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A teacher’s guide to moderating online discussion forums: From theory to practice

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A Teacher’s Guide to Moderating Online
Discussion Forums: From Theory to
Andrew Feenberg, Cindy Xin & Geoffrey Glass
This manual is designed to provide insight into the “virtual classroom” and
techniques for effective online teaching. We begin with a comparison of
online discussion forums to face-to-face social interaction. We then
introduce an approach to moderating forums, and provide some practical
advice for managing them with the help of Marginalia.
To avoid possible misunderstandings regarding the scope and purpose
of this manual, let us state a few preliminary caveats. These remarks do not
pretend to be the last word. This analysis of online communication is
informal, based more on experience than research. No doubt other observers
of cyberspace would contest some of the points made here. Readers already
familiar with these issues may wish to skip to the second part of this text.
The pedagogy suggested there is not the only valid approach to teaching
online, but it is a widely recognized approach and Marginalia has been
developed specifically to facilitate it.
Marginalia can be used in other pedagogical contexts, as well as in
online business or community groups. We are hopeful that those with other
approaches and applications will discover uses for Marginalia that we have
not imagined.
A last word on two other limitations of this manual. We do not address
technical difficulties with equipment and software, nor do we attempt to
cover all the ways in which knowledge can be transmitted online. This
manual concerns online discussion forums alone, and within that field
specific communication requirements of successful forum management.
Many educationally significant issues are not addressed here, such as
technical support, course conversion, building community, and techniques
for explaining concepts and evaluating students’ work. Despite these
limitations, there is much to be learned. The online discussion forum is a
truly alien environment; study of that environment can aid in achieving
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competence as a discussion leader.
I. Communicating in the Online Forum
Before beginning to work in an online discussion forum, it is useful to
consider just how different it is from our familiar experiences with face-to-
face communication. The main differences are due to the narrow bandwidth
of computer mediated communication (CMC), the use of writing rather than
speech, and the asynchronous flow of messages between participants. Here
is a brief account of some of the conclusions reached by experienced users
and communication theorists who have studied these aspects of online
Communication Anxiety
Face-to-face, we communicate through a number of independent channels.
In addition to the spoken language itself, there are also what are called
“paralinguistic features,” tacit cues, including pitch, tone, gaze, gestures,
facial expressions and the like. Metacommunicative features —
communication about communication — include tacit rules that are signaled
by aspects of the setting and situation. Finally, there are status and role
distinctions that are clearly signified (for example by clothing, hair styles,
etc.) which form the background to the discussion.
In CMC there is only written language and sparse background
knowledge about the nature of the situation. There are no paralinguistic
features to provide interpretative cues to intended meanings, except for the
occasional and idiosyncratic use of certain textual conventions such as
parenthetical explanations or symbols including “ha ha,” “grin,”:> “.)” (for a
happy face) and “:<” (for a frown). The lack of a tacit dimension in the online
environment can be compensated to some extent by explicit written
communication. However, in one especially important area, compensations
are typically lacking. Engaging in face-to-face conversation involves complex
forms of behavior called ‘phatic’ functions by semiologists. When we say “Hi,
how are you?” we signify our availability for communication. We usually
close the conversation with another set of rituals, such as, “I’ve gotta go. See
you later.” Throughout our talk, we are continually sending phatic signs back
and forth to keep the line open and to make sure messages are getting
through. For example, we say such things as, “How about that!” or reply,
“Yes, go on.” Looks and facial expressions tacitly reassure interlocutors that
they are still in touch, or on the contrary carry a warning if the
communication link is threatened by technical difficulties or improprieties.
Looks and facial expressions are particularly important in group
communication, such as a classroom situation, where explicit phatic
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utterances are distracting.
Like any social act, communicating on-line involves a minor but real
personal risk. In the peculiar online world, a response – any response – is
generally interpreted as a success while silence means failure. Additionally,
the sender of a message needs to know not only that it was received, but how
it was received. But nearly all phatic signs are missing in CMC. Even
standard codes for opening and closing conversations are discarded. This
frustrates our normal expectation of continuous attention and reassurance as
we communicate. It is disturbing to do without nods of the head, smiles,
glances, tacit signs which in everyday conversation often take the place of
The paucity of phatic expression in CMC amplifies certain social
insecurities that no doubt were always there, but which now come to the fore
as what we call “communication anxiety.” The problem is aggravated by the
asynchronous character of the medium which works against feeling the full
force of the other and weakens the informal, tacit social controls of everyday
face-to-face conversation. As a result, messages are frequently left
unanswered without the embarrassment we would certainly feel if, for
example, we were greeted by an acquaintance on the street and failed to
respond. Thus, corresponding to the anxiety we feel about the reception of
our own communications, there is an unprecedented casualness about
responding to the communications of others.
This situation poses a special problem for teaching since student
motivation to participate must be maintained through recognition of
contributions to the discussion despite the lack of the tacit signs of attention
and appreciation that play such an important role in the face-to-face
classroom. We will discuss this problem in more detail in the section on
moderating which follows this one.
Turn Taking
All face-to-face interaction is structured by a turn taking system of some sort.
Turn order is important and its timing critical. We all know the feeling of
missing the moment when our comments might have been relevant and
remaining silent as a result. In asynchronous CMC turn order is more or less
random. Individuals contribute at times of their own choosing without much
regard for the flow of the conversation. This often results in several different
topics being discussed at once, or the same topic being discussed
simultaneously at different stages in its development. The term “multi-
threaded discussion” has been introduced to describe this situation. Multi-
threading has its advantages, as we will show, but it also leads to difficulties
in knowing when decisions are reached, since they are always open to re-
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discussion. Procedural matters generally pose greater challenges online than
in face-to-face settings. Hence the usefulness of strong leadership in many
types of online discussion forums, including educational ones.
On the other hand, the asynchronous nature of online discussion favors
thoughtfulness and careful composition. When face-to-face, we standardize
the allowed time between turns at talk. Waiting too long or answering too
quickly have specific meanings and may be discouraged. This is dramatically
different in online forums. A comment may be read by some participants
immediately after it is made and by others several hours or even days later.
In contrast to face-to-face conversation, participants in online discussion do
not have to pay attention to what they are hearing while thinking of what to
say next in order to avoid uncomfortable silences or to demonstrate
attentiveness. Instead, they can concentrate on capturing the ideas, take time
to reflect, consider a variety of answers, do research if necessary and then
respond at the time of their own choosing. This strongly enhances the quality
of the exchange of ideas.
Asynchronous discussion in online forums is also especially effective in
bringing out the best in participants who in other environments may be
introverted or shy. Several studies have shown that the medium is helpful for
members of minority groups, and this seems to be true for all people who
regard themselves as marginal for whatever reason. What they have to say in
an online discussion forum is not an imposition on the time of others, and
does not have to be sandwiched in between the remarks of other seemingly
more powerful participants. The ability to think before entering a comment
makes it possible for everyone to contribute without the stress of the face-to-
face environment. Again the lack of tacit cues plays a role. Because they
communicate in writing alone, participants do not feel evaluated according
to physical appearance, accents, or gender. Ideas are much more likely to be
appreciated on their own merit rather than the status of the author.
