Sorry about my lack of response to comments recently. I will rectify that sson. Thanks for being patient.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Commenting

If there is one thing which really characterises Web 2.0, it’s the ability to comment on people’s work. Commenting is what can, or at least should, make a conversation possible. In this article I’d like to look at comments from both an educational and an etiquette point of view.


I’ve been to several presentations in which the speaker shows a screenshot of someone’s MySpace page indicating that they’ve received 1500 comments about something they’ve posted. My take on this is as follows:

  • How can anyone read, let alone respond to, 1500 comments?
  • If most of the comments are ‘Wow’, or ‘Cool’, how does that benefit the originator of the post, except for giving them an ego boost?

A more important, but more difficult to measure, criterion is how much influence your post has. Shelly Terrell made the following observation in a response to one of my articles:

I have used these posts at various times so just because I'm not commenting on them doesn't necessarily mean they weren't useful.

I’ve sometimes had people say to me, months after I’ve written an article that nobody commented on, that they found it useful.

Also, it’s now possible to read an article in one place and comment about it in another. I typically see comments about my articles on othert blogs, in Twitter and on Facebook. It’s possible, through the magic of RSS feeds, to collate various streams into one place and display it on your website. I find that looks a bit too messy for my liking.

Something I have done in order to keep track of when I or my articles are mentioned anywhere is to set up a Google Alert and a Twitter alert. These let me know, by email, whenever my name is mentioned on the internet.

It seems to me that used wisely, comments on students’ work could form part of your assessment for learning approach. The key to success in this respect is as follows:

  • Be aware of when comments are posted.
  • Discuss the comments, and what might be learnt from them.
  • Work out suitable responses whilst taking into account e-safety and time management issues.


I have set myself the following rules:

  • I always try to respond to comments. If someone has gone to the trouble of making a comment, the least I can do is acknowledge it.
  • I never post anything which is likely to offend people, such as swear words.
  • If someone makes a sensible-sounding comment, but has a website like ‘’, I won’t publish it.
  • If someone tries to advertise their services in a comment, when the service has nothing to do with the subject in hand, I won’t publish it. Sometimes, I’ll even report it as spam.
  • I never respond to trolls, which is the name given to people who are just plain nasty. They have no interest in furthering the conversation, and usually hide behind a wall of anonymity. If you get targetted by a troll, it’s a compliment in a way because these people only attack those who are patently better than themselves, ie more educated or more informed. The common advice is: don’t feed the trolls. That is, don’t give them any attention. Here is a great post on this subject:

Trolls, meatheads and my mom

I like this video too:

Don’t feed the trolls

That video is a good thing to show to pupils to convey the effects of cyberbullying (because that’s what trollism is) on people.

I also love this feisty response to troll comments. Go to the YouTube site itself for the lyrics.


I found this on the Grammar Girl site about making comments online. It’s a great post and you should definitely read it with your students.

I’d love to know what you think of my comments on comments – but nice ones only please!






Comments on Students' Work

Three reasons why this is good news, three reasons it worked for me, and two necessary preconditions.

In one of those all-too-common moments in which the future catches up to the past, Angela McFarlane, revealed recently that audio comments by teachers on their students’ work is proving very effective. So what, if anything, is significant about this? Plenty.

Professor McFarlane was speaking at the Naace 2009 Conference, and by ‘audio comment’ she was referring to a spoken message by the teacher. This worked, apparently, because students interpreted it as showing a lot of interest in them personally. I suspect it also worked because students tend not to read comments unless you specifically ask them to, for instance when you give them their work back.

Useful feedback?Now, I think the news about the audio comment is good, for three reasons. First, the whole point of commenting on a student’s work is to get them to act on it in some way. If they’re not reading your comments, what’s the point? So it’s good that they actually listen to audio comments.

Second, there’s a teacher workload issue. If you can talk faster than you can write, then why not record your comments? Makes perfect sense to me.

Third, it vindicates (after all these years) my own practice when I was a teacher, which was as follows. I took the view that it is difficult to always give copious high quality feedback on 30 pieces of work for each of 10 classes at least once a week. So what I tended to do was write short notes on most of the work most of the time, but I would supplement that by having in-depth discussions with each student during the lessons themselves. I worked on the basis that if I saw 6 students a lesson for these talks, I could see each one twice over the course of a term.

This worked really well, for the following reasons:

1. The students appreciated the fact that they were getting quality attention.

2. The process helped me get to know each student, and their strengths and weaknesses. Twice a term may not sound like a lot, but that equates to 6 quality interactions a year in addition to the normal classroom discussions and comments on their work.

