I came across a short paper by Vlachopoulos and McAleese (2004) in which they describe their research on the use of two extremes of facilitation style for eModerating in an online problem solving context; low or a non-directive style and high or a directive style. Their aim was too see to what extent facilitation styles (teaching presence) influenced student learning.
They analysed the messages posted by the tutors online using the coding scheme proposed by Anderson et al (2001), based on the Community of Inquiry model. Interestingly they also coded the reflection journals of the tutors, using the sentence as the unit of analysis and coding into only one of two codes: either positive attitude or negative attitude. The data was processed with the aid of NVivo.
The results showed a direct correlation between high moderation styles and significant levels of participation from students. More interestingly, perhaps, they also found that students' discourse in forums with a low moderation style tended to be less focused on the subject of the learning – the inference being that the moderators encouraged students to participate and to stay on track. However, the study was unable to demonstrate that this had a positive impact on students' learning.
I found particularly interesting the results pertaining to the moderators, who found it difficult and rather artificial to purposely adopt a low moderation style. The reflective journals showed a significant level of frustration and negative attitude, with tutors concentrating on their own needs rather than those of the students, for example questioning their role as teachers. The authors conclude that a singe style of moderation is not appropriate and that teachers must use the style that they feel is most appropriate for the learning context, the needs of learners and their stage of development in online discourse, with a view to keeping the discussion focused on achieving the learning outcomes. As such, they find Salmon's five stage model for eModeration (Salmon, 2000) to be too prescriptive.
The paper closes by proposing a general definition for eModeration:
' … e-moderation is an activity in which someone, not necessarily the teacher, facilitates a discussion in the virtual environment, making interventions that are designed to encourage the discussants to engage with and achieve an overall aim' (Vlachopoulos and McAleese, 2004, p.405)
Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. & Archer, W. (2001) 'Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context'. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2), pp.1-17
Salmon, G. (2000) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online, Kogan Page.
Vlachopoulos, P. & McAleese, R. (2004), 'E-moderating in on-line problem solving: a new role for teachers?', 4th Hellenic Conference with International Participation, Information and Communication Technologies in Education, Athens University of Athens. (ONLINE - http://www.epyna.gr/show/a399_406.pdf - accessed 15.08.2010)
About my research
My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.
I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.