Consequently, a relatively low status person who has interesting ideas and
writes well can have equal influence with high status members, particularly if
the latter write clumsily or carelessly.
The Imperatives of Explicitness and Brevity
We mentioned above that explicit communication helps compensate for the
lack of tacit signs in the online environment. This is particularly important
where questions of understanding arise. In ordinary conversation, when we
do not understand what is being said, we are likely to communicate that fact
tacitly by facial expression. The speaker will usually pick up our distress
immediately and, by adding a sentence or two on the apparent subject of
confusion, resolve the problem before explicit and possibly embarrassing
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notice of it need be taken. Complete withdrawal in the face of minor
communication problems is thus relatively unusual because it is perceived as
far more rude than bringing into play corrective measures that generally
suffice to straighten out misunderstandings.
Because these tacit correctives are unavailable, online discussion places
a higher premium on clarity and explicitness than does everyday face-to-face
conversation. It is embarrassing to concede confusion in writing, and the
delay between message and response compounds communication problems.
As a result, one commonplace way of dealing with unclear and ambiguous
messages is to keep quiet. When a message succeeds only in reducing the
interlocutors to silence, it has clearly failed in its purpose, but it may be some
time before the writer becomes aware of the problem and can take corrective
action. The tenuousness of online discussion thus imposes a degree of clarity
and willingness to discuss communication problems that is rarely
experienced with any other medium.
Participants frequently respond to this situation by adopting literary
techniques such as the use of redundancy which reduce ambiguity by
narrowing the range of meanings and connotations of terms. The
multiplication of slightly different ways of presenting the same ideas, using
synonyms and different encoding schemes, increases the likelihood of the
message getting through. But these techniques have the disadvantage of
violating another important rule of CMC, the imperative of brevity, which
responds to the constant danger of “information overload.” A clear message
that is so long no one bothers to read to its end may be even more
demoralizing than a short, ambiguous message that can be ignored.
While it is obvious as a general rule that in all communication length
must be matched to complexity, it is not always easy to find the right trade-
offs between brevity and clarity. Two models of effective on-line
communication obey each of these two imperatives. They are the telegram
and the memo, each of which corresponds to different types of on-line
Many discussion forums work well with brief messages of half a dozen
to a dozen lines. Telegraphic messages represent an extreme trade-off of
clarity against brevity. They are inherently more ambiguous than other
forms of communication because they completely eliminate redundancy.
Some forums achieve quasi-telegraphic solutions to the clarity/brevity
dilemma through using technical language to discuss a very sharply defined
theme. Technical languages are designed to restrict the semantic range of
terms, thereby reducing the need for redundancy.
The popular item/reply architecture of most newsgroup and web based
bulletin board software supports the telegraphic style by enabling users to
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attach messages to others that serve as their context and help to
disambiguate condensed expressions. However, the item/reply architecture
has disadvantages for online education. In theory it serves not only to
contextualize comments as they are made, but also to classify information in
the archive of the conference for retrieval at a later date, for example when it
is time to review for the test. In practice, it is often quite difficult to recover
information from an archive constructed in this way because users classify
their messages under headings that are not intuitively obvious to each other.
The Marginalia software discussed in part three of this manual offers a
solution to this dilemma.
The memo suggests an alternative model that is better suited to
educational conferences. A message structured like a memo supplies its own
clear context for the ideas it presents and uses an outline format to organize
points, helpful techniques of communication. The memo model yields
comment lengths in the hundreds of words rather than short bursts of a few
lines. This is particularly appropriate in forums that have a fairly fluid
context and participants with very different backgrounds as is typical in
education. In these forums one cannot assume a shared technical language
but must use ordinary language to introduce and explain any technical
content. Here somewhat longer messages tend to be the rule for the teacher
at least and, where the participants are interested, for them as well. The
exercise of writing such comments is unparalleled as a way of disciplining
thought and expression while learning to reflect on ideas and experiences.
Teachers should model and encourage the writing of such comments in
preference to the brief interjections that students find easier to compose.
Online discussion is frequently said to build community, but the idea of
community implies bonds of sentiment that are not always necessary to
effective on-line communication. A group of interested individuals may
produce a successful conference whether they form a community or just a
functional gathering. In any case, the mere existence of community cannot
explain the excitement of a good conference. Rather than focusing
exclusively on the concept of community, it would make sense to study the
dynamics of online discussion on its own terms. This may open a way to
understanding the sociology of the online group, its specific ‘sociability’.
Online discussion dynamics involve the management of time, both the
personal time of the participants and the overall time of the forum.
Sometimes these dynamics are determined by extrinsic factors, such as job
deadlines, tests, or the urgent need to accomplish a mission. Forums are
surprisingly fragile, however, and no amount of external time pressure saves
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hopelessly mismanaged on-line groups. To a lesser extent, we see something
similar in face-to-face meetings, which require not only an extrinsic raison
d’etre but also skillful leadership to keep on the agenda and insure a hearing
for all those with something to say.
The social cohesion of the forum therefore depends not only upon the
extrinsic motives participants bring from their off-line lives, but also the
intrinsic motives that emerge in the course of the on-line interaction. To
understand these intrinsic motives, we must discover how the forum
empowers its members to speak up and provokes them to reply. Several
metaphors help to explain this.
The sociability of online discussion forums resembles that of sports or
games where we are drawn along by interest in the next step in the action.
Suspense and surprise keep us alert and interested. Every message has a
double goal: to communicate something and to evoke the (passive or active)
participation of interlocutors. “Playing” at online discussion consists in
making moves that keep others playing. The goal is to prolong the game and
to avoid making the last move. This is why online discussion favors open-
ended comments which invite a response, as opposed to closed and final
Erving Goffman introduced the terms ‘absorption’ and ‘engrossment’ to
describe the force that draws us into an encounter such as a game. The
concept of absorption refers to the sharing of purpose among people who do
not necessarily form a community but have accepted a common work or play
as the context for an intense, temporary relationship. The term nicely
describes participants’ feelings about an exciting online discussion. They are
‘absorbed’ in the activity as one might be in a game of poker or tennis.
Collaborative Writing
The comparison of online discussion with a game is suggestive but it omits
the strangest aspect of the activity, the fact that the “game” consists in
writing and reading texts. Online discussion is in fact a new form of
collaborative writing. From this point of view, a completed online conference
forms a single text with several authors rather than a collection of singly
authored texts. Naturally, there are conferences which have no real unity,
and which are in fact anthologies of texts by individual authors but these
“monologic” conferences do not employ the medium to its fullest capacity.
One of the most exciting things about online discussion is its power to
achieve something more than this, a real “meeting” of the minds, if not
necessarily agreement between them.
How does a conference acquire the kind of coherence we associate with
a text? Normally, when several authors collaborate they revise each others’
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contributions, and it is this which makes a collective product of the result. In
this usual case, the order of production bears no necessary relation to the
order of the final result. But participants in online forums generally lack a
commonly agreed on plan or outline and cannot modify each other’s
contributions. The order in which messages are deposited in the forum is
fixed and no final revision brings the ideas of each to bear on the others’
actual formulations. A large measure of contingency and unpredictability is
intrinsic to this process, far more than to ordinary collaborative writing.
