This post is a part of a series of posts I’m writing as a Reflective Journal task for the British Council’s eModeration course. We’re currently in the sixth week. This week’s unit focused on course adaptation, needs analysis, feedback and rapport.
Last week, one of my peers on the course wrote about “an illusion of community” i.e., regardless of what the moderator does, we can’t really hope for anything more than “fly-by-night bonds” on an online course. You can’t compel course participants to establish a connect with each other. All you can really do is create the circumstances that might facilitate connections. While you might not have much control over peer to peer rapport, I think there’s quite a bit you can do as an online moderator to establish rapport with participants. Here are some ideas:
Don’t make it all about the syllabus
- Use fun tasks like ‘Create your own Picassohead’ (the image in this post) or ‘Create your own abstract expressionist artwork‘ to get participants to create a zany artwork and post it in a discussion forum for their peers to see.
- Try to combine skills that you want to teach with creative expression. For example, if you’re teaching issues related to copyrighted images, get participants to explore Flickr Creative Commons and select a funny image which falls under a license that allows them to share. Ask them to upload this to a course wiki with appropriate attribution.
Encourage participants to share of themselves
- Have an easily accessible open discussion forum where participants can chat and share things which may or may not have anything to do with the course. Ensure your presence from time to time in the forum, where you can add details about yourself to personalize your relationship with participants and appear … well more human (Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened in the eModeration course. There is an open forum but Moodle is structured such that it rests in one of the initial units and you know what they say about out of sight …).
- Ask participants to post pictures of their weekend breakfast and/or share a recipe in the discussion forum. I got this ideas from Gollancz, a genre publisher from the UK who once hosted a “breakfast share fest” on Pinterest.
- Get participants to post a childhood picture of themselves or their family.
- Or have them create a list that describes their morning or weekend routine. And for all of these tasks, make sure you share your own images, lists, recipes and whatnot.
Don’t shy away from Emoji
Our students humanize their digital experience with text speak, emoji, and selfies. When they are on their devices, they are part of a generation creating a universal language filled with nonverbal cues, fun, emotion, and culture. They are translating English into pictographs and abbreviations recognized and used by people around the world. They summarize, decode, translate, read, and write more than people ever could before the development of digital devices.
I think as instructors, we sometimes hesitate to use emoji but as Shelly poignantly points out, those little figures really do make a difference in humanising the digital experience 🙂 Moderators ought to use emoji purposefully in their own course communication and guide participants to follow their example. Shelly’s page on Emoji is a great place to get helpful strategies.
Establish a culture of responsiveness
It’s easy to get lost on an online course and when a participant’s ‘help me’ email is responded to after days, it can make them feel that they’re not valued and affect their perception of the moderator and engagement on the course. The issue of responsiveness becomes all the more difficult in forum discussions – you need to strike a balance between making your presence felt and getting participants to discuss a topic autonomously without too much intervention/input from you.
I get a sense that it’s easy to over-commit to online courses as a moderator because it feels like there isn’t relatively much work to do (you’re not physically present in a classroom for a predetermined period of time) so you might take on lots of concurrent projects … and then find that you’re unable to stay on top of queries and discussions.
One way to deal with email queries when you have other commitments is to set up an Out of Office (OOO) message with self-access resources for query resolution and troubleshooting (NB: the links in this example are all dummy URLs):
Thank you for your message. I’m currently teaching lessons through the day with limited access to my mails. Please expect a delay in my response.
For students enrolled in <course name>, please try to troubleshoot using any of the following solutions:
- Locked out of your account? Watch this video for retrieving your password.
- Unable to upload your document? Go through this ‘How to’ guide.
- Not sure what you need to complete this week? Access the Unit letter.
- Questions about this week’s tasks? Get support from your peers by posting your question in this forum.
If you are facing a different issue than the ones listed here, please wait for my response at 7PM IST.
Demonstrate that you’re not infallible
Hint to participants during synchronous and asynchronous interactions, that you too sometimes face technical issues or are overwhelmed by the complexity and non-intuitive nature of the online learning platform. However, show them how you stay resilient and persevere through all the issues, enjoying the overall experience.
Recall and link back
Weave and summarize participant inputs in discussion forums by explicitly acknowledging who contributed what but go beyond syllabus related comments to details participants may have shared about themselves. Incorporate these into future questions, comments, and posts.
That’s a really creative answer Rhea! I remember you sharing with us your love for art and all those painting classes you had attended. Did you get some of these ideas from that experience?
Image attribution: Image created using picassohead