This, as far as I’m concerned, is what assessment for learning, and assessing pupils’ progress, are all about. However, for audio comments to be effective, two things have to be in place:

1. The teacher needs a good record-keeping system in order to be able to remember what she said to whom. There’s no point in an in-depth conversation with a student if the next time you meet you can’t remember what you talked about. You need to be able to say things like, “I can see from this piece of work that you’ve been working on the research side of things that we talked about last time.”

2. The student needs a good way of recording what your feedback was, otherwise it’s ephemeral and all but useless. I used to ask them to write down the key points in their school or homework diaries. In the course of evaluating or inspecting schools’ ICT provision I’ve come across effective variations of this, whereby students are given a template, or a cover sheet, in which they fill out boxes with headings such as “Things I did well”, and “Things I need to improve.”

In other words, I don’t think one can escape the written word entirely when it comes to marking students’ work, but an arrangement in which spoken and written comments support each other can be most effective.

Wordle summary:

Wordle: Feedback



Wasteful Widgets #3: Recent Comments

Many blogs display recent comments, either by the blog owner or other people. I've implemented this myself in the past, but now have reservations about doing so, for the following reasons.

Firstly, I'm not a legal expert but I should have thought that if you're going to display people's comments somewhere other than where they originally posted them, you should at least warn people that you may do so. A lot of blogs don't.

Even if you don't need to from a legal point of view (and I imagine that would depend on which country you reside in), it seems to me to be the right thing to do anyway, which is why the Terms and Privacy policy on this website states that if you post a comment it may be used elsewhere on the site, or in the newsletter.

However, there is also a moral dimension: is it right to take someone's comment out of context, without at least some clarifying text? Perhaps most of the time this won't be an issue, but imagine this scenario:

Suppose I read on someone's blog that she wrote an article for a commercial magazine, for no pay in order to get her foot in the door, and has now been told that they are not interested in commissioning her for any paid work. However, because her article was pretty good they would always be interested in receiving more, just not in paying for them.

I might write a comment like, "Your first mistake was writing an article for free. You should always agree on the fee before putting pen to paper, as it were."

Taken out of context, that could be quite reputation-damaging. It suggests, for example, that I would only write an article if I am going to be paid money for it. Anyone reading the comment will not have the benefit of seeing the context in which it was made.

In this respect, automatically posting recent comments suffers from a similar consideration to posting Twitter conversations, ie they only make complete sense in context.

As for posting your own comments automatically, I don't see the point in that at all, unless it's to demonstrate to all and sundry how ubiquitous you and your wisdom are. But again, taken out of context, your own comments have little meaning in my opinion.

What I think would be quite handy would be an application that collates comments from all over the place on a particular blog post. I sometimes have few comments on the blog itself, but they appear elsewhere such as on Twitter of Facebook.

I think overall, my objection to automatic comment posting from an educational point of view is that it represents a poor use of ICT in education. To my mind, ICT should seek to solve a problem or answer a question, not be used just for its own sake. Perhaps if someone could explain the point of displaying comments somewhere other than where they were put in the first place I'd feel differently about it.

No comment

Well, Freedman, it has come to my attention that you've been rather lax in responding to comments. What do you have to say for yourself? And stop fidgeting, boy! mortarboard.png
Er, it wasn't my fault, Sir.
It "wasn't my fault, Sir"? Then whose fault was it? The little green men from Mars?
No, Sir. It was the program, Sir.
Program? What program? Do try and make some sense, lad. You sound like a gibbering idiot.
I thought it was set to send me an email when someone commented, Sir.
In other words, you hadn't set it properly.
No, Sir. I mean, yes, Sir. I mean, I did, but it undid itself.
Undid itself, boy? Have you taken leave of your senses? Don't answer that, Freedman. Have you corrected it now?
Yes, what?
Yes, Sir, Sir.
Good. And when might you be responding to the aforementioned comments? Some time in the next decade one hopes?
Today, Sir.
Good. And when you've done it, I want you to show me proof. Bring me the internet first thing in the morning.
Er, but...
No, on second thoughts, print it out, and leave it for me at the staffroom.
But, but, Sir, erm --
Are you quite alright, boy? Do get a grip. Now, to help you remember such basic etiquette in future, take 500 lines.
Take them where, Sir?
Are you trying to be impudent, boy? Make that 1,000 lines. At the staffroom tomorrow morning, 8:30 sharp. "I will monitor comments on my website every day, and respond in a timely manner."
Yes, Sir.
And Freedman?
Yes, Sir?
No copying and pasting.