A common question we receive in Learning and Creative Services when helping clients build their courses is how to manage discussions. Having gone through online courses as both instructor and learner, a few debatable areas have surfaced about how involved an instructor should be in the discussion board, though there are best practices we’ve seen that we can share with instructors to make the most of their social learning opportunities. As a moderator of a discussion forum, here’s a few ideas to keep in mind:
- The primary role of the moderator is to promote interaction and learner engagement. This usually involves adding new content where required to further develop a topic and asking questions and raising points of interest to keep discussions rolling. Think of yourself as someone who is meant to ‘seed’ the conversation to foster its potential. if a discussion fizzles because the case study or scenario has been thoroughly analyzed, prompt learners to think into the future and explore what could happen next
- Moderation should be done at least every two to three days in order to maintain confidence that the course is being monitored. This will set an expectation on the frequency of participation, and also encourage learners to participate as much as possible.
- Good moderators will also pitch in to discussions where necessary, but not be the authoritative answer to everything. Instead, allow the learners to share and socially construct their collective knowledge. When the moderator is in a position of authority (such as a professor or manager), it can be detrimental to learner engagement by posting too often, and the learners will come to expect that the moderator will ultimately provide the final answer. This may cause some learners to become less engaged if they feel that their opinion may not be as valued, or if the person of authority may embarrass them by disagreeing.
- A key role of moderator is to delete or move content that is misplaced or is deemed inappropriate. Censorship in discussion areas should be done very carefully though, as you can quickly lose the trust of the participants if the forum feels like it is too closely policed. The participants should ideally feel free to express ideas and counter opinions and ask questions that will help them develop as experts and professionals.