The work of giving coherence to an online discussion might be called
“textual management” to signify the kind of collaborative relationship
characteristic of this medium. The various moderating functions discussed in
the next section are the means of textual management available online.
These functions include requesting comments from participants, setting an
agenda for the conference, and pulling it together periodically around a
common theme.
This list suggests yet another metaphor for online discussion since
these means might be better compared with those at the disposal of the
leader of a jam session rather than with those employed by the editor of an
article or book. Each participant takes his or her turn at “improvising” a
contribution to the group’s performance under the direction of the
moderator. The result is a new kind of text.
Games, collaborative writing and jazz improvisation each supply a piece
of the puzzle that is online discussion. These pieces come together in the idea
of the online discussion as an improvisational game played with text. From
the world of writing, online discussion borrows the unique property by which
texts propel us forward from the first to the last line through deploying
suspense and surprise to generate intrinsic motivations for continuing to
read. These motivations are transformed in the course of “play” into the
cement of a continuing social interaction that consists in the exchange of
“improvised” texts.
Such texts are sometimes reread later just as recorded jazz
improvisations may be played again. In an educational context, where the
teacher uses the discussion to introduce and explain the main themes of the
course, the forum text can be an essential resource for the students. They can
find material in it useful for preparing for tests or writing papers. But just
how useful the archive of the forum will be depends largely on the skill of the
teacher in leading the discussion.
II. The Moderating Functions
Online discussion forums promote collaborative work and learning. Indeed,
communication in a forum is by its very nature collaborative. Lectures are
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not appropriate to the medium. Instead, teachers must adopt a dialogic style
involving students actively in the electronic classroom. Collaborative
learning theory finds its most compelling realization in this setting. Online
teachers must exploit this potential of the medium to create an educational
experience comparable in quality to the conventional classroom. Properly
performed, the moderating role in the online discussion forum can serve as a
basis for this new type of collaborative learning.
The Moderator
Like many other small groups, educational forums are most successful when
skillfully led. The technical conditions for this are usually defined in the
forum software as a ‘moderating function’, i.e. setting up groups of
participants as forum members, establishing and naming a file in the central
computer in which to store discussions, and deletion of irrelevant messages
from the file.
These technical powers represent, however, only a small part of the
moderating groupware, which Hiltz and Turoff describe as follows:
In order for a computerized conference to be successful the
moderator has to work very hard at both the ‘social host’ and the
‘meeting chairperson’ roles. As social host she/he has to issue
warm invitations to people; send encouraging private messages to
people complimenting them or at least commenting on their
entries, or suggesting what they may be uniquely qualified to
contribute. As meeting chairperson, she/he must prepare an
enticing-sounding initial agenda; frequently summarize or clarify
what has been going on; try to express the emerging consensus or
call for a formal vote; sense and announce when it is time to
move on to a new topic. Without this kind of active moderator
role, a conference is not apt to get off the ground.
These are certainly important moderating functions, but perhaps the most
important of all is missing. The moderator’s first and most basic task is to
construct the social reality of the electronic meeting room by choosing a
“communication model” for the group. The basic human relationships of
communication differ in characteristic ways from one communication model
to another, for example, in meetings, courses, informal conversations,
parties, doctor’s visits, and so on. As soon as we enter a room, we orient
ourselves more or less consciously in function of tacit cues we notice in the
context of the communication process we are about to join. These contextual
cues establish a shared communication model from which flows norms, roles
and expectations. Since no tacit signs visible in the environment can
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establish a communication model for participants in on-line discussions,
moderators typically must make an explicit choice for the group they lead,
reducing the strangeness of the medium by defining a familiar context with a
familiar system of roles and rules imitated from everyday life.
This contextualizing function has the unusual property of proceeding
largely through the use of “performative utterances.” These are statements
which bring about the very reality they describe. An example would be the
principal’s statement to the assembled students to the effect that “school is
now open for the new term.” Such an utterance effectively “opens” the
school, and so is called a “performative.”
In most face-to-face interaction, performatives play a minor role
because so much tacit contextualizing information is available to establish
the communication model. In online discussion forums, on the contrary,
explicit contextualization is required to define it. Unless someone opens the
conference by saying “This is a meeting,” “This is a class,” or “This is a
support group,” the participants have no way of being sure what kinds of
contributions are appropriate to the essentially imaginary “situation” in
which they find themselves. The moderator’s contextualizing functions are
all-important in relieving some of the anxiety participants experience in a
communication setting that is not defined in advance by tacit cues. Once a
communication model has been chosen, the moderator must play the
specific leadership role it implies, such as chairperson, host, teacher,
facilitator, entertainer, and so on. In part, this role will consist in monitoring
conformity with the communication model and reassuring participants that
their contributions to the discussion are indeed pertinent, or where they are
not, gently guiding them toward a better understanding of the model.
Thus contextualization and monitoring are two basic moderating
functions. The teacher defines the communication model, makes the basic
procedural decisions that enable the group to form with some confidence
that it has a common mission, and checks for conformity with the model and
the mission in the course of the discussion.
In an educational context, these moderating functions combine with
the pedagogical responsibilities of the teacher. The social duties of the
moderator are not entirely separate from the communication of educational
content. On the contrary, it is in the course of performing the one that the
other is best performed. For example, setting an agenda for the discussion is
also an opportunity to introduce basic concepts in the field; granting
students explicit recognition for their contributions can often be combined
with substantive comments on those contributions; raising topics and
summarizing discussions both keep the conversation flowing (a social
function) and communicate ideas (a pedagogical function.)
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More often than not, when forums fail it is because the person in
charge is unable to overcome the initial difficulty of transposing leadership
skills acquired in face-to-face settings to the on-line setting. The usual way in
which we learn to play dominant roles is through our experience in
dominated roles. Thus the ability to chair a meeting is widespread among
people who have attended meetings; and the ability to teach is readily
cultivated by many who have been taught. It is in the course of these
experiences that participants acquire an understanding of the implicit codes
on the basis of which a specific type of group communicates. But since so few
people have participated in online forums, it is often difficult to find an
experienced leader who knows the on-line equivalents of the codes operative
in face-to-face groups. Furthermore, the codes of on-line activity are still
very much in formation and to some extent each forum contributes to
inventing them. These are transitional problems, but for the moment they
are very real and suggest the need for specialized forums where moderators
can exchange experiences and pass down lore. In the remainder of this
section, We will briefly sketch some of this lore as it relates to the various
moderating functions.
Opening Discussions
Even experienced moderators are not always sure how to begin an online
discussion. They are staring at a computer screen and not at attentive faces.
It is sometimes hard to know when the discussion has actually begun since
the participants read the opening comments at different times. Thus, the
moderator should not expect acknowledgment from the participants in a
synchronized fashion as occurs in face-to-face meetings. It is useful,
therefore, to issue a request for some initial communicative act on the part of
the participants to serve as the functional equivalent of “coming to attention”
as the conference begins. Very often this can involve having them write a
simple, brief opening comment about themselves.
