Choose Your Own Spam

Despite the fact that this is hardly a high traffic site (and probably doesn’t rise to the level of low traffic), I still get my share of comment spam. While almost all of it is caught by Akismet, the wonderful WordPress anti-spam plugin, a few pieces a week arrive in my mailbox for moderation.Trackback spam

With very few exceptions, the messages are very transparent attempts at flattering an administrator into clicking the Approve link and look very similar. Almost as if the comment was created from a template.

Today one spammer didn’t even bother with rudimentary edits and sent the templates for me to choose my own crap.

{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. {It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.| I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.

I feel much better about my writing now.

They included about thirty other examples. If you’re interesting in going into the comment spam business, let me know. I’d be glad to forward the whole DIY package.

Getting Past The Fear

On my short rant last Friday about my frustration with the lack of forward momentum in our first year BYOD program, Allan1 left a long comment telling me just how wrong I am.

Sorry, I can’t accept any of it.

It’s always hazardous to summarize someone else but in essence Allan’s primary argument seems to be that we shouldn’t allow students to bring their own devices because no school has enough resources to control what students will do with them.

VJaying with videos of students acting inappropriately in the school halls or community set to music and posted on Youtube, vulgar emails sent to administrators or teachers, multiplayer video games being played on school servers, videotaping student fights for posting on Youtube, students inappropriately accessing teacher online classroom portals, online bullying, sexting, etc.

Of course, none of that is happening now in schools where electronic devices are banned, right?

We are forever blah, blahing about the need to differentiate instruction for students2, while at the same time we insist on treating every kid exactly the same way outside of class. How many kids are we talking about in that paragraph?

I can’t speak for all high schools, but in our district, the numbers of students who willfully misuse the technology in the way Allen describes is very small. I’d bet that most teachers and administrators could identify those most likely to screw up like that by the second week of school. So, why do we treat the other 98% as if they will behave the same way?

Which brings up the matter of where students learn the ethics of working online. Again limiting things to our system, schools certainly don’t teach it. They learn from each other. Maybe if we did more than read them a long list of rules (our’s runs some 60 pages) and helped them understand the issues early in life, we would have even fewer who violate those rules. Better yet, involve the kids in crafting the rules in the first place.

At the very end, Allan actually brings up two issues that are far more important in this discussion than any fear of student misconduct.

What happened to all of the research that demonstrated 2 students working on a computer enabled collaboration which resulted in more retention than direct instruction?

Good question and one that goes directly to the process of genuinely integrating technology into instruction. It’s going to require a lot of work helping teachers understand how to use the devices students are bringing. When is it best to allow individual use and when will kids benefit from working together?

So, are we really interested in making a computer available to every student?

If school systems are so eager for 1 to 1 ratio, break out the checkbook and issue every student a laptop or pad.

Completely agree. We should issue a computing device to every student when they enter middle school (maybe earlier) and then budget to replace it every three years. Plus the infrastructure necessary to support it all.

Ain’t gonna happen, at least not in a system as big as ours with close to 180,000 students. And not with the commitment to traditional textbook driven instruction we have. An issue for another rant.

Anyway, I’ve certainly heard all the fears behind allowing students to use these powerful communications tools in schools. However, the potential of BYOD programs far outweigh all of those mostly unfounded fears.


1 Since the IP address of the comment comes from within our district’s network and the name is not in our email directory, I suspect the name is a pseudonym. No matter.

2 Despite the mounting evidence that the whole theory of learning styles is not credible. A topic for another rant.

Don’t Say Anything We Don’t Like

The Parents Television Council is one of those groups which patrols the media in a never ending effort to purge all family-unfriendly materials. As defined by the members of the council, of course.

In their latest report, the PTC is not happy with YouTube.

However, it’s not the videos themselves that has the members of the organization most upset.

While the survey praises YouTube for prohibiting outright pornographic videos and “algorithmically demoting” sexually suggestive fare, the decency group criticizes the company for taking no steps to reign in user comments, which its authors find at least as disturbing as the videos themselves.

PTC’s researchers did searches using what they defined as “child friendly” terms. These included “Miley Cyrus,” “Jonas Brothers,” “High School Musical,” and “Hannah Montana,” which they say resulted in “highly offensive” content in the text commentary areas below the videos produced by the search.”

Ars Technica did a similar search for “child friendly” terms and found lots of bad spelling and grammar but nothing that would rise to the “highly offensive” category.

So, how does the PTC think we should solve this epidemic of bad language on the web? Through censorship, of course.

In any event, the group wants YouTube to take action on the terrible comments they supposedly found, “by formulating and adopting a thorough, accurate and transparent content rating system which would allow a parent to block a child from viewing age-inappropriate material.”

Ironically, as Ars Technica notes, “it did not occur to PTC’s analysts that the Hannah Montana commentaries they cite may have been written by the very children that the morals group says it wants to protect.”

And once the comments at YouTube are thoroughly scrubbed clean, I wonder which of the millions of other sites that allow open commenting will be next to get the PTC treatment.

Interesting Connections

If you’ll indulge me a little navel gazing concerning incoming links to this rantfest…

It’s always great when someone references something I’ve written in one of their posts.

However, I get an even bigger kick when the post is written in a language I don’t understand – and which doesn’t work well in the online translators.

ובתרגום חופשי- הדבר הקשה ביותר לחיקוי בעבודה בגוגל אינו דווקא תנאי העבודה, אלא ההבנה היא שאם אתה מעסיק אנשים אינטליגנטיים בעבודה ומעניק להם חופש להשתמש באינטליגנציה שלהם, הם יפתיעו אותך בדברים הנפלאים ביותר העולים על הדעת.Tim Stahmer מהרהר על מאמר זה בבלוג שלו ומעלה שאלה מעניינת הנוגעת לנושא החינוך והלמידה בבתי ספר וחושב שחיקוי של דרך החשיבה של מנהלי Google לא היתה מזיקה גם בבתי ספר:

And then there’s the honor of being included in Stephen Downes daily collection of links, the OLDaily. His comments are always appropriate, not to mention fun.

The problem with the advice that we should “run schools like a business” is that we don’t know whether the speaker means a business like Google, or a box factory.