What do a peacock, Emily Dickinson and Class have in common? (Word Censorship in Moodle)

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Profanity censorship. The purpose of today’s post is to share with you how I enable a-Year-2008 improved Moodle censorship filter on my site. I will let you know how I tweaked it to achieve the desired effect. So at the end of this post, you will know how to enable the ‘new’ Censorship filter that allows a good word list while censoring bad words. You will also know how to generate a list of good words that contain a swear word. Like the word mishit, or peacock, or Emily Dickinson. Okay, I think you get the picture.

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Do you enable the word censorship filter of your Moodle site? I suspect that there is a high chance that you do not. There are many who consider it useless and ethically challenging. Some may have disabled it because it takes up processing time. My guess is that 99% of forum users are well-behaved and post appropriate and politically correct text in a Moodle forums. After all, forum participants can be identified by their Moodle username. Okay, but what about the renegade 1% for whom profanity may be common-place in their vocabulary? If the technology allows that 1% to post what we would consider as profane words, should we care enough to do something?

Times, they are a-changing. What used to shock us decades ago no longer shocks society at large. Many of our modern movies, if we care to admit it, contain profanity. In the heat of the moment, in their excitement or just sheer frustration, a forum user might let loose a bomb-word in a forum post. By the time the offense is detected, the damage may have already been done.

So do we really need to enable this feature? In its native form, I would say “no”. However, if we could modify and improve the existing standard Moodle censorship filter, and depending on the subject that you teach, I would say that there is a case for it. By the way, the Word Censorship settings can be found at: Site Administration > Plugins > Filters.

For those of you who do enable it, you might have discovered that the standard censorship filter has a problem. It can be overzealous in its work. This forum post highlights another complaint. For example, suppose the word ass were a bad word to be filtered. Then the word amass, which is a legitimate and word, would be censored as am***. Ironically, the word in this format can be even more offensive. Such censorship draws the user’s attention to the censored word. The student or child may ask, why is that word censored? Oh! That’s why! This is a classic case of technology exacerbating a problem instead of alleviating it. On a related issue, check out http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/The-Clbuttic-Mistake-.aspx for laughs.

Okay, back to Moodle’s standard censorship filter. As Anthony Borrow rightly reasons in this Moodle.org forum, the best way to counter profanity in the online classroom is to monitor, supervise, educate and hold the user accountable for his actions and words. True, but wouldn’t it be better if the user forum dos-and-donts were coupled with a censorship filter that could also recognise a good word list? Meaning that the Moodle filter would censor the text asses and smartass but leave the words assassin and Massachusetts alone?

This problem was actually solved by John White in 2008. John documented an improved Moodle censorship filter (with overrides) in this moodle.org forum. In that post, John explained how he wrote the filter to be as efficient in processing as possible.  To download the improved censorship filter for Moodle 1.9., surf over to this moodle.org forum or click on this download link. For installation instructions and for more images and text, click here.

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