12.5. Guidance for Discussion Moderators

Discussion forums are hugely important tools in running a successful MOOC; they allow for substantive community development, in addition to being excellent sources of feedback and ideas for future iterations of the course.

Moderators are the key to effectively managing these online communities. Moderators keep the discussions productive and relay important information (errors, student confusion with or interest in particular topics, and so on) to the rest of the course staff. Discussions can be moderated by any of a number of members of the course team, but dedicating enough time to moderation is the best way to cultivate a successful discussion culture.

Please feel free to use some or all of the information in this chapter to guide the contributions of your discussion moderators.

12.5.1. Responsibilities

  • Answer basic questions posed by students, and direct students with questions to the right resources: syllabi, course documents, course updates, useful lecture segments, example problems, etc.
  • Relay reports of errata, common misconceptions and questions, highly disruptive participants, bugs, and amusing or interesting posts to the most appropriate course staff.
  • Enforce the Honor Code by editing or deleting problem answers, or requests for answers, promptly.
  • Edit out offensive content from the discussion, and remind the originators of discussion etiquette and expectations.
  • Communicate problems and successes to your fellow moderators.
  • Identify students whose presence in the discussions has a strongly positive impact. These students can be promoted to community TA role and publicly acknowledged.
  • Add helpful items to the FAQ or Course Info page.

12.5.2. Qualities of good discussion moderators

  • Good or great content knowledge: stellar students from previous years often make good moderators.
  • Solid communication skills: the ability to organize positive, consistent, and effective communication with students, other moderators, and course staff.
  • Time: keeping up-to-date with the discussions for a large MOOC requires at least 5 hours per week for reading posts, replying to or editing posts, and communicating with the other moderators and course staff.
  • Enthusiasm: this is the best predictor of moderator excellence!

12.5.3. Best practices for discussion moderation

  • Always maintain a positive attitude. Keeping a positive attitude is crucial to encouraging participation in the discussion community.
  • Encourage discussion between students. Actively thank students who answer the questions of others.
  • Use the course’s FAQ and Course Info pages as resources. Provide links to these pages in your responses when appropriate. Suggest that information be added to these resources when necessary to respond to a common question or fix confusion.
  • Always make it obvious that you have read the student’s question. When posting a response, make sure that you are on topic. Respond in the context of the thread.
  • Develop a discussion persona. Try to answer your questions in your own slightly unique way.

12.5.4. Guidelines for specific types of posts

Certain types of posts require more attention from the moderators than others, or may need to be handled in a particular way. Time sensitive problems

  • Try to be present on discussion threads when assignment due dates are approaching or new content is being released. The discussions tend to be extra busy at these times.
  • Please alert the course staff about problems that need to be dealt with quickly, such as problems with a graded assignment. Setting up a course email address that is checked frequently is a good way to manage these alerts. Content Questions

  • Assist with content questions sensitively, but be careful not to post spoilers. Do not ask students to post their solutions!
  • A good guiding question can be better than an answer. Redundant posts

  • When possible, help discourage redundancy by responding to such posts with links to an earlier or higher quality thread that asks the same question.
  • When responding to a post, search for similar posts and respond to the most pertinent thread. Redirect the other posts to the thread with your response and then close the redundant threads. Off topic, inappropriate, or offensive posts

  • Don’t simply delete them; instead, edit and explain why they were edited. Inappropriate posts include spoilers, solutions, and information on how to pirate educational materials.
  • Check links that students post. If offensive sites and materials are found, they need to be edited quickly. Bugs or errors

  • Check if there is in fact an error.
  • If not, suggest to the students that they check their work.
  • If so, contact course staff, and notify the thread that the error has been reported.
  • Use language that does not assign blame or discourage users from the platform.
You might say: “Thanks for letting us know about that issue. We are working with edX to get it fixed as quickly as possible.” Feature requests

  • Keep an organized collection of feature requests cultivated by the course team. That list can subsequently be shared with an edX product manager, who will log those requests internally.
  • Reply to the post to let the person know that their request was heard, without promising that the feature will be implemented.
You might say: “Thanks for your suggestion. I’ve logged it for review by edX staff, who will prioritize feature requests on the development roadmap.”
  • Search the discussions for other similar requests, and respond to and close those as well.