E-Moderating: The Key to Online Teaching and Learning
reviewed by Mary Lowe - April 12, 2013
In light of the fact that we live in a world characterized by rapidly accelerating change, teaching and learning can no longer afford to be reactive but rather must be characterized by a proactive approach to integrating new and emerging forms of technology.
Many of todays emerging technologies point toward a paradigm shift from isolated learning to learning that is collaborative in nature. This shift in education favors broader dissemination, virtual community building for the purpose of sharing information, and releasing courses (in some cases at no charge) to the broader public. Educators are part of that paradigm change in that they are no longer marginal to the online experience but rather a vital part of the exchange of learning. The shift seems to be in favor of a more facilitative and collaborative approach rather than a top-down and authoritarian model of teaching. Salmons book underscores that notion with the use of the term electronic moderators or e-moderators which conveys the sense that teaching is more about the facilitation of learning. She understands the role of the e-moderator as one who promotes human interaction and communication through the modeling, conveying, and building of knowledge and skills (p. 5).
While there is certainly a place for self-direction in online learning, most would agree that the course professor is instrumental in the success (or demise?) of the learning experience. Salmons book provides the practitioner with valuable resources on becoming more knowledgeable and skilled in the facilitation of online learning. She cites research that points to the critical role e-moderators play, noting that they have a major influence on learners flexibility and achievements (p. 10). The role of the e-moderator goes beyond simply the subject matter expert to include a variety of responsibilities such as managing groups, providing resources for learning, cheerleading, and instructing.
Salmon provides a five-stage model for collaboration in online learning, methods for developing and evaluating e-moderators, and practical resources for the e-moderator. As she sees it, the five-stage model integrates learning with learning how to learn. It is not enough to simply learn about new technologies but also how to implement them in a way that contributes to deeper learning. The implied understanding of the stage model is that students move through the process at varying speeds but it is her belief that by establishing a solid foundation, retention rates improve, student success is enhanced, and e-moderating is a much more successful experience.
Two of the key factors in attrition rates for online education are motivation and skill development. Stage one addresses these concerns and provides the e-moderator with research and resources for avoiding common pitfalls in early online experiences. Stage two addresses one of the most critical components in online education which is community building. Successful navigation of online content depends in part on the socialization component because the experience is not limited solely to content acquisition. The effective e-moderator will be able to move students into stage three as they begin to interact not only with each other but also with course content. Although the process of culling large amounts of course content can be daunting for some, it is important to guide learners through a well-organized, concise method of acquiring information and moving them toward higher levels of application and synthesis. Salmon notes that supportive, formative feedback is motivational and will contribute to modification of participants thinking (p. 45). Stage four moves the learner from how to learn to constructing new knowledge. The successful e-moderator knows how to encourage constructivist learning, when to push learners toward deeper thinking, and how to keep the class on-task in synthesizing new information with existing paradigms. The previous dynamic imparts new information while the latter encourages students to create their own understanding of course content, guided by the subject matter expert. The final stage moves the learner from a place of dependence on the instructor to levels of self-directedness in learning. Stages one through four should establish the framework for a student to demonstrate a certain level of independence and higher-order thinking, the outcome for stage five. The five-stage model can be compared to growth and development models of maturation. If the groundwork is done well by the e-moderator, students will have no problem successfully navigating those stages that require greater dexterity with online learning.
Salmon provides helpful information to e-moderators in practical application of the five-stage model by incorporating various technologies into the facilitation process. She references modern applications of social media and other instructional strategies as a way to highlight practical use and implementation of her model. These include Facebook, blogs, wikis, and virtual worlds. In each of these cases, the five-stage model is a helpful paradigm for structuring online moderating. Moreover, she offers practical advice on the qualities that make for a good e-moderator. This is not only helpful to the person considering online instruction but also those who must evaluate that individual. Salmon provides an excellent rubric for determining qualities and requisite skills for competent e-moderators. Many institutions simply assume the e-moderator understands their role in that process but this book makes explicit the ways in which persons should view how they function in an online classroom. The five-stage model is provided as a framework for training e-moderators. This would be a very helpful tool to those institutions that provide extensive (and much needed) training for their online faculty. One of the areas in which Salmon makes explicit the implicit are the learning experiences that students will encounter and how to mitigate the difficulties some might encounter. She includes issues such as access, learning styles, assessment, disability awareness, demographics, and netiquette. She concludes with excellent advice for the future of e-moderating by echoing those who have suggested that in a world of rapidly accelerating technological change, success will be marked by those who have learned how to learn and adapt to that one constant, change. She highlights a few areas that she believes will have the most impact on education and online communities.
Finally, she provides a section of resources for e-moderators that is an excellent toolbox of ideas that can be implemented in a number of learning experiences. She provides twenty-four resources that can be used by both e-moderators and those training the facilitators. The resources include topics such as online socialization, costs, presence, podcasting, and the promotion of active participation of online learners.
This text would be an excellent addition for those institutions that are serious about adequate preparation of online facilitators as well as for those e-moderators who want to improve their online teaching experience.