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Webheads in Action:
Community formation online and its role in language learning

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Week 7 - March 8-14

Issues in emoderation and chaos navigation

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  1. How do communities form online?
  2. Emoderation: Principled discussion of optimal degree of control
  3. The concept of Intuitive Chaos Navigation

1. How communities form online

Here are some strategies I have learned from participating in Webheads in Action to make the distances disappear in online courses, and create a feeling of community. These are some of the things the online moderator has done:

I wanted to share this, because I think these are strategies and attitudes that might contribute to the success of creating a human learning atmosphere in an online course. Conclusion? Moderators attitudes, motivation and facilitating strategies are fundamental in promoting participation.



Catching up on my old emails today I came across this link which I thought would be of relevance to the group. It deals with the different needs of men and women on the web and how one could try to build online communities to meet their different needs. It seems that we females need to emulate as much as possible the face to face experience in order to feel comfortable. It also has interesting things to say about the differences between Eastern and Western cultures. It is a powerpoint presentation of 14 slides.

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2. Emoderation: Principled discussion of optimal degree of control

Here is one point of departure

Hi all,

I've taken 4 online classes in different formats - WebCT, and web page based. I'm just beginning to explore yahoo though and like it very much. I've changed some parameters, looked at the options and haven't had any problems...yet. WebCT has the option of creating a *very* simple personal web page for the class and threads discussions like Nigel mentioned re: Blackboard. I don't think there was an option for synchronous discussion. The options are fun, the possibilities exciting, but what I've found from being on the receiving end - as a student - is that the instructor, or facilitator, guru or whatever, is the most important element. They have either made the classes stimulating and fertile learning environments, or have smothered the content and left us students bored. BTW, these were all masters level credit classes from the same university. After reading Nigel's review of BB, I'm going to check it out. Are there other forums that are recommended?

carol boehm :

Thanks for your comments, Carol. I hope this is one of your fertile classes. I'm sure the 'guru' has a lot to do with it, but I'd chalk it up to student input to ultimately make or break a class. Incidentally, I'm uncomfortablewith the guru/student dichotomy in classes such as this. I see it more as peers interacting. Guide on the side and cohorts? Anyone have any suggestions for appropriate terminology?

The no option for synchronous discussion comment struck me below. Of course there is an option. What about using blackboard and Yahoo or MSN instantmessager, or Tapped In, or any of a number of chat clients in tandem?


I agree with Carol's comments, Vance, and I think that as much as we don't want to be intimidated in an invironment like this (or any other learning environment for that matter) and would rather have a guide on the side, we also want to see you as our guru, an inspirational person who will be remembered by us forever as the person who initiated us to cyber-communities. Ave!

Michael Coghlan on E-Moderation

On Wednesday, March 13, at noon GMT Michael moderated a session on "Issues in emoderation and chaos navigation," based on his paper at .

Feedback on Michael's session was effusively positive; for example, Shun wrote:

It was one of the best sessions I ever attended at Tapped In. You were doing such a good job of eModerating an eModeration session of the Webheads. The discussion and your paper will certainly help me a lot in implementing my proposed CMC sessions for my year 2002 students.

Thank you again.

Shun Ito

Vance agreed:

It was a great session. Interestingly, it was a session at which all the participants knew each other fairly well by now. Therefore, it was a case of herding trained and reasonably well-behaved cats. Michael is himself an excellent e-moderator, and he had prepared an excellent paper on the topic, very graphic and easily readable.

I made these notes from the chat itself, which were mentioned for followup:

MichaelAC says, "Another useful matrix of roles is the one at"

Bernie Dodge's Webquest page:

MichaelAC says, "This site I also like very much - about the online moderator as host -"

To start us off, Michael asked an interesting question. He said, ok, write first thing that comes to your mind ...

You can read the reactions in the exerpt below. But now, on reflection, how would people on this mailing list now answer these questions?


