E-Moderation, Online-Tutoring, E-Learning
Gilly Salmon is a Professor of e-learning and Learning Technologies at the University of Leicester/UK. She researches about e-learning scenarios for the future. She is known for her book ‘E-Moderating. The key to teaching and learning online’, where she explores a five stage model to prepare teachers for online moderation and work: 1. Access and motivation, 2. Online socialization, 3. Information exchange, 4. Knowledge construction, 5. Development. Based on this research she is developing a practical and inspiring guide for online teachers. This article appears by courtesy of Gilly Salmon and is taken from: Mac Labrahinn, I.; McDonald Legg, C.; Schneckenberg, D.; Wild, J.: The challenge of eCompetence in Academic Staff Development. Galway: CELT, 2006. www.ecompetence.info
Around the Millennium, I published my book, E-Moderating . Soon after, with a colleague, David Shepherd, we started to offer online courses for any teacher, tutor, facilitator or group leader who wished to experience and explore the skills needed in the virtual environment for him or herself (see www.atimod.com). Then I wrote about designing for online groupwork , aimed at a similar audience, and we began a short online ‘E-tivities course’. The 2nd edition of E-Moderating  was then updated, as e-moderators everywhere tried out the ideas and let me know how it was going.
To my astonishment, by 2006 more than one thousand people had taken part in online e-moderating courses and more than 20,000 have bought and apparently read and used the books. Many people used the medium itself to give feedback and comments to David and me on how they’ve adapted and applied the ideas on designing for participation and intervening for learning in low cost, online and asynchronous group environment and their special contexts. At every e-learning conference, I found commentary and exploration reported.
On review and reflection from all the feedback, I realised that the 80:20 rule applies to e-moderating. The 80:20 principle suggests that there may be an inherent imbalance between cause and effect, effort and reward, inputs and outputs and that imbalance tends to the ratio of 80:20. The 80:20 principle is a very simple approximation of the value of work, but it seems to hold true pretty often for us. So, I began to ask my correspondents and visitors: “do you know which 20% of our e-moderating work produces 80% of the results?” What follows is a summary of many ideas based on those years of feedback.
We try and place our work in theoretical approaches and produce conceptual models for testing and sharing. However, although high flying theories of learning or knowledge help us to understand what happens in our e-learning processes, they are not much direct help in saving our time and promoting motivation and achievement in our learners. Instead, we need to be able to interpret and apply them through simple and effective online tasks.
Take the debate about constructivism for example. Our practice falls within the constructivist approaches to knowledge and learning. The ideas around constructivism in teaching have arisen in the 21st Century, partly in response to the potential for more active, student-led learning in online environments and away from passive teacher-led instruction. Constructivism explains knowledge as created by individuals through their own experiences and with the support of their cognitive framework. It sees learning is an active process in which learners engage with and build new ideas or concepts based upon their current or past knowledge. Such knowledge may include past experience, formal teaching, reading, sharing with peers and their own creative endeavours. The learner selects transforms, integrates and makes choices informed by their own mental models in developing their understandings.
There are various versions of these theoretical underpinnings. One is an introspective view of knowledge as personally constructed and built on an individual’s earlier internal mental models in the light of his or her new experiences . Another view is of knowledge as rather more external and the group learning and teaching experience helps the students to internalise it. Taking part in a group of learners with sympathetic and supportive facilitation, e-moderation is critically important to the construction of the knowledge. In practical terms, constructivism implies the need to promote discovery, dialogue, interaction, contextualisation and reflection, rather than delivery of content and information .
As e-moderators we approve of the ideas, of course! For example, such an approach should enable individuals to “go beyond the information given” and work with others. So, what do we do to make this virtually real?
The task of the e-moderator here is to:
Here is the ‘state of the art’ for the absolute essentials for successful e-moderating, based on the minimum intervention.
Experienced e-moderators know that there is no simple cause-effect result in leading online groups. There are, however, some patterns of typical behaviours of online participants that can be managed better.
In asynchronous group e-learning, participants will log online at times to suit them, often fitting in their online time around other events taking place in their lives. Some typical patterns are:
Some participants will be quick at getting involved and postings, others slower, often reading before contributing.
Whatever pattern of logging in is exhibited, this can be disrupted by holidays, national holidays and local festivals and personal ‘events’ in their lives, which take them away from their normal activities. One woman gave birth and carried on the next day. Another person’s car broke down and it impacted her life so much that she failed to log on.
As an e-moderator, even if you make every effort to start and finish cohorts on the same day, and move them on together as a group, you can expect the spread of work by participants to be over a number of e-tivities. This results in your having to scan several online activities to ensure that you are keeping pace with each participant and with the group dynamics.
Techniques for supporting all participants are:
Sometimes what we do gets in the way of responding appropriately to participants’ needs. Here are some examples of emoderating behaviours reported that ‘gets in the way’.
An online message that is cold, far too long, closes off discussion, excludes or demotes participants or ideas, or that ignores significant parts of the messages of others communicates more than just the words on the screen. An e-moderator who constantly says “yes well done” (perhaps through lack of time or options) is soon spotted. Similarly, online, an emoderator who lurks but does not comment can be viewed with suspicion.
Instead it’s best to focus on weaving and summarising.
With well designed e-tivities, the e-moderator has a rich source of participants’ responses with which to work. This means that weaving, archiving and summarising are key tasks for e-moderators and add much value. (A great deal more than ringing your hands about non-participation.) The purpose of Summarising is:
How to summarise:
The Purpose of Weaving is to:
E-Moderating large groups can be time consuming and participants benefit from becoming selfmanaging (Salmon and Lawless, 2005). The more effort you can put into designing your e-tivities and the better structured the interaction between participants is, the more time you will have for giving feedback and offering weaving and summaries. Make time and create independent learners by sitting on your hands, if necessary, and not responding to every message yourself. Instead, let the participants know when you will read their messages and give feedback, meanwhile encouraging them all to selfmanage.
A basic framework to assist with self management is:
There are some special characteristics that will help groups to self-manage online:
So I hope you will try out these guidelines and achieve more with less in your e-moderating practice. They are the beginning, not the end of the story, so please share your discoveries of more ideas and good luck! Online can yet be a most happy and productive place for learning and teaching.