FOC weeks 4-5 roles of facilitator, moderator and teacher

Try to determine the role and behavior of these three roles:

  • Facilitator
  • Moderator
  • Teacher

After quite a while of pondering and reading and fruitful conversations,  as well as a discarded post along the way, I now feel ready to tackle this task.

First, what are the roles of facilitator, moderator and teacher?  Defining what they are is perhaps a matter of culture and opinion, so I can only claim these differences to be from my own point of view.

The teacher seems the most clear cut to me. A teacher imparts knowledge. A teacher is an authority, although this role may be more or less authoritative. In my opinion, a teacher nurtures and coaches, and often takes on many other roles such as actor, drawer, writer, mother/father at times, brother/sister at other times. I see a ‘good’ teacher as NOT spoon feeding, but helping the learner acquire knowledge.

Children and adults may need or appreciate teachers, but the role of teacher changes depending on the age of the learner. Since adults are better able to find what they want to know, a moderator can often take over.

This leads me to the role that I found the most ellusive. The moderator guides the discussion and perhaps guides particpants to sources of knowledge. This seems to me to be less authoritative, if at all. It could be that the moderator is not an expert on the subject, which I would expect a teacher to be, but certainly have some knowledge of the topic.

The least intrusive of the three is the role of facilitator. This person, as mentioned earlier, has the job of making things easier for participants. This person may have helped to construct the concept being worked on, the course structure, or made decisions as to the applications that should bu used. I quote Bee Deux by describing the facilitator as the architect, paving the road, designing the building, or whatever other picture you have in mind.

Looking at these separate roles, it becomes clear to me that a person involved in running a course, group, community or any other entity should be clear about what hat he or she is wearing at any given time. The hat will have an influence on how the members, learners etc react to any input given.

  1. When does the act of teaching compromise the role of a facilitator of an online community?

As I mentioned before, adults are different than children. They have the ability to find information and process it. What they might need is direction, support and feedback, depending on the situation. In short, they will join a community in order to have a framework or structure and someone to guide them.

If these are the expectations, then the reaction to a sudden change of roles from the facilitator to teacher may not be well taken. The facilitator is no longer helping in the background, but taking an active role as an authority. A possible result may be silence in the group or community. The expectations may also change from the particpants being active in finding, processing and sharing to them taking a passive role, waiting for the ‘teacher’ to run the show, to feed the hungry lot.

  1. When does the act of moderating online discussion compromise the role of a facilitator of an online community?

To a lesser degree this may also happen when the facilitator takes the role of moderator.

  1. When does the act of facilitation compromise the role of a teacher or moderator in an online community?

On the other hand, when a group expects a leader to keep the discussion going, or is expecting a teacher for knowledge, having someone who is in the background and only intervenes to offer easier or better possibilities for communication, but expects the group to take the intiative, the community or members of the community may revolt, requesting more structure, input or guidance.

  1. When are these three roles appropriate in an online community?

The best role in any given situation very much depends on what is going on in the community, what the aims are at that moment and how close or far the community is or wants to be from the aims.

Here are a couple of examples which may require hat-changing:

Example 1

Certain online applications are being used to communicate, but not everyone understands why these are being used as opposed to others they already are acquainted with. Maybe some are struggling with the tools and using them, while others have logged on, but don’t see the advantage of this means of communication.

The tools were decided by the facilitator for certain reasons, but now there is need for a bit of trouble-shooting, and perhaps some individual teaching of how to use the tools is necessary. Because of the controversy going on, there is a need to discuss and bring in different opinions in order to decide what action, if at all, should be taken. Here a moderator is called for to guide and keep up the discussion until either most of the members are clear about the reasons of using the tools and more or less agree to them, or a joint consensus is made to abandon this particular too and opt for an alternative, decided on through the discussion.

The facilitator will either set up the alternative or another member of the community will volunteer to do this. If the role of teacher is too strongly present here, it will be expected of the teacher to do this.

Example 2

What if there are problems with the ideas being presented and processed?  The main role ‘the person in charge’ decides to take will determine how these problems are dealt with. If the facilitator puts on the teacher’s hat, then the members will expect this in later situations, thus forcing hte facilitator into the teaching role, whether or not this is perceived as desirable.

If the facilitator feels the need to make this a point of discussion (moderating), then this too sets standards. It may be that through the moderation, groups are formed to help those with problems.

If the facilitator makes the decision to remain in the background in such situations, then he or she marks that ownership of the community is with the community and it is up to the community to supply help.

Example 3

What if someone joins the community, not to contribute, but to disturb? Or if someone contributes, but appears by nature to be disruptive and rude? In a community where there is more facilitating than moderating or teaching, the members will probably take the matter into their own hands and inform this person that their behavious is inappropriate. If, within the community, there is more moderating or teaching evident, then the chances are greater that the moderator (or teacher) will approach this person behind the scenes and kindly request him or her to either stay within the parameters of the socially acceptable or to leave the community, maybe even to the point of blocking this person from the community.

Well, these are the conclusions I’ve come to within these past two weeks. They are not set in stone and it may well be that the cultural or even linguistic differences mentioned at the beginning of this post will mean that some will strongly disagree. In the end, call it what you want, in every title given to a person, there lies a multitude of jobs and hats.