The education community needs a better online discussion tool

The Educator News homepage.

The Educator News homepage.

I just finished building Educator News, and I’d like to explain a bit about why I built the site. It’s an early draft of what I want it to be, but the basic functionality is there. If you would like to see a beter online conversation about education taking place, take a look and share your feedback.

I have wanted to find an education-focused site that has these criteria:

  • Good submissions. Good submissions are articles that offer some specific insights about how to do education well. Good submissions offer specific critiques of certain issues in education. Artilces may be political in nature, but good submissions avoid anything to do with simply spreading FUD.
  • Good comments. Good comments contribute to a constructive conversation about education. Good comments respond to specific points in the article being discussed, and to other points people are raising. Like good submissions, good comments avoid spreading FUD. And of course, good comments are respectful of other people even in the midst of heated disagreement.
  • Good community. A discussion site needs a healthy, active community in order to be interesting. People need to submit thought-provoking and informative articles, and read some of the submissions that others share. People need to encourage positive submissions and commenting behavior, and respectfully but decisively address poor submissions and poor commenting behavior.

I have never found a strong education-focused news and discussion site online. The sites I have found all suffer from some significant drawbacks – they are not very active; they are active, but there is not much substance to the discussion; they are active, but they only focus on one aspect of education.

A clear set of guidelines is critical for building a strong community.

A clear set of guidelines is critical for building a strong community.

What does Educator News offer that should make it a strong community? I believe EN has the right structures to create a better online conversation about education:

  • An upvoting system for submissions. Upvote the submissions that add to the conversation, and ignore the sumissions that distract from a meaningful conversation. If people do this consistently, the front page will be full of meaningful submissions and free of low-quality submissions.
  • A flagging system for submissions. If a submission is pure spam, or otherwise completely inappropriate, you can flag the submission. Flagged submissions will be reviewed, and can be set invisible by moderators.
  • A system for ignoring bad domains. When some domains are identified as consistently being a source of inappropriate or low-quality submissions, these domains can be ignored. The community will no longer need to manage submissions from these domains individually.
  • A system for upvoting comments. Everyone who registers on Educator News can upvote comments. Upvoting is not about agreeing with a comment; it is more about encouraging well-written, thoughtful responses.
  • Downvoting comments is a privilege. When users gain enough experience on Educator News, they can then help downvote non-constructive comments. There is a clear set of guidelines for what kinds of comments we want to avoid. This includes abusive and offensive comments, but it also includes vague comments such as “I agree!” and “Me too!” These kinds of comments tend to clutter up online discussions.
  • A system for flagging comments, and ignoring users. If a comment is abusive, seriously offensive, or way off-topic, the comment can be flagged instead of downvoted. Flagged comments are reviewed, and these comments can be ignored. When a comment is ignored, it becomes invisible to everyone else on the site. If a user consistently makes inappropriate comments, their entire account can be made invisible to everyone else.

Not an echo chamber

There is a bit of a danger, when building a new community, of creating an echo chamber for your own ideas. Educator News is not an echo chamber. When I built EN, I put aside all of my opinions on what makes good education except for one: I want people to disucss the substance of ideas that relate to education. I put aside my own political beliefs about education, and simply focus on helping to facilitate meaningful, evidence-based conversation. It’s the same thing I do on a daily basis when guiding conversations between students in my classroom.

If you’d like to help build a high-quality conversation about education, please join us at Educator News!

Note: Educator News is modeled after Hacker News, which I have learned a great deal from over the last few years. For the technically-minded, EN is a fully open project, and you can see the Github repo if you are interested. It’s ugly MVP code for now, but I am steadily cleaning it up. Feel free to open an issue.


About ehmatthes

Teacher, hacker, new dad, outdoor guy
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