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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Thoughts on Managing Online Discussion Forums…

joann avatar

While we’re a long way from developing a profile of characteristics or attributes possessed by skilled online moderators, humility, the capacity to listen (read!) carefully, and the ability to respond without interjecting personal or professional opinions or values seem to be characteristics shared by most professional practitioners. Needless to say, this is not the usual list of top criteria for successful group leadership in face-to-face settings! In fact, the digital venue calls for a reconsideration of many of the standard discussion-leading techniques. Two simple examples – wait time (stopping for more than a few seconds after posing a question to a group) and redirection (pulling elements from what has been said to refocus a potentially tangential discussion back on to learning objectives) – illustrate some fundamental differences between face-to-face and online discussions.

Wait time, so important in face-to-face meetings, takes on a completely new meaning online. Online wait time – a period of sustained refection about a participant’s or facilitator’s posting – can be measured in hours or even days, not minutes/seconds in the face-to-face classroom or around a conference table. This fosters opportunities for rich thinking and response that are rare of in the live setting.

Redirection, a standard technique for face-to-face instructors, workshop or discussion leaders, relies on capturing salient points while they are still fresh in the memories of the audience and using those points to guide the group in a direction the facilitator deems productive. Online discussion forums, with sequenced written posts, provide ready evidence for alternative interpretation or refocusing. Skilled moderators recognize the potential of the traditional redirection technique and can incorporate it with ease at their leisure. Even connections that would be far too subtle to make in a real-time aural-based setting can be explored and deepened more simply when the record is permanent text.

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This entry was posted on January 19, 2007 by in Instructional Design, Techniques.
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