WordPress is a great option to consider, particularly since it’s free/open-source and widely utilized today in business as well as educational contexts. There can still be costs involved with a WordPress site, for hosting and design, but those costs can be far less than the prices some schools are paying today for glitzy but NON-interactive websites which do not permit visitors to leave comments.

For a great example of an Oklahoma public school which has embraced the constructive value of interactive web publishing, visit the website of Howe Public Schools. This year the district is using a Ning website, “Paws to Praise,” to share news, student work, and more from teacher classrooms. The school’s journalism class uses a channel on Ustream to webcast shows “live” for a local as well as remote viewing audience, and teachers are utilizing Moodle as a curriculum portal. Last year teachers utilized a WordPress blog as a “team blog,” but this year have moved to Ning because of the richer media-sharing and interactive features of the site.

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