Monday, September 24, 2012

Checking and changing security settings

Here is a video that shows you how to:
  • Make the blogs hidden from search engines, and
  • Block comments until further notice.
(the video may not show on iPads: it uses Flash)

Blog security

This is the second post to parents about the Gr 9 blogs.
Blogs work best when they have readership, however it is reasonable to be cautious about letting students broadcast ideas out in an unsupervised fashion.  Although they are already prolific users of social media, we do not expect our students to inherently understand the appropriate boundaries for these blogs, as they are very different than their typical informal social online presence; these are ‘professional’ sites and should reflect maturity and presence of mind. This is quite different from their ‘informal’ digital presence that they have in Facebook and other social media sites, where they use informal symbolic notation (phonetic spellings like ‘ur’ instead of ‘your’, etc) and post humorous and quick comments.  It is quite reasonable to assume that they have little, or no, experience maintaining a professional online presence, so these blogs provide a wonderful opportunity to help them develop this skill.

 They have all created profiles in ‘Blogger’, a simple and user-friendly blogging platform that is contained in the suite of tools provided to HKIS by our google.apps account (along with gmail, google calendar, google sites and several others). The shared platform means we can standardize instruction on how to use them and how to change and control settings. Ultimately, however, control over the settings is in the hands of the student, so it is important that adults regularly check to see that they are properly set.

Currently, as the students begin their creative process, we have asked them to make their blog settings such that no one can comment, and the URL address of the blog is hidden from search engines. As a result, the only people who can see their blog is someone to whom the URL is given directly. As of now, their blog address is stored in their user profile in myDragonNet, so only people with access to that password-protected site can find their site. Parents are welcome, and encouraged, to ask their sons or daughters for their blog addresses: these are meant to be showcases of their growth and achievement, and you can give them feedback on their posts and the appearance of their blogs.

Over the first year, once the blog has enough content to have a ‘tone’, we will instruct students on how to open their comment settings so others can provide feedback in a ‘moderated’ fashion. This means the author will still retain full control of what is seen; they can reject and not publish any inappropriate or non-constructive comments; hence the content of their blog is still entirely under their control. Likewise, at any point, if a post or title of a post is deemed inappropriate, the student can edit and change past posts, and even hide posts until they have reworked them into a form that they are proud to publish.

Blogging is a tremendously common social platform with people all over the world participating. As with virtually all school blogs, our own have a specific purpose: to document growth of understanding of the SLRs. At all times, important stakeholders will have the ability to see the growing content, while the student learns appropriate digital behavior. The author retains full control of their content, even posted comments, and can edit and ‘rework’ their content over time and as skills improve. Teachers, counselors, administrators and parents can all watch these products unfold during the students’ time at HKIS, and the author is welcome to share their blog with relatives and friends, as they choose. Parents are welcome and encouraged to subscribe to their child’s blog and discuss them together. Once there is a good record of posts that show the development of the student, they may choose to share them with summer employers, colleges or anyone else to whom they want to have see their development as a student at HKIS.

Next post: Setting up a google reader account so you can subscribe to your child’s blog.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Keeping parents and other stakeholders informed of the process is crucial. This is the text of the first of about 6 parent communications I will be sending home over the next 5-6 weeks.

This year, all Freshmen students have staked out a blog space where they will be guided through reflecting on their growing understanding of the SLRs during their time at HKIS. With our rich technological environment and 1:1 laptop program, we have all the right tools in our grasp to make this an authentic and valuable digital learning experience where the students can reflect upon and record their own growth over four years, with guidance, oversight and instruction.
A ‘blog’ (contraction of ‘web log’) is merely a digital presence; an online website where an author posts entries in reverse chronological order (newest on top) about some topic. Blogs can host a wealth of digital content; movies, photos, hyperlinks, embedded documents, and serve many purposes.
  • Interest blogs, where authors share their hobbies, like fashion, technology, movies or travel;
  • Information blogs, with info on family gatherings, concerts, etc or documenting an event;
  • Expert blogs, where the author provides guidance and resources for others with a similar interest. Many teachers post ideas for lessons via blogs of this type;
  • Collaborative blogs, where groups of individuals collaborate and enhance their communication channels;
  • Reflective blogs, where authors post their thoughts on a topic for an intended audience.
The main thing that all these types of blogs have in common is that the posts are done by individuals in a digital space, with the hopes that they will hold the interest of readers.

