Course Blogs: Commenting Privately on a Student’s Post

Rebecca Burnett and I had a conversation about the nature of commenting on student blog posts. As instructors, should we have the option of making a private comment – viewable only to the student author, or should all comments be viewable to all students? There is an argument to be made for complete transparency in a course blog. I believe there are situations, however, where dialogue between an instructor and a student might benefit from a degree of privacy. The example that comes immediately to mind relates to marking a post. In the past, I have returned what I believe to be confidential communication regarding assignment feedback and grading to students through an external medium (email, rubrics uploaded to T-Square’s dropbox, emma, etc.). And yet I have thought it would be preferable for students to be able to read my feedback inline with their posts. I just wasn’t sure how to accomplish such a thing without making this confidential feedback publicly available.

The Whisper Comment Reloaded interface

After my discussion with Rebecca, I went digging around in WordPress’s Plugin Directory and found a viable candidate. It’s called “Whisper Comment Reloaded”, and offers a simple solution to the public/private comment conundrum. Add the Plugin to your blog and alter the settings as you see fit (I opted for “Whisper to an author of a blog post”, and that was about all I needed to do). Now, when I click the “Leave a Reply” link at the bottom of a post, an extra tick-box appears below the comment field. By ticking that box, the plugin invokes a “Whisper” – only the blog author and the administrator can see the comment. All other Authors – and I classify all my students as Authors – see only this message in the list of comments: (…whisper…).

Considering that there are approximately 18,000 WordPress Plugins listed in the WordPress Plugin directory, I expect there are other, similar and perhaps better solutions. I’d be eager to hear if anyone else has had an experience – good or bad – with a plugin like this.
Happy blogging!

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Diane Jakacki

About Diane Jakacki

Diane Jakacki received her PhD from the University of Waterloo, where she specialized in early modern printed drama, and participated in federally-funded digital humanities research projects. She has published two articles on applying social semiotic methods to early modern theatre history, an edition of Wit and Science, and co-authored an essay on developing digital image annotation tools. She is a software consultant to imageMAT and the Records of Early English Drama. At Georgia Tech she applies digital humanities methods to pedagogical solutions. Jakacki is currently developing researching the Elizabethan clown Richard Tarlton and his touring relationship with the Queen’s Men troupe.
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  1. This is indeed an important issue! Here’s a blog post by one of my former colleagues about three WP plugins that we found useful at CUNY:

    One of them called Grader, which sounds similar to the Whisper plugin you describe. But I thought it might be of interest, if only as an alternative.

  2. While I appreciate that some things, like grades for example, need to remain confidential between instructor and student, I would like to throw out the possibility that we might appropriately share our comments on student work with the rest of the class or even the public in some circumstances. Provided the student’s identity is kept confidential, if that is how she chooses to participate on the blog, making instructor feedback accessible can open up the blog as a kind of workshop or studio space. In the workshop/studio context, feedback on one student’s work can become a lesson for the class as a whole.

    Maybe there’s a way to strike a balance? What do you think about offering private commentary on individual blog posts and then giving more generalized feedback on the posts as a group, drawing some specific examples from the students’ work?

  3. You make a good point, Robin. I didn’t mean to advocate a completely private mode of communication. I like commenting on student blog posts openly. It is important to strike a balance, and I think there is great value in providing generalized feedback, as you say, in a forum that encourages open discourse. I also agree with you that there is benefit to draw together examples from a wider array of student work. I hope that Katy Crowther, whose article on encouraging students to take a more central in blog assignments was so instrumental to my current thinking about blog assignments (TECHStyle 11/12/2011 – will join the conversation regarding public and private commentary. Thanks!

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