Subsequently, topic raisers need to be offered on a regular basis to
reopen the discussion. Topic raisers need to state a problem and provide the
conceptual background to understanding it so as to provoke responses. One
of the most effective types of topic raiser resembles a miniature essay. Essays
offer an example, an “occasion” that has been selected because it is
particularly rich in implications. The occasion serves as a point of entry into
the theme of the conference. Participants are encouraged to comment on it
and to draw their own conclusions about it. The moderator too enlarges on
the occasion, offering various interpretations of its meaning. Thematic unity
and interaction are reconciled in the essay comment by the fact that a single
concrete instance, the occasion, is used to discuss a general theme. The essay
comment can be particularly effective where it draws on occasions supplied
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by the students in their own comments.
The essay comment invites many-faceted and open-ended discussion
because the occasion on which it is based can be approached from as many
different angles as there are participants. Each participant can contribute a
comment modeled on the topic raiser and serving as another occasion for
discussion. This approach suits educational purposes very well. While a
linear narrative or expository logic is interrupted by the participants’
comments, and therefore silences them, the fragmentary form of the essay
enhances interactive uses of the medium.
Setting the Norms
The moderator should open the conference with comments that establish the
conference norms and agenda. Clear rules and expectations are not
experienced as oppressive by participants but on the contrary help to relieve
communication anxiety and enable participation. Such things as the
appropriate length of comments need to be stated explicitly. The moderator
should help students to relax about their writing, at least to the extent of not
wasting a lot of time on formatting and spell checking. The norms may also
include suggestions for the use of email for individual help or developing
friendships and working relations among participants.
Most participants in online discussions draw on their previous
experience of face-to-face classes and meetings to make sense of virtual ones.
The moderator can rely on some aspects of this experience as a resource to
establish the communication model. But there will also be aspects that
obstruct effective performance. For example, many participants have had
long practice sitting silently in classes and meetings. This attitude must be
overcome in the online forum where success depends on interaction. The
moderator can frame more appropriate expectations by offering clear
guidelines to contributing. Otherwise, participants may assume that all they
have to do is sign on and read. The moderator must reverse the expectations
shaped by lecture courses so that participants become resources for each
Another type of norm concerns “where” items should be placed online.
The “social architecture” of an online discussion refers to the subdivision of
the group’s discussions among several related forums that serve as virtual
conference rooms for different sorts of activities. These subforums or
“seminars” should have characteristic names and specific themes. Part of the
early training of participants must include clear directions on how to get into
these discussions and what is appropriate in each of them.
Setting the Agenda
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Participants need a road map in the form of an agenda to help them keep
their bearings, know where they have been, where they are, and where they
are going. A good agenda provides participants with a head start and allows
them to plan ahead. The agenda should contain a brief outline of the process,
mention the background materials of the discussion, and describe a more or
less precise schedule indicating when participants will be expected to be
ready to discuss these materials. An agenda setting message should also
contain specific instructions regarding tests, dates when assignments are
due, and similar matters of timing.
In designing an agenda, it is critical not to expect too much of the
participants at first. This is an experience where technical and social skills
are being learned at the same time as an academic subject. Thus, it is
important to develop a supportive spirit supplemented where possible with
technical assistance for new participants experiencing problems. The pacing
of the course should allow those with early problems to catch up. This may
require considerable flexibility on the part of the teacher, more than is
customary in the familiar face-to-face environment.
Most face-to-face courses rely on contextualizing materials such as
textbooks. This is true of online classes as well with certain differences. The
context of discussion can be efficiently broadened with hyperlinks to relevant
information on the Internet. Textbook or other reading assignments in
offline materials are also used routinely as in a face-to-face classroom.
However, since interaction in the forum is the core of the online educational
experience, it is especially frustrating for the teacher when students do not
keep up with the work. Students are unlikely to contribute messages
regarding material they have not yet looked over and referred contexts of
discussion are often overlooked or reviewed late. At least in a face-to-face
classroom one can revert to lecturing in this situation, but that is not
possible online. One way around this problem is to summarize referenced
materials briefly and provocatively to help students engage in discussion
even if they are behind in the reading. Their participation may motivate
them to do the missed assignment.
Participants need frequent reassurance that their performance conforms to
the norms of the group. Online this cannot be delivered tacitly and so must
take the form of explicit written recognition. There may also be occasions
when participants ask for explanations or answers to questions. Then the act
of recognizing the participants can be contained in the pedagogical
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intervention responding to their request.
Some unexpected problems with recognition arise in online forums.
Occasionally the moderator and/or participants will feel ignored or even
snubbed by the group without any real evidence of ill will. The
unpredictability of responses often gives rise to the question, “Is anyone out
there reading me?” Participants, including the moderator, may feel hostility
when there is no response to an eloquent comment. Students who do not
receive direct feedback may feel neglected and experience self doubts.
Discouraged, they may withdraw.
The moderator’s frustration is often directed at the group as a whole.
When participants appear too slow to communicate, it is tempting, but ill
advised, to send a text expressing anger or ridicule. The moderator may use
humor to soften the criticism, but this may make things worse. Humor is
very difficult to express in this medium without danger of misunderstanding.
What is the solution? Withdrawal is not a pedagogical option. The teacher is
there to teach. If a moderator is upset he or she should take advantage of the
asynchronicity of the medium to reflect, to gain perspective on the problem,
and to exercise emotional control.
Participant alienation can usually be prevented by making sure no
comment goes without a response. If no one else seems interested, the
moderator can intervene. Even the briefest mention of a comment will
reassure its author. Recognition can also occur in the form of a private
message, although public acknowledgment in the forum is more likely to
have an impact on the participants’ willingness to comment again.
The moderator will often want to request specific actions from individual
participants or from the group as a whole. Many standard pedagogical
activities fall under this heading. Asking a question about the material is a
form of prompting. Asking one person to comment on another’s ideas
belongs under this heading as well. Distributing roles in a simulation,
assignments, setting up debates between participants also prompt action.
The variety of pedagogical uses of prompting is unlimited. Prompting also
has more specifically social roles to play.
Once norms have been laid down, the moderator is responsible for
enforcing them. This may require diplomacy and firmness. For example, it is
important to gently insist on civility. In the rare case when a participant
becomes truly troublesome the moderator can delete his or her comments,
or, in a more severe action remove the participant from the forum. The case
of the overly verbose participant is more complicated. In a face-to-face
meeting such participants often dominate if the moderator is not active in
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cutting them off to let others speak. In an online discussion verbosity does
not hog the floor, but there is a natural tendency for such comments to be
ignored. This is frustrating for the writer and the readers as well. This
problem is best dealt with by messaging the overly talkative participant by
email. In most cases a few gentle reminders about brevity will suffice.
Another type of prompting involves helping those who fall behind to get
back into the discussion. Many online discussion programs offer a way for
the moderator to keep track of a participant’s progress. It is important to
insure that no one falls too far behind in reading comments. This can quickly
become discouraging to participants who feel that they will never catch up.
When the moderator notices that a participant has a problem keeping up, it
is appropriate to send an email asking what is wrong. In this manner special
assistance can be provided outside the conference, avoiding potential
embarrassment. Very often short email consultations can significantly
improve performance and participation in the forum.
Assessing consists in any formal and usually scheduled activity aimed at
insuring that individual participants are in fact fulfilling the substantive
purpose of the online forum. In educational contexts, this usually takes the
form of testing, but it can also be carried out through review sessions in
which students are responsible for sharing their knowledge with the group.
