Friday, January 30, 2009

Students message board moderators

Using student moderators can be another way to expand the communication possibilities of asynchronous tools when you teach online writing courses. Moderators can help build the class dialogue without your having to micromanage each conversation. In addition, for those of you who teach many sections, moderators may help you juggle all of the conversations in your courses each week.

Rita Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson provide a number of examples of learner-led activities (see especially pages 110-19), in which students take the lead in generating conversations and activities in an online class (1). In my class, I start out the term by asking students to sign up for the week they will moderate. I do this by using a message board thread, and they simply have to put their name and the moderation week in the subject line. It's okay if there are multiple moderators in a given week, as I have many different threads each week (as I've mentioned in earlier posts about message boards).

At the beginning of the week, I send each moderator a message like this:
Hi Chris,
I just wanted to touch base with you about moderating for week three, and I want to thank you for signing up for this week.

Please help moderate these two threads: "Analyzing rhetorical effect" and "Visual literacy and immigration." As moderator, please do the following: let everyone know that you'll be moderating the conversation on those threads; keep up with what's being said; and, much like I have during week one, try to move the conversation forward with questions and new ideas. Basically, try to keep things on track.

At the end of the week, I will ask you to write a brief summary (no more than a secondary post) of each thread and post it there. The summary will address what happened on that thread during the course of the conversation.

If you have any questions during the week, let me know, but I think you will get a feel for how this works as the week unfolds.
Prof. Warnock
I basically ask the moderators to keep active in the conversations, which they do quite well, and then to post a summary post on that thread about what transpired in the conversation that week. Everyone gets a turn at moderating, and this moves me out of the role of sole class moderator and all-around big voice of control in the course. In fact, recently in one of my classes there was a good, polemical conversation about illegal immigration, and I was glad not to have to be the only one helping students navigate this material.

I grade the moderator role as a 20-point informal assignment (like a double-strength post in my thousand-point system).

You can take this idea of moderating further. You might also want to explore enabling students to develop the prompts they will moderate. You could also ask students to serve not only as moderators but as evaluators of each other's work. For instance, Katrina Meyer investigated having students rate each other’s posts based on their value to their class. She felt this allowed “both instructors and highly regarded students” to influence how the class proceeds (2).

Finally, and most importantly, students may learn valuable writing and communicating skills by serving as moderators. They may see how challenging it can be to manage a conversation and encourage participation, and their writing authority shifts when they assume the role of moderator, which I think is always an interesting way to help them re-think their writing roles in a course.


1) From their book, Engaging the Online Learner (2004).

2) From Meyer's article “Does Feedback Influence Student Postings To Online Discussions?” in The Journal of Educators Online (4.1 [2007]): <>.