KA Hearth

A small blog where Matthias posts thoughts on things happening around Khan Academy. About Me

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Legolas’s Original Post

Hey there, Many of the older members of the KA computing platform know who I am, but some of the more recent additions to the community may be less aware of who I am so I’ll give a quick introduction to give a bit of credibility to this post. I’ve been an active member of the KA community for five years now. I used the math section through high school, I used the SAT prep to prepare for college entry, and throughout it all I was a programmer in the KA computer programming community. I was one of the people who created graphics and programs that newer people looked up to, and over the years I collected a large following of supporters of the KACP area. Two or three years ago I also became a support advocate and helped out here on the help center when I could. Now I’m a junior in college. While I’m not as active as I wish I could be, I make programs every now and then and have kept up a daily streak of more than 1300 days. I also am the owner of the largest Discord server dedicated to KA with hundreds of members joined. All that goes to say, I would say I’m an experienced, mature user of the community who has contributed and received significantly from the site. I really appreciate what KA has given me and I’d like to give back in any way I can. Which leads me to this post. As I became more and more involved with KA, especially when I started the Discord server two years ago, I began to hear stories from members of the community regarding the guardians on the site. Personally, I really appreciate the force of Guardians. It takes a lot of dedication to moderate a website at all, not to mention one filled with younger people. Throughout all the shared experiences and personal observations I’ve come up with a list of changes that I believe are necessary for the Guardian system. The Guardians are intended to be a group of moderators enforcing the rules to keep everyone safe. This includes child-accounting underage users, banning users engaging in inappropriate activities, and moderating chatting like tips and thanks and questions. Obviously, that’s a great thing. It’s important to have a group of people behind the scenes helping to do this. It’s beneficial to KA as well to recruit volunteers to perform these tasks. And KA has measures taken to ensure that Guardians who are hired are indeed working to make Khan Academy a better place. But at the end of the day, there are issues with the Guardian system. What I’ve pondered and discussed for months are three simple problems which have simple solutions. I’ll go into more detail about these problems below the bullet points.

1. Guardians need more transparency

The Guardian position is all about making sure users are following the Guidelines. For example, if a Guardian finds evidence that a user is underage then the user is child-accounted. However, the Guardians have the ability to perform actions like these without the user even knowing what happened. There is the ability for a Guardian to send a special “Guardian message” but there is no way to respond to the message if the user is confused or has questions about what the message is about. I believe that the Guardian system should be much more transparent. Every time a significant action (Ban, child-account, etc) happens, a Guardian message should be mandatory. I’m not aware of a place where there are records of Guardian actions on accounts, but if there is no recording system there should be one to hold Guardians accountable. In addition, there should be a contact within the Guardian message for the user to be able to contact either the Guardian or a Help Center representative for more clarification regarding the Guardian message. With the current system, abuse of power is very possible, and according to some accounts I have heard, it may already exist.

2. Guardians need more consistency

Disciplinary actions are necessary according to the nature of Khan Academy. It’s important to not only incorporate more transparency but also more consistency regarding the actions taken on users. From many accounts I’ve heard over the years, the Guardian system is inappropriately inconsistent with discipline, especially regarding bans and warnings. I’ve heard of some users given warning after warning without further consequences, while others are banned for minor infractions. If there was more transparency regarding these actions, I believe the problem of inconsistent discipline would be solved. Ideally, reasons for each action would be recorded along with any communication regarding the action. Therefore, consistency would be encouraged as a secondary consequence of transparency.

3. Guardians need more appropriate disciplinary actions

I think there are two common actions which Guardians do that are excluded from this point: Discussion edits and child-accounting. For obvious reasons these are not really actions that can be inappropriately used. On the other hand, banning is an action that can be and has been used in ways far exceeding the “crime.”

Since this is one of the most important points I will include several examples of how banning has been inappropriately used to discipline users.

Banning is considered the ultimate punishment besides actually deleting a user’s account. As far as I know, there are multiple levels of a ban that last varying amounts of time. During a ban, the user’s discussion ability is removed, and projects above a certain vote limit are hidden.

That might sound fine, but at the end of the day, it really isn’t.

Several years ago, a user called the #1 Base 12 Proponent (#1B12) was banned. As it says in his current bio, #1B12 wasn’t exactly the most polite user. He was known for making some harsh comments before his ban. However, there is another factor in the mix. #1B12 was also the creator of the top program in the whole KACP community with ten thousand votes, and multiple more projects with thousands of votes. When he was banned, these projects were hidden, permanently. Some of these projects were the core programs in the community, inspiring, entertaining, and educating literally thousands of students.

Isaac Emerald was also a popular programmer who contributed many, many programs as well. Most of them had hundreds or thousands of votes. For years, Isaac Emerald was one of the most inspiring programmers contributing some of KA’s best projects. Hundreds and hundreds of users learned from his code. However, Isaac released a project with religious hints over the summer. The project was hidden, and Isaac spoke up. He was promptly banned, with all of his projects hidden.

#1 Base 12 Proponent and Isaac Emerald were both well known programmers who made mistakes that may have warranted disciplinary action. But did their relatively minor crimes deserve the destruction of literal years of work and dedication? After their bans, both of the promising programmers went inactive, never to return. And they are only two users out of many who have had projects hidden and work lost from view forever.

Bans should only apply to discussion privileges. Inappropriate projects should be hidden of course, but discussion-based breaking of the guidelines should be corrected by removing those privileges.

Khan Academy is intended to nurture users and help them grow in their skills in whatever subject they are learning. How does hiding years of work help one learn anything except that one can be punished severely for a minor infraction?

None of my above points were made with a grievance towards Khan Academy. For years I’ve been a mature user and haven’t been affected at all by how the Guardians are moderating the site. My points for how KA needs improving come from a sense of wishing the site to be better.

Thanks for reading,

Legolas Greenleaf

Support Advocate and KA User

My Original Post

I agree wholeheartedly with Legolas. I want to emphasize the scope of this issue.

  1. This has been going on for years. I first criticized the lack of transparency from guardian actions in Jun 2016, when Light Runner was banned for the first time, and many discussions of his ban were removed, all for unstated reasons. This issue has only gotten worse, in part as KA has moved from volunteers to contracted moderators. This shift has negatively effected the KA CP section, if not the site as a whole.
  2. The sheer number of prominent community users who have been banned. To be clear, these bans are in some cases warranted, but in all cases there is no official reason given. I do not wish for these users to be unbanned necessarily, merely that KA would unhide some programs, and show more discretion going forward. My informal list of users that I knew that have been banned:

Again, many of these users deserved to be banned, or have been unbanned. But they had a magnitude of popularity on Khan such that I think their programs should be restored and the reasons for their bans disclosed.

In particular, I would like Ultimate Tower Defense, which is currently the most voted program on Khan, to be restored. It would be a shame if it was passed in votes because its creator was rude. Not to mention the fact that it has been years since it was hidden.

Thank you, for recognizing the importance of communication in education,

Matthias

KA Computer Science Volunteer