Thursday, January 05, 2006

E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online (2nd edition)

Education In The North, number 13, 2005-2006

E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online (2nd edition)

Gilly Salmon

Taylor & Francis, (2004). Pp. 256. Pbk. £23.99

Reviewer: Panos Vlachopoulos, University of Aberdeen

Gilly Salmon first introduced the term 'E- moderating' in 2000 when she published her first edition of the book reviewed here.
Within the growing area of e-learning and the debate about the role of the teacher in the new technological era which appears more controversial than ever, the book found its place in the market and became a bestseller. (It was printed twice in one year).

Back then, I found Salmon's ideas on computer-mediated-communication and the role of the moderator, as described in her five-stage model, fascinating, very well presented and most importantly simple to understand and easy to follow. Since then I have been systematically reviewing her writings and publications. I must admit that it was partly her first edition of e-moderating (Salmon, 2000) that inspired me to start a PhD in the area of electronic tutoring.
Almost four years later, Salmon's work and ideas are still around and still valued. Her experiences of e-moderating courses in the UK Open University are still inspiring the work of many tutors who work online. However, e -learning has moved forward.

Salmon's model has been tested in different educational contexts, from the OU as well as in other contexts (such as work-based learning situations), with some or limited success. Her work needed to be updated to catch up with the current developments in e-tutoring, but also to provide some answers to criticisms with more examples and new ideas. Perhaps this is the reason why Salmon decided to release a second edition of her e-moderating book. However, to uncover the new ideas and answers, the reader of the new edition must read each section carefully and reflectively. If you are someone who has already read the first edition, then perhaps you need to adopt a comparative approach to your reading. This is how I read and reviewed it.

What is new in the second edition?

The only obvious new contribution is Chapter 6. Although Chapter 6 comes under the same title as in the first edition, 'E-moderating: the key to the future of
online teaching and learning', the content is different. Salmon introduces to the readers her 'Scenarios': four allegoric stories about learners, teachers and technology in different 'Planets'(pp.136-147). With some good imagination and creativity any e-moderators can find themselves involved in one of these stories. Also, Chapter 3 comes with added details on e-moderating through synchronous conferencing. But for me, an active researcher in the field of e-learning, the important 'new' elements are the small added details or modifications in most of her chapters. A careful reader will definitely pick up the new points.

The definition of the e-moderator remains the same as in the first edition: 'A moderator is a person who presides over a meeting. An e-moderator presides over an electronic online meeting or conference, though not in quite the same ways as a moderator does' (p.4). However, Gilly Salmon expands this definition with three new paragraphs where she invites the readers to 'see the word e-moderating as an active verb - like learning and teaching' (p.4). She also suggests for the first time here that from her point of view an e-moderator is mostly a manager 'of online learning and group working' (p.4). Some disappointment results from this statement from readers who, like me, would like to see more educational concepts discussed in this book. In fact there is nothing mentioned about course tasks, the relation of these tasks to the intended learning outcomes and the purposeful activity of a tutor or e-moderator? The statement is clear and this is how she wishes it to be perceived: e-moderating is mostly about effective management.
The heart of the new edition is still Chapter 2 (pp.24-50): the five-stage model. The structure of the e-moderating model remains the same: Access and Motivation, Online, Socialization, Information Exchange, Knowledge Construction, Development.

However/ the chapter is enriched with new examples and many new references. For example, Stage 2 of the model (online socialization) is totally updated with extra four pages. In this second edition, 'online socialization' is associated with the development of a 'community of practice' (p.34)/ the promotion of an 'emotional literacy' and 'reflection' (p.37). Salmon also tries to give a global dimension in her model using examples from different cultures (p.35). Another noticeable difference in the second edition is a recapture of the role of the moderator in the later stages. Salmon suggests that the e-moderators should 'continue to both design and e-moderate for active participation and workable online relationships' (p.38), and she encourages e-moderators to use 'supportive/ formative feedback' (p.40). Concepts like 'formative feedback' and 'workable relationships' were missing from her first edition. However, I would expect here a better elaboration of these concepts, which was not provided. In summary, this is an easy-to-read-and-follow book, written in the format of a 'manual'. It introduces the idea of e-moderating from a variety of personal reflections and experiences from the author, but it does not elaborate the concept of moderation more deeply. I would have liked to see her five-stage model to have included coverage of the three aligned elements of learning, activity and assessment: how should an e-moderator intervene in any of the stages to support learning and meet a learning outcome? Also, in order to be convinced about the importance of a linear model with a ‘start’ and an 'end', I would have liked some evidence from the analysis of interactions between participants and e-moderators in different stages. It is important for the reader to understand the context within which the concept of 'e-moderating' was developed. This context is the Open University with its own educational characteristics. It would be unwise, though, simply to apply the model to any online learning situation. Read it, test it, evaluate it, and modify it!

Some suggestion for the readers:

• If you are interested in e-tutoring as a practitioner and still haven't bought any of the two editions, buy the second. It is updated with more examples and new concepts.

• If you have already bought the first edition, I can't see why you should buy the second edition. Encourage your library to obtain one for you, borrow it, and look for and think about the changes I have mentioned here.

• If you are looking for answers to deeper pedagogical and educational questions with regards to tutoring online, neither of the two editions will provide you with answers. There is very little direct enquiry and reporting of any identifiable effect of e-moderating on learning and development.


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At 12:36 AM, Blogger David McQuillan said...

Hi Curt,

I'm participating in a course - facilitating online communities. Would you be interested in jumping into an elluminate session for a quick 10 minute talk on what you see as the most important things to consider re: facilitating online communities? May be followed by some questions and answers?

Kind regards
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