Another common procedure is to ask students to place their research papers
in an appropriate forum for discussion. In one sense every substantive
comment students add to the conference is an opportunity for verifying their
knowledge of the subject, however, formal procedures are commonly
employed as well.
Moderators play an important role in initiating and sustaining meta-
communication, i.e. , communication about communication. Meta-
communication is particularly important as a means for re-establishing a
threatened communication link by calling attention to problems in the
communication process. Most meta-communication in face-to-face
interaction is tacit although occasionally we engage in explicit meta-
communication, as for example, when we ask our interlocutor to speak up or
to come to the point. However, tacit signs, cues we give with our bodies and
tone of voice, are so effective that we can often carry on quite complex
conversations without ever employing explicit meta-communication. Not
only can we get along most of the time without making our meta-messages
explicit, it is often embarrassing to do so.
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But the only tacit sign that we can transmit on a computer network is
our silence, a message that is both brutal and ambiguous, far more so than
the subtle uses of tone of voice, expression and gesture on which we
normally rely. The solution to this dilemma is explicit meta-communication.
Whenever problems arise, participants must overcome their inhibitions and
request further explanation of unclear remarks, call attention to information
overload, request clarification of emotional tone and intent, suggest changes
in the rules of the forum, and so on. It is important that participants have a
forum for this purpose alongside the main forum. Sometimes a separate
meta-conference, or “café conference,” serves this function, either under the
supervision of a moderator or as a self-directed group.
Weaving Comments
In addition to the various kinds of opening comments and topic raisers
moderators must write, there is one other unique type of message for which
they are principally responsible. These are summary or “weaving” comments
that define regular phases of the discussion and sum up what has been
accomplished. The weaving comment grasps in one text the pattern found in
a number of previous comments. To write weaving comments, the moderator
or another participant must go over the discussion archive carefully,
refreshing the memory of earlier discussions, clarifying confused
expressions, identifying the themes, making connections, “indexing” the
material. Some moderators develop prodigious weaving skills and are able to
build patterns and connections over several weeks or months. An artful
weaving comment accomplishes several important functions: it rewards
numerous participants at the same time by putting their names and ideas in
print “in” the shared reality of the conference while at the same time
advancing the pedagogical agenda of the course.
To integrate many participant comments the writer of a weaving
comment must find the common thread they each contain. The weaving
comment should do more than just summarize the previous discussion in the
language of that discussion. It should connect the comments to the themes of
the forum and apply higher level concepts from the teacher’s discipline to the
students’ ideas and experiences expressed. Weaving comments supply a
unifying discourse, interpreting and integrating participants’ contributions,
and periodically “retotalizing” the unfolding discussion by drawing its
various strands together in a temporary synthesis that can serve as a starting
point for the next round of debate.
In sum, weaving comments are essential to giving on-line groups a
sense of accomplishment and direction. They supply the group with a code
for framing its own past and advancing into its future. They thereby establish
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a common boundary, shared by the whole group, between past, present and
The moderating role consists of functions that can be delegated to students
from time to time. Just as students can be asked to bring substantive
materials to the forum for discussion, so they can be assigned to write
weaving comments or introduce topic raisers. These are challenging
exercises which can help them to understand the flow of the conversation,
the ideas of their peers, and the content of the course. Subconferences can be
created around student papers, and the author assigned to moderate a
discussion of his or her own work. In these ways the burden of the online
teacher can be lightened to the benefit of the students.
A Review of Moderating Functions
Contextualizing functions:
1. Opening Discussions. The moderator must provide an
opening comment that states the theme of the discussion and
establishes a communication model. The moderator may
periodically contribute “topic raisers” or “prompts” that open
further discussions within the framework of the forum’s general
2. Setting the norms. Norm setting consists in suggesting rules
of procedure for the discussion. Some norms are modeled by the
form and style of the moderator’s opening comments. Others are
explicitly formulated in comments that set the stage for the
3. Setting the agenda. Agenda setting involves managing the
forum over time, selecting an order and flow of themes and
topics of discussion. The moderator generally shares part or all
of the agenda with participants at the outset.
4. Referring. The conference may be contextualized by referring
to materials available on the Internet, for example, by
hyperlinking, or offline materials such as textbooks.
Monitoring functions:
1. Recognition. Recognizing participants consists in referring
explicitly to their comments to assure them that their
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contribution is valued and welcome, or to correct
misapprehensions on their part about the context of the
2. Prompting. Prompting participants consists in addressing
requests for comments to individuals or the group. Prompting
may be formalized as “assignments” or tasks. Prompting may be
carried out through public requests in the forum or by private
3. Assessing. Participant accomplishment may be assessed by
tests, review sessions, or other formal procedures.
Meta functions:
1. Meta-commenting. Meta-comments are remarks directed at
such things as the context, norms or agenda of the forum; or at
solving problems such as lack of clarity, irrelevance, and
information overload. Meta-comments play an important role in
maintaining the conditions of successful communication.
2. Weaving. Weaving consists in summarizing the state of the
discussion and finding threads of unity in the comments of
participants. It recognizes the authors of the comments it weaves
together, and often implicitly prompts them to continue along
lines that advance the conference agenda.
3. Delegating. Certain moderating functions such as weaving can
be assigned to individual participants to perform for a shorter or
longer period.
The performance of these functions is essential to the vitality of any online
discussion. The more members of the group share with the moderator in
performing them, the more its discussions will be absorbing and successful.
If recognizing, prompting, weaving and meta-commenting are listed as
moderating functions, it is not because there is only room for one person to
perform them, but rather to insure that there be at least one person who
accepts responsibility for doing the things that must be done to keep the
group alive.
III. Using Marginalia
The Problem of Weaving
The original impetus for developing Marginalia grew out of problems with
weaving in early online discussion forums. Newer programs have not
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improved matters. Marginalia introduces a keywording capability that is
intended to facilitate weaving. Many of the features in the program are for
convenience and efficiency. However, this feature, keywording, is far more
than a matter of convenience and reflects pedagogical needs identified by
many students and practitioners in the field. Serving these needs well is
important enough to justify introducing a new type of software.
Much of the confusion over the value of online education is the result of
exaggerated claims for the ability of canned materials to deliver a valid
educational experience by themselves. Instead, we need to focus on the well
established pedagogical value of discussion. Like classroom discussions,
online discussions can be used to communicate an educational agenda.
Teachers can provoke and guide discussion by offering conceptual bridges
between students’ ideas and the concepts and methods of an academic field.
This is a form of collaborative learning better suited to the online
environment than “lecturing” – that is , writing long documents for students
to read online.
