The opportunities for discussion, collaboration, engagement, and sharing among students, their class as a whole, and their teacher using the Schoology platform are extensive and exciting! The ability for a teacher to post an idea and engage in discussion, whether in the classroom or out, using the platform provides opportunities for students to share and engage in ways that are more inclusive and dynamic. This changes the way we teach in subtle ways that are difficult to define easily and communicate clearly.
Our classrooms used to be defined, in part, by one room with four walls. Technology is changing that as we have all witnessed in the past year. In years past, if a parent wanted to visit your classroom, an appointment was setup. Today, parents can meet virtually and also be present for much of what their child is doing on the Schoology platform. This increases a parent’s involvement in what is going on in the classroom.
We know that when parents are more engaged in their child’s learning, the child becomes more engaged. We also know that when children are more engaged, learning increases.
With this increased engagement, we have to make certain that platforms used in Wood County Schools are safe places for our students and our staff.
Recently, a word filter was enabled on Schoology. The platform allows for one word filter list across the entire district. This means that one list must apply evenly from pre-k to seniors in high school. The aim of the filter is to reduce exposure to language that is developmentally inappropriate for various age groups. The aim is not to be punitive nor restrictive of speech.
The filter was adapted from a similar list used by YouTube in its comments section of its videos. It filters for language that is deemed racist, vulgar, anti-Semitic, and more.
As educators, we have an obligation to protect our students from language that is not appropriate for their age group. However, this can get tricky at the high school level.
Within the platform, the filter applies to areas such as updates, blog posts, discussion comments, and more. Should a student use a word deemed not acceptable across the platform, for example, in a class discussion, his or her language will be replaced with the word ‘whoops!’.
The filter does not apply to other platforms used within Schoology. For instance, the filter will not affect a student submitting an assignment using Microsoft Word.
One way to think about it is that speech that is used in a public arena (i.e., discussion posts and comments) will be subject to the filter. Speech that is more private in nature (i.e., an essay submitted by a student in Word format) will not be subject to the filter.
This strikes a balance and allows educators to be the final arbiter of what language is most appropriately used in their classrooms by students, whether that be a physical classroom or online, particularly at the secondary level.
It should be emphasized that the aim of the filter is not punitive in nature. In fact, it provides opportunities for those teachable moments. When a student’s language is replaced with ‘whoops!,’ it gives the student the chance to edit her or his content and then choose different language or to initiate a discussion with the teacher about why the language needed to be amended. Also, to reiterate, essays, book reports, poetry, or any other assignment completed in, for example, Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, are not subject to the filter.
Our goal is to work towards fostering a safe and inclusive space for our students while safeguarding them from age-inappropriate content across the Schoology platform. It is also to encourage and inspire our students to use their voices and share their content while learning to balance their understanding of the freedom of speech and the appropriate use of language in a K-12 educational setting.