Professional Learning

How to Moderate an Online Group

September 16, 2010

I generally blog about topics from policy to practice, but today I want to bring your attention to discussion groups here at Edutopia. Now, many of you may have already joined a group, but I want to challenge you to participate at a deeper level: Start your own discussion thread and moderate it.

Currently on the middle school discussion boards, we have every topic from Differentiation in a Middle School Classroom to advice on resources to combat Bullying in the Middle School. I've posted some just-for-fun threads asking What Is Your Favorite Teacher Movie of All Time, as well as "What's Your Favorite Teaching/Learning Quote of All Time." We've even had a few brave readers pose their own questions too, like Tia Carmichael, an eighth grade teacher looking for advice on a new vocabulary program or Mrs. W who is seeking help on teaching in a multi-age classroom.

I want to encourage all of our readers to join a group if you haven't already done so. I want to encourage all of those who have joined to try to comment on a thread and jump into a conversation. And I also want to encourage you as a participant to try your hand at moderating your own thread.

Do you need to bounce something off of your fellow teachers? Do you need to vent or problem solve about something going on in education or closer to home?

Post your question, and then see who bites. As a moderator, you get alerted to new people that comment on your thread, and the more recent the comment, the higher up on the list of discussions your thread appears.

The entire Edutopia community tends to be a polite crowd, but as with any conversation, book club, or online community, a moderator should be thoughtful when flexing their moderator muscles. So as a fledgling moderator (or a veteran, for that matter), keep the following in mind:

  • Massage the conversation with questions or statements that develop further inquiry.
  • Remember to share the air. Just because you started the conversation, doesn't mean you're the expert. Listen to what others have to say and don't feel the need to comment on each comment especially if the conversation has its own momentum.
  • Thank people for their comments. It's just plain neighborly.
  • Remember that as a moderator, your job is to help continue the conversation going, not to engage in debate.
  • If someone is taking a tone in your thread that you think is breaching some rules of netiquette, start with a gentle overall message to the entire thread reminding people of how to engage online. Generally, that does the trick. Beyond that, contact your discussion group facilitator at Edutopia and we'll take it from there.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes conversations go into directions you didn't anticipate. Roll with it or get them back on track gently, but be prepared if yours is not the direction your participants want to take the conversation.
  • Learn from those who comment. That's the beauty of online discussion threads. They are a dialogue, and we've got some great minds in our groups with all different kinds of perspectives to learn from.
  • If readers don't pick up your thread, don't worry. Sometimes people find your thread later, sometimes not at all. Sometimes threads that catch fire are hard to identify. It's cool if it does; but that isn't the purpose. Even if you get only one really practical response, that can be enough to improve your own practice, or your readers' practice; and that's what it's about in the end.

Good luck in any discussion group you join. Remember, the success of a discussion group is not about the person who created it. It's about the community who adopts it, and the members who keep it growing.

Hope to see you on the boards!

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