In face-to-face settings, the fast pace of discussion and turn taking
problems constitute major obstacles to mutual understanding. We cherish
those rare individuals who can sum up the discussion periodically, recalling
what has been said and pointing out the similarities and differences between
the various ideas that have been brought up. Such interventions put
participants in touch with each others’ ideas, recognize their contributions,
and shape a consensus. This summarizing activity, called “weaving” in online
discussion forums, should be considerably easier on the Internet where the
record of the discussion is available for retrieval and study.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to manage online discussion and writing
weaving comments is especially challenging. Some teachers adopt a passive
role, only responding to questions about course procedure. Although restful
for the teacher, it is a peculiar idea of pedagogy that would have the teacher
abstain from substantive interventions that introduce students to the
concepts and culture of the field. In the absence of strong leadership from
the teacher, discussion often fails to get going and when it does students
sometimes have difficulty staying on subject, understanding and responding
to each others’ comments, and feeling a sense of recognition and
Weaving can help the teacher address the difficulty with which students
focus and interact, while also introducing sophisticated concepts and
methods in the course of commenting on students’ contributions. Weaving
comments can summarize the state of the discussion, compare and contrast
the various ideas expressed in a batch of comments, and launch the
discussion into a new phase on the basis of what has been achieved. Weaving
comments are among the best techniques available online for enhancing
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dialogue among students, building the understanding of a discussion topic,
and advancing the agenda of the course. Students can be assigned to write
weaving comments too, an excellent challenge to their ability to engage with
the ideas of others. This is a valuable way to fulfill the dialogic potential of
online education.
One would think that given its widely recognized pedagogical
importance weaving would be well supported by online educational software,
but this is not the case. The weaver faces a mass of documents sent by many
different authors in which are embedded many remarks worthy of comment,
but there is no easy way to see them all online while composing or to get
them all into a writing pad to prepare a synthesis and reply. The conference
archive is inaccessible in practical terms and therefore very much underused.
Serious weaving comments are most often prepared by marking up
printouts, a laborious procedure, but necessary in the absence of any easy
way of working with the archive online. Marginalia should make this much
easier. It offers a seamless merging of annotation and online discussion
which facilitates intelligent access to the conferencing archive and weaving of
its contents. This is Marginalia’s most important contribution: in facilitating
weaving it encourages dialogic interaction, the essence of collaborative
Reconciling Past and Present
Why is weaving so difficult to support technically? Reflection on this
question leads to the conclusion that there is an internal contradiction in the
time structure of online discussion. Its two temporal dimensions, the forum
present and past, are not easily reconciled.
The present is the moment of production in which interest must be
sustained through an advancing argument or encounter. Topical pertinence
is more or less relevant to this process depending on the type of group
involved, e.g. more in the case of project management, less in a class, still
less in a group organized around a hobby or shared interest. Where topicality
is important, attempts are sometimes made to reflect it in the conference
architecture, the organization of discussion in conferences and
subconferences. But in no case should topicality be allowed to become
excessively confining or else production breaks down as thought processes
and synergies and are blocked.
The past is a stored archive of text which is more or less usable
depending on how rationally it is structured. A very high degree of rationality
is desirable here, far higher than anything that would be tolerated by users in
the production mode. Thus one might wish to review a discussion taking
place in a single forum under 20 or 30 or even 40 different index heads. One
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solution would be assign each topic its own forum. This is more or less what
is intended by the item/reply structure of typical web based bulletin boards.
But if one were to ruthlessly enforce the topical divisions, production would
cease as users spent more time trying to figure out where to file their
comments than in writing them. For this reason, the forum archive evolves
in a rather chaotic way and it is rarely usable for rapid retrieval of relevant
information. Similarly, the tagging of contributions by their authors
promises to facilitate retrieval, but turns out to be far less useful in practice
than in theory since it must be consistently applied by authors, and
standardizing tags in a group is usually impossible.
The tension between production and retrieval is an unfortunate
heritage of early computer conferencing, which was created on the
traditional timesharing model of networking. In this model users access an
intelligent host with a dumb terminal. There was no way to give them the
local power to classify documents usefully, hence all classification had to
occur on the host in the course of production. Strangely these designs persist
even today, when users have long since abandoned dumb terminals for
powerful microcomputers – even as tagging has become widespread in other
areas. The reason seems to be the shift away from the specialized
conferencing software of the 1980s, which could have incorporated many
advanced features as personal computers replaced dumb terminals, to web
based forums which have long made limited use of the potential of the user’s
computer. Using current Web technology many problems of network design
could be resolved, including the contradiction between production and
retrieval. Generally, however, users are still limited to the old item/reply
structures and author keywording, the limitations of which are well known.
The alternative explored by Marginalia is to permit readers to annotate
and keyword contributions as they read according to their own lights. The
contradiction is resolved and weaving made far easier to perform and hence
far more likely to be performed.
Since weaving, an important moderating function, depends utterly on
the accessibility of the archive, the contradiction between production and
retrieval is a serious obstacle to effective moderating. The technical
conditions for successful online education must include support for this
function. Solving this problem would contribute more to the quality of online
education than the many high tech issues such as web multi-casting and
digitizing video that have captured so much attention and funding in recent
years. But there is nothing so very “dazzling” about weaving, nothing to
engage the support of computer companies looking to sell expensive
equipment or administrators anxious to cut costs. Only teachers and
students are likely to care. This is why Marginalia had to be implemented
under a government grant rather than emerging from the many far better
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funded software companies active in the field of online education.
What is Marginalia?
Marginalia is an enhancement for the Moodle course management system
that enables forum participants to highlight passages of text and write notes
in the margin. The following are the major features of the software:
Margin notes: Annotations are written and displayed directly beside
the text being annotated. The ability to comment beside the text being read is
easier than going to a different page to craft a complex response. This allows
for a layer of less formal talk along side more in-depth analysis often present
in full-fledged posts. This encourages engagement, drawing into the
conversation students who might otherwise be hesitant to write a full post.
Private and public annotations: An annotations may be shared
with others, or made private so that only the author of the annotation can
view it. In the former case annotations are used for communication; in the
latter, participants may create notes and records for future reference.
Summary and search: Threads and search programs are sometimes
useful for finding items for review, but quite often fail us because authors are
not consistent in their use of the reply function and choice of subject lines.
The capability to summarize and search annotations allows a users to find
and view text that they marked as relevant for later use. It is thus easier to
draw on an archive of previously-written posts rather, helping to address the
problem of too much focus on what was last said and forgetfulness of what
has been said before.
Tagging: The autocomplete feature enables keywording by making it
easy to type multiple margin notes with the same text. This allows readers to
categorize material they read for later reference. The summary page can
then pull up a list of annotations with the same margin notes.
Quoting annotations into new posts: The ability to easily insert
annotations into new forum posts helps students write weaving replies or
expand on comments about specific points made by others. We have found
that forum participants sometimes carry out back-and-forth conversations in
the margin. The quote feature makes it easy to fold that discussion back into
to main flow of the forum, using informal notes on the side as a basis for
more thoughtful discourse. These quotes also include hyperlinks back to the
original text being commented on. The ability to quote from several
messages builds a context for the user’s own comments on current
discussions while also constructing an item/reply thread readers can use to
better understand the relations between messages.
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Pedagogical Applications
These features support several of the moderating functions described in the
previous section. Note that Marginalia is not strictly required for the
performance of these functions. It merely makes them easier to perform. Our
task in designing an interface is to make what is technically possible
convenient and obvious to support the type of practice we wish to encourage.
Moderating definitely belongs in the category of practices that software
should facilitate as much as possible. The list below links moderating
functions to the Marginalia features most useful in supporting them. The list
is not intended to be exhaustive but to serve as a starting point for
discovering the many uses of Marginalia.