The student blogs are of the Reflective type. Over the course of this year, the counselors are teaching the students about the SLRs and their relevance to the HKIS learning experience. As these are transcendent ideas that exist across all courses and activities, they are not usually directly taught within a subject area, yet they are important to the HKIS learning experience. The blogs ensure that the students are mindful of their existence and reflective on their growing understanding. As they make reflective posts once or twice a month over the next few years, they will generate an historical record of their own developing understanding of the SLRs, and as a result can see and share evidence of their own growing maturity as thinkers and learners.

As a digital learning tool, blogs offer some tremendous opportunities, and accordingly schools worldwide are leveraging them. Students improve their literacy skills, learn appropriate online behaviors, improve their skills with using technology, develop a learning partnership with their family, school and friends, and generate a record of content and growth that is relevant and important. As students ‘grow’ their blog with more posts and take increasing pride in their production, they can also generate an audience of readers from among their friends and family, who can provide important feedback and validation for the student’s reflections. This is a truly authentic learning experience being developed under the watchful eyes of their counselors, homeroom teachers, peers and parents.

Next week: More on blog security, and how to check your child’s settings to ensure that you are comfortable with who does, and does not, have access.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Going Blog, part 4

So now we have successfully had all 187 Freshmen create blogs. The next step is to start getting the different audiences and mentors involved at a pace that is manageable for them, engenders their support and gives them a role, but also keeps them all in alignment with information, goals and objectives.

Since the HR teachers will be important mentors, I am working with them this week. Their role will be especially important in the realm of helping the kids make good value choices with how they present themselves publicly, how they cultivate their tone, and how they respond to others, I am helping all sixteen HR teachers create google.reader accounts, subscribe to their kids' blogs, and sometime in the next few days, to check that all the blogs have the following:
     -appropriate blog names
     -appropriate post titles
     -correct privacy and security settings (more on this)
     -appropriate URLs
     -the student is posting under an appropriate name.

The great news is that google has finally fixed the bundling problem in Reader! It's been around for years, but now it works: with two clicks, the teachers can share the entire class set of blogs with everyone else's reader page.

The security thing came up from a couple of parents. Some are less comfortable with their child's blog being accessible to the general public, so they found the setting to make the blog only readable to those who are invited. This solution has several problems.

First: by closing down visibility, no one can see the blog! Blogger only allows a single account to be a member of 100 blogs, so there is no way all 800 HS kids can have their blogs closed by default and still list me or the HS Admin as members.

Second: It's a solution to a problem that might not be as extensive as the parents' believe. There is no evidence of stalkers ever finding kids via monitored school blogs. Instead, data shows that overwhelmingly, situations that arise are in connection to a relative or someone who already knows the child. or through unsupervised social network sites. However, we want to help educate the parents as we accommodate their concerns, so it's important that the HR teachers are involved in the discussion.

Our solution is to have the kids of any concerned parents change their blog visibility settings so it is hidden from search engines. The steps are very easy: just go to the settings and look next to "privacy". This is analogous to having a house with the door unlocked, but the house is hidden in the woods. The blogs are 'open' (unlocked), but hidden. This way, parents can send the URL to relatives and friends who can read the blog, but search engines will not find it.

Of course, search spiders are clever, and this method is not 100% foolproof (what is?), but for now it provides an excellent level of control and assurance for anyone concerned.

We have, of course, discovered a new bug. When the teachers subscribe to this blog, they also see an old cached post from a different blog one of the ETS techs and I were working on a few weeks back! It's not even part of this blog...but somehow it is linked when to subscribing to this one. If anyone reading this (from among my hordes of followers) subscribes and sees this, let me know: the top post (Doesn't matter) should not be there. I'll let you know what I discover.