MichaelAC says, "Let's begin...."
MichaelAC says, "Emoderation is a new term and it is difficult to find a precise definition for it. My definition of emoderation is - the process of managing online communications"
MichaelAC says, "It concerns communications in email, chat, forums, and instant messaging. Written and spoken."
VanceS [multytasky] listens to Michael
MichaelAC says, "I would like to do a quick brainstorm. Could everyone please write the first thing that comes to mind in answer to this question"
MichaelAC asks, "what is the key to being a successful emoderator?"
MichaelAC exclaims, "Go for it!"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "tolerance"
RitaZ says, "learn the ropes"
JamesSi [Webhead] says, "Helping people who don't know what they're doing to find out"
AzzamP says, "to be able to listen when you can't hear"
DafneG says, "collaboration"
ShunI says, "Multitasking brain"
RitaZ says, "sharing rules"
SusanneN says, "Sociotechnical compentencies - the ability to use the tools properly, and mediate the know how in a scaffolding and includingmanner"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "having a good working knowledge of the medium"
MichaelAC says, "Ok - stright away we can see that it involves a certain personality type. Do you agree? As well as tech competence."
AzzamP says, "knowing the online culture"
JamesSi [Webhead] says, "Being as prepared as you can be"
SusanneN says, "Creating a space for common ground"
SusanneN [to James]: "Even for the serendipity incidents :-)"
MichaelAC says, "Someone who can form bridges."
MichaelAC says, "Bridges betw people and ideas"
ShunI says, "Should exercise control over big mouths"
MichaelAC smiles
SusanneN says, "Having an idea on handling a hyperstructured dialogue"
MichaelAC asks, "Any big mouths here?"
RitaZ likes Shun's contribution
SusanneN [to Shun]: "and inspire the silent ones to come out in the light"
DafneG says, "understanding different learning styles"
MichaelAC says, "We can see from this growing list that it is not easy."
ShunI says, "You had the cultureal gaps in reserved and aggressive last week."
AzzamP [to Susan]: "nice one"
MichaelAC asks, "It is multi faceted. Can you do this job (of emoderator) naturally? Or does it have to be learned?"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "It's interesting to see how different people do it"
MichaelAC asks, "Examples V?"
DafneG says, "should be learned by immitating a role model"
RitaZ says, "some personal qualities are needed"
MichaelAC says, "I agree Dafne"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "I observed one emoderator who was having people take turns"
AzzamP says, "I think it should be learned through modelling"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "That also happens on Pal Talk (you request to talk)"
DafneG says, "people go before they get their turn at paltalk"
VanceS [multytasky] says, "In a big room there might be a reason for it, but I prefer to chaos navigate threads than to be constrained"
MichaelAC says, "I think we've all noticed that V"
JamesSi [Webhead] says, "Before you take on the moderating role in chat (like this), you have to feel comfortable with the workings of the discourse, and to allow for flexibility..."
MichaelAC smiles
VanceS [multytasky] smiles even more broadly
ShunI says, "I don't quite agree with Vance."
JamesSi [Webhead] says, "Structure can come in asynchronous discourse (emails, bulletin board forums etc."
MichaelAC asks, "Yes james - perhpas a balance of 'control' and flexibility?"
MichaelAC asks, "Why not Shun?"
JamesSi [Webhead] asks, "How to control it though, Michael, even if you should want to?"
SusanneN listen to Shun's opinion
ShunI says, "I'm thinking about managing a class interacting with friends or teachers abroad."
MichaelAC says, "Yes..."
DafneG says, "I think of a chat as a conversation f2f"
ShunI says, "Not social chatting among equal teachers."
VanceS [multytasky] says, "keep in mind that there are many different contexts and different styles can be appropriate for different contexts"
DafneG says, "and conversations among several people are chaotic too"
AzzamP listening
MichaelAC says, "I think that's true Shun. Some people crave the structure."
ShunI says, "Now I agree, Vance."
ShunI says, "For class sessions, you will have, Michael."
VanceS [multytasky] says, "I agree with you too Shun. Having watched you manage two NNS - NS dialogs, I thought your method was appropriate to that circumstance"
MichaelAC asks, "To James q: how do you control it? Turn taking is one way. Any others?"

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3. The concept of Intuitive Chaos Navigation

Chaos navigation is a term coined, we think, by Susanne -- or at least we first heard it from her. It was her first impression of Webheads, which she later modified to 'intuitive chaos navigation." Some are more comfortable with chaos than others - or what is controlled chaos to some might be task overload to others less skilled or less familiar with the environment. It is always interesting to discuss the degree to which these factors come into play in CMC, and the degree to which a chaotic vs. controlled environment should be tolerated or encouraged in online courses. - Vance

Further Reading

Introducing EFL Students to Chat Rooms. Written by Jo Mynard. Internet TESL Journal. February, 2002.

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