Online Teaching and E-Moderating

According to Webopedia in online forums and other online discussion spaces the moderator has the authority to block messages deemed inappropriate or break the rules of that discussion space. Moderators generally try to keep users on topic and keep the discussion thread or chat room free of personal insults and derogatory comments. So what are the qualities that would make for an ideal moderator?

Ideal Moderator Post

Take a moment and brainstorm the ideal online moderator for you. Think about the first time you went online vs. now. If you were taking an online course or a course with an online discussion component, for the first time...

  • What characteristics would you want to see?

The characteristics I would like to see in an online moderator exhibit the following.

  • Provide a clear direction regarding expectations in the course
  • Provide a clear assessment breakdown of the course
  • Someone who will spark discussion and or debate
  • Provide regular feedback to online discussions
  • Be flexible and adaptive to needs of online learners


It is important for an online moderator to provide direction for its participants. The leader in this situation the moderator is taking a group of individuals on a journey. The participants need to know where this journey is taking them and also what is expected from them while on this journey. The moderator is dealing with a hodgepodge of personalities so I believe there must be some flexibility on their part as they go through the process. Providing a variety of ways to present material to the participants would allow for individuals to seek out a variety of ways to learn. Challenging the participants to move beyond their comfort zone would be a good thing as individuals go through the process.

What would you need to know?

The ultimate goal of any individual taking an online course is to walk away with the feeling that they are better served then when they first arrived. To feel that the journey was worth the effort and that the skills developed along the journey will better serve them in their professional life as they move forward.

How would you get this information?

Presenting information can be done in a number of ways and again when dealing with different individuals the moderator needs to take that into consideration. Providing a variety of ways to share information is important whether through email, discussion board posts, video conferencing they all have a place in providing individuals with information updates.

What would frustrate you?

I believe there are a number of things I feel would frustrate me and I would go even further to categorize them as such.

Human frustration:

  • A moderator who does not provide clear direction for the participations.
  • A moderator who is not consistent.
  • A moderator who does not spark discussion
  • A moderator who is not accessible

Non-human frustration:

  • Equipment that does not work properly
  • Slow internet speed due to weather conditions, faulty equipment upgrades etc.
  • Links to websites that may be down due to maintenance issues or other difficulties.

Kanuka, H., Rourke, I., & Laflamme, E. (2007). The influence of instructional methods on the quality of online discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 260–271.

After reading through a number of articles this week I decided to direct my comments specifically with reference to “The influence of instructional methods on the quality of online discussion.” My reason stems from the use of WebQuest as one of its instructional methods used in the study. According to the study they examined the influence of five groups of communication activities on the quality of students’ contributions to online discussion. The activities were.

  • Group Technique
  • Debate
  • Invited Expert
  • WebQuest
  • Reflective Deliberation.

A well-defined learning activity was developed for each of the five methodologies. Each is examined for its ability to promote reflective thinking and critical discourse in the students’ contributions to their online discussions. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s (2001) theoretical model of practical inquiry was used as a framework to guide the study and to assess the quality of students’ contributions to online discussion. Cognitive presence as defined by Garrison ‘the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry’ (p. 11). They outline four phases of cognitive presence that was used for this 13 week study.

  • Triggering Event: Begin with a triggering event followed by problem definition.
  • Exploration: Learners search for explanations of the problem presented and explore relevant ideas.
  • Integration: Learners reflect on the problem presented.
  • Resolution: Learners are ready to act on their understanding.

After the 13 weeks the study found that the mode for the four phases of cognitive presence was highest during the WebQuest and debate activities. In their findings specifically as it pertains to WebQuest they found the following.

  1. Found that when students engaged in the WebQuest and debate activities, they posted a higher proportion and number of messages reflective of the highest levels of cognitive presence.
  2. The WebQuest and the debate required students to actively challenge, argue, debate and aggressively confront conceptual conflicts and assumptions of their own as well as their peers.

In conclusion there are three advantageous qualities that are more apparent with these instructional methods than the other instructional methods investigated:

1. They are well structured.
2. They provide clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the students.
3. They provoke the students to explicitly confront others’ opinions.

Edelstein, Susan & Jason Edwards (2002). If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Learning Communities Through Threaded Discussions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume V, Number I, Spring.

If you build it they will come. Or will they? Why would they come? What do you have to offer to entice someone to come? When someone builds something where they wish to have people to attend then they must be able to provide an environment that will allow individuals not only to attend but also to stay. According to Edelstein and Edwards “one of the chief tenets for a successful and engaging online course is the development of an effective system that provides ongoing student interaction.” To do this they must design a threaded discussion area where participants should interact with others and also with the instructor. By developing a threaded discussion are will ensure the interaction of its participants. The question then becomes one of determining what constitutes proper involvement in the discussion thread of participants? Should it influence the final grade one receives overall? Kind of reminds me of the time when the instructor would say if you did not show up to class then you automatically lose 10% of your final grade.

I have taken a number of online courses in my professional career and have been graded on my participation throughout each course. I must confess I have no problem with assessing ones participation during online courses as long as a couple of things are in place.

  • Evaluation of online participation with threaded discussion does not overshadow the real purpose for taking the course.
  • Participants are informed of what assessment rubric is used for assessing online participation.

The article closes by stating “just as an architect and home builder come together with their individual strengths/abilities to construct and create a home in which a family can live and enjoy life, a facilitator can construct a home for the creation of a learning community where students can visit and embrace the joy of learning.” Buyer beware! If you intend to sign-up for an online course and the facilitator has indeed provided you with the assessment of the course including online participation then the individual has all the information they need to proceed.