Recognition: Margin notes demonstrate to post authors that others
are reading and responding to what they write. Often margin such are
encouragements like “yes” or “I agree” that might otherwise go unstated.
The quote also assists recognition by encouraging participants to reference
what others have written, and by automatically including the name of the
person quoted.
Prompting: Annotations can aid in keeping track of individual
contributions for later reply. For example, the teacher may plan to question a
student on his or her comment at a later stage in the discussion, when other
students have had time to contribute to the current discussion. A suitable
annotation or tag can help to find the original student comment and the
passage in it that has provoked the question. The teacher can then quote the
passage in a prompting message which poses the question. Similarly,
passages can be quoted in a message questioning the group as a whole. This
creates a context for continuous development of ideas, for example, by
directing the attention of the group to an important point that has been
overlooked or misinterpreted and calling for a response.
Assessing: A teacher can write private annotations or tags to track a
student’s participation. These can then be reviewed through the summary
page (filtered to show only annotations on that student’s work) to help assess
the student’s contribution.
Meta-commenting: A commonplace occasion for meta-commenting
involves misunderstandings. These can be personal, procedural, or
conceptual. In many cases it is helpful to quote from past messages in a
meta-commentary designed to defuse the conflict, clarify the norms, or
explain the concepts in question. An annotation summary (possibly of tags)
may help to find relevant passages in the archive. Quotation has another
rather surprising use: showing participants what they actually said.
Rudeness online can lead to serious trouble but often it is inadvertent. When
a participant is unaware of how his or her words will be read, it is essential to
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quote the implicated passage back in an appropriate explanatory context.
This is far more likely to evoke an apology than returning the insult.
Weaving: Tagging or annotating while reading (active reading)
creates an archive in which materials can be easily reviewed by theme and
summarized. The teacher can send an initial list of tags to the students.
Students can make their own additions as the course progresses. When the
time comes to prepare a summary of the discussion the material is neatly
summarized on the summary page. there, classified neatly and easy to access
in user created keyword threads. The quote feature facilitates replying to
multiple messages in the composition of weaving comments.
Delegating: The most important moderating function teachers often
wish to delegate is the weaving function. When students must summarize a
discussion, they learn a great deal about each other’s ideas and how to
integrate them to the higher level concepts introduced in the course. Hence
the features useful for weaving are also relevant to delegating. Another type
of delegation involves creating seminars for students to moderate. This gives
them an even deeper experience of the moderating role. Such student led
seminars are usually focused on student papers or projects.
Appendix: Some Recommendations for Managing an
On-Line Educational Forum
Teachers who come to online education for the first time often express
dismay at the lack of answers to obvious questions about what to expect and
how to behave. Here is a list of practical recommendations moderators may
want to try out as they approach their task. This is by no means a set of
“rules” for teaching online. Some will agree, others disagree with various
items on this list. Experienced teachers could no doubt make up their own
list. But this one does suggest a coherent teaching style that may be a good
starting point for beginners who need simple clear advice on how to proceed.
1. Hang loose: present an agenda but be sure to follow the flow of the
conversation, while guiding it toward the subject.
2. Be patient: be prepared to wait several days for responses; don’t rush
in to fill every silence with your own words.
3. Be responsive: respond fairly quickly so that no one feels left out, either
by message or by mentioning the author’s comment in one of yours.
4. Be objective: don’t generalize about your forum without looking first at
the facts concerning who has contributed what and when.
5. Don’t overload: contribute about one comment every few days. Cut
back if the students have so much to offer the slower ones can’t keep
6. Keep up to date with the pace of the class and don’t let too many fall far
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7. Expect less: be content if you succeed in making two or three good
major points in the course of a month of discussion.
8. Don’t lecture: an elaborate, logically coherent sequence of comments
produces silence. Such communications should be sent by mail or
posted in a separate place online. In the forum, use open-ended
remarks, examples and weaving.
9. Prompt frequently: use private messages to remind participants to
enter the discussion, to set up debates, and to solicit suggestions.
10. Request meta-comments: ask participants to tell you how they feel
about the course in the forum itself.
11. Don’t rely too much on a schedule based on off-line materials: the
conversation must be largely self-contained to work; hence, it helps to
summarize assigned readings on-1ine.
12. Use simple assignments: don’t be afraid to assign tasks to the group,
but keep the threshold of participation low until you can gauge the
competence and motivation of the students.
13. Be clear: begin with an opening comment that clearly states the subject
of the conference and your expectations, and continue to clarify the
argument and your expectations as you go on.
14. Write weaving comments every week or two: summarize the state of
the conference often as a means of focusing discussion.
15. Set up co-participant interaction: encourage members of the group to
address each other as well as you.
16. Synchronize and resynchronize: make sure everyone begins together
and not in disarray, and offer periodic chances to restart in unison.
17. Take the procedural initiative: on-line procedural discussions are
frustrating and most groups therefore rely on strong leadership.
Acknowledgement and Terms of Use: Thanks to the Western Behavioral
Sciences Institute staff of the 1980s with whom Feenberg prepared a
moderating manual that served in writing this one. This manual is
available for distribution or adaptation so long as the authorship is
recognized. Please note if revisions have been made.
... This suggests that teachers who utilise the online discussion for instructional purposes must possess certain skills and a clear understanding of the role they should play as emoderators to ensure effective learning. To better understand what exactly the pedagogical function of the e-moderator is, we examine two models of e-moderating proposed for teachers by Salmon (2004) and Feenberg and Xin (2002). ...
... The model defines e-moderating duties in five stages ( Table 2). At the level of moderating discussions in a particular forum, the role of the e-moderator as proposed by Feenberg and Xin (2002), although specified for teachers in particular, do not seem to be much different from that of the e-moderator in generic forums. The functions that are potentially different from generic forums are identified as follows: ...
... The difference in teacher-moderated forums is that the themes or content selected for discussion as well as student participation and task requirements are determined by the teacher, in line with the learning objectives set out for the forum as a tool for teaching and learning. In both Salmon's (2004) and Feenberg and Xin's (2002) models, the e-moderator does not "teach" in the traditional sense of the word, as in provide instruction on the content to be learnt. This is understandable, for the aim of a forum is to have students interact with each other (and the teacher) to construct knowledge (constructivist underpinnings) collaboratively. ...
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The role of English as the lingua franca in the affairs of the world’s nations is currently unquestioned. The multi-faceted character of this role not only facilitates wider communication in a variety of fields and in their constituent workplace contexts but also serves a s a source of identity and cultural expression among speakers of other languages. In addressing selected language learning, use and associated issues that are salient to this scenario, the present collection of recent research topics in English language studies brings to the initiated reader a smorgasbord of insights into the linguistic environment of the multicultural microcosm that Malaysia is. The topics highlight language and identity, workplace communication, learning science and mathematics in English, community language learning, use of electronic portfolios and forums, academic metadiscourse, the language in literature, acquisition of specific linguistic forms among majority Malays speakers, as well as modelling Malay similes and metaphors in English.
