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I'm a moderator for an online forum for a particular module at a distance-learning University.

Part of the job is to answer questions regarding course materials, the other main part is to be on the watch for inappropriate content (rudeness, giving answers away, etc)

In the event of students being rude to each other (which is rare), I wonder what the best approach is. For example:

I think your given use of fleebles to induce warbling is not a good idea for [reasons]. You must be really up-yourself to think that.

In this situation, am I better snipping the last part out (and leaving in the bit relevant to the discussion), removing the whole post, or even leaving the post there and only acting if the victim is offended. (Maybe there are other options out there?) I generally lean towards snipping, but I wonder if deleting the whole post is "cleaner" (I don't like deciding what can stay and what has to leave)

If the post was racist/homophobic/sexist/etc. then I would delete the whole post and report the student, I'm looking at cases which are rude and deserve a reminder to "be nice".

  • It is wholly up to the purpose of your forum and how you relate pedagogically to your students. If you want to use the opportunity to teach good rapport, then use the opportunity. It is to gather wide-ranging brainstorms and free thought from every corner, then ignore it. YOU have to decide the identity of the forum -- it is strictly a teacher-student relationship (and perhaps personal time) issue where there are many right answers. – TheDoctor Oct 2 '17 at 0:52
  • Does your forum have a "censor" text ability? Not like the spoiler one on StackExchange that lets you cover the text with black highlighting (making the original text visible), but rather, replaces the offending text with black blocks or asterisks? It would leave some context to the question that part of it was edited/censored for violating ToS. – Cloud Oct 2 '17 at 17:50
  • @TheDoctor its a CSci class in my case, but I can't really think of a subject where personal name calling would be encouraged (it might be different in the humanities for all I know though) – jambrothers Oct 2 '17 at 19:33
  • @DevNull not as a built-in feature. I can always write a tag <cut due to offensive content> although I worry about that being a name/shame type deal. – jambrothers Oct 2 '17 at 19:35
  • You could always just replace all censored text with an arbitrary-length string of * and just have a memo below: [DELETED] - Off topic. I always hated censor systems that deleted large parts of the original message, as the conversation loses context in many cases. Arguments/fights in the comments here on SE are a prime example when comments containing useful AND non-useful information are outright deleted. – Cloud Oct 2 '17 at 22:34
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Snip the last part out, send a private message to the poster reminding them of the behavioral standards expected in the course forum.

I don't see any reason to remove the whole post, if there are parts that are appropriate. Removing the whole post makes it seem like your motivation is to punish the poster, rather than to keep the forum professional and constructive.

I would recommend against leaving rude comments there until/unless someone takes offense. This is a forum that is hosted and moderated by you, not your students. It is your responsibility as an educator to create a constructive learning environment (to the extent that you can). It's not your students' responsibility - they have to be responsible for their own actions, but they shouldn't have to be responsible for making you respond to other students' actions.

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    @tpg2114 A private class forum is not a "public forum" (in the 1st amendment sense) and so even a public university can restrict speech on that forum if there is a legitimate reason to do so. See e.g. this document for overview of some of the legal issues. – ff524 Oct 1 '17 at 21:03
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    If you edit a post, remember to mark clearly as edited (e.g. "inappropriate content removed by moderator"). – Pere Oct 1 '17 at 21:58
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    @Pere I would advise against publicly "shaming" the student who posted rude content like that. Every forum software I've used will automatically mark a post as edited, and note the editing user and time; that seems sufficient to me. – ff524 Oct 1 '17 at 22:09
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    A reasonable edit message is "[Moderator: Off-topic content deleted]". This is something I've seen done on forums and it serves several purposes quite well: (1) the poster is alerted to the fact that a certain part of their comments are unwanted, (2) the poster isn't given any incentive to cry foul, because people are unlikely to defend off-topic content (provided it really is off-topic), and (3) the poster loses no face (who doesn't occasionally post off-topic?). – darij grinberg Oct 1 '17 at 22:49
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    @darijgrinberg Personally my preference when using forums for teaching is just "Edited by [me] at [date/time]" (which the software does automatically) without specifying any more than that. But I don't object to your formulation either. – ff524 Oct 1 '17 at 22:56
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You can also consider imposing a stricter rule where you remove all comments that are not directly related to the subject matter. You can also let the first comment that goes off topic stand and then intervene in such a thread by saying "the previous comment strayed off topic, let's get back to discussing the topic". That comment that strayed off topic can then serve as an example of a conversation that will be stopped on the forum.

An email list that I'm a member of where researchers discuss a specialized topic is moderated in this way. Sometimes someone gets carried away and starts to discuss politics that's tangentially related to the topic matter. The moderator of the list will then call on the participants to stop discussing this, but this typically happens after a few such posts.

By keeping a short leash on anything that deviates from the topic, you make it difficult for rude comments to creep in. The rule is easy to apply uniformly, if you only intervene when there is a rude comment, then you may be accused of unfair moderation as there may have been similar comments in the past that you've let stand.

  • This is an interesting idea, but I don't want to stifle debate. As its a distance learning institution the forums are the primary place for students to discuss both course and non related course matters. (And in my case, we have specific "chat" boards for each module). Might work for someone else though! – jambrothers Oct 2 '17 at 6:59

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