... The role of moderator is supported by our results in showing that the metacommunication condition saw almost twice as much metacommunication produced compared to the uncivil condition. Notably, Feenberg, Xin, and Glass (2014) posit that, "moderators play an important role in initiating and sustaining metacommunication . . . metacommunication is particularly important as a means for re-establishing a threatened communication link by calling attention to problems in the communication process" (p. ...
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This study examines a way to promote civility in online political discussions through modeling discursive cues. An online experiment (N = 321) was conducted to investigate the impact of civil and uncivil discursive cues on participants’ mode of discussion. Results show that participants who were exposed to civil cues were more likely to engage in civil discourse themselves, stay on-topic, and offer additional perspectives in their comments. We also found that metacommunication (i.e., talking about the tone of discussion) engendered more metacommunication. This study illustrates the impact of modeling discursive cues and illuminates the possibility that participants in online discussion can improve their discursive environment.
... What keeps a game alive is the effort to initiate the next move and avoiding making the last one. Similarly online, to sustain the dialogue game, every message fulfills a double goal: to communicate something and to evoke further response (Feenberg & Xin, 2002). Each message functions as a link that at one end connects to one or multiple previous messages and at the other end provides a hook for future message(s) to connect to. ...
... The complexity and multidisciplinary nature of the factors condi- tioning progress in this area needs to be cor- rectly recognized and understood. Successful and effective teaching is largely about inte- raction, and the on-line teaching experience demonstrates how important it is to properly address the shift from the traditional forms of instructor-student or student-student in- teraction towards the new forms of interac- tion involving various technologies used in distance education (Sherry 1996;Ekhaml, Roblyer 2005;Feenberg, Xin 2005). Anoth- er important factor in the equation is availa- bility, as without easy and widespread access, even the most wonderful tool will have limited or no impact. ...
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The Web Based AJAX Enabled Query Tool (AEQ tool) is an educational software that uses technologies specific to Rich Internet Applications to support activities related to database classes. Years of teaching experience revealed multiple areas of the instructional process that would benefit of a tool like AEQ: (1) Remote, on-line access to database servers via the Internet – tradi-tionally, students do their work in the on-campus labs. Available remoting approaches to get into the campus network are slow and often unreliable. The AEQ tool allows direct, on-line, authenti-cated access to the databases. (2) Unified query tool -the tool acts as an SQL client for various types of on-campus databases (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and others) by using one single, specifically tailored, Web based interface. (3) Course content provider and development tool -students will be able to test the pre-loaded classroom query examples against the databases used in the classroom, as well as edit and test their own queries. (4) Collaborative learning tool -when using the AEQ tool, students will be able to login either into a private individual space or into a shared working environment, where they can engage in group activities, exchange messages, view live the queries issued by other users, as well as the response returned from the database. The new AJAX technology is the key to this project since it allows the development of responsive and flexible Web applications that are very much like fat client Windows applications.
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O foco desta pesquisa é a compreensão do potencial educacional de ferramentas de monitoramento de interações para auxiliar na moderação dos fóruns de discussão em cursos online do Moodle. InMapMoodle© e indeXMoodle© foram disponibilizadas como blocos que geram e exibem, respectivamente, grafos direcionais das interações ocorridas nos fóruns de discussão e índices de participação e colaboração em ferramentas interativas do Moodle. A pesquisa se desenvolveu por meio de uma abordagem quantitativa e qualitativa, cuja metodologia passou pela avaliação da usabilidade das ferramentas, além da sua aplicabilidade em um contexto de cursos online em duas ofertas distintas. Os dados quantitativos obtidos por meio de questionários foram tratados por meio de testes estatísticos e correlacionados por meio de triangulação sequencial com os dados qualitativos obtidos por meio de análise de conteúdo. Os resultados permitiram conhecer o potencial educacional dos blocos InMapMoodle© e indeXMoodle© e reconhecê-los como parâmetros confiáveis para a moderação de cursos online como uma ação dialógica mediada pelos fóruns e apoiada na abordagem sociointeracionista para a construção colaborativa do conhecimento.
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O artigo elabora um modelo para a compreensão da pedagogia no ambiente dos fóruns educacionais online. O modelo identifica quatro componentes. Primeiro, o engajamento intelectual é o componente que revela os processos cognitivos de primeiro plano do aprendizado colaborativo. Em segundo lugar, os processos de comunicação que operam no plano de fundo são aqueles que acumulam um depósito ainda mais rico de conhecimentos compartilhados que possibilitam o avanço da conversação. Em terceiro lugar, o processo colaborativo é o componente que requer um moderador para coordenar a comunicação e o aprendizado em grupo. O moderador na educação online é geralmente um professor que compartilha o conhecimento no processo de liderar a discussão. Em quarto e último lugar, a discussão bem sucedida gera motivações intrínsecas para a participação, as quais mantêm a discussão em andamento. Tal estrutura foi projetada para mostrar a complexidade da discussão online e fornecer uma base que sirva para orientar professores e avaliar aplicativos e softwares.
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A educação on-line atinge ampla expansão da popularização das tecnologias digitais. Este texto trata das possibilidades de implementação de uma avaliação dialógica no fórum de discussão do ambiente virtual de aprendizagem (AVA), com base na pesquisa qualitativa, de cunho sócio-histórico, desenvolvida durante o mestrado em educação, cultura e contemporaneidade, tendo como referencial teórico a concepção dialógica de Bakhtin, a perspectiva do desenvolvimento de Vygotsky, os conceitos de avaliação da aprendizagem de Luckesi e Hoffmann e os fundamentos da interatividade de Silva. Mostra que o fórum de discussão do AVA é uma interface que propicia os processos de construção do conhecimento e de avaliação sob a perspectiva dialógica e colaborativa, desde que as posturas docentes e discentes estejam em consonância com este propósito.
There still seems to be an ongoing debate over the usefulness and effectiveness of various forms of on-line technologies in the teaching activity. Much progress has been made both on the supporting technology side as well as on the side of the appropriate pedagogical approaches to be used. In spite of this, many people are skeptical relative to the added value of the online technology to the teaching activity. We share the experience of a converted skeptic who found himself in the unexpected situation of observing how on-line techniques based on Desire2Learn (D2L) brought, to an already existing traditional Database course, much more value than one would have anticipated. The better than expected results, measurable by the frequency of correct solutions and increased level of student participation, culminated with students literally (re)inventing query techniques other than those taught in the classroom for query types as difficult as division queries.
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This paper shares some of the experiences in online coordination and teacher development which have emerged in the English Language Department at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. The advantages and disadvantages of coordi- nation in an asynchronous computer-mediated environment form the backdrop to those issues which we consider to be vital, both for the success of online language courses and in the training and support of online instructors. Among the issues discussed are the course coordinators' role in developing awareness of the specific needs of the online learner, encouraging teacher reflection and the construction of knowledge on new pedagogical approaches inherent in online learning, and promoting a sense of community among online teachers. Specific examples of coordinating activities developed within the English Department will be examined, such as face-to-face meetings, training of new teachers, refer- ence documents for teachers, coordinators' feedback on teachers' work in the classroom, and online discussions of pedagogical issues. These all play their part in helping educators to deliver online courses "to learn from the experience of others and to encourage and evaluate educational innovation" (Gooley & Lock- wood, 2001, p. 12).
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