Learning in Moderation

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
11 December, 2018
Editorial: 262
Fecha de publicación original: 10 abril, 2001

Taking things to heart gets things done

On the Internet, as one would expect with an open architecture network of this kind, we can all “see each other”. Moreover, we see one another as numbers, 0’s and 1’s (hence the joke about the two mutts sitting in front of the computer saying, “The advantage of the Internet is that no-one knows you’re a dog”). Luckily, digital technology allows conjugations that makes us appear on the Net under names, surnames, photos, videos, electronic ID’s before and after the @, etc. But all this does not detract from the fact that we are all still just numbers meeting other numbers to exchange more numbers. This is one of the most outstanding characteristics of this peculiar electronic environment we call the Internet and one which, curiously enough, we give little thought to, despite its devastating impact on users. What we are saying, in fact, is that different personal, family, social, professional, corporate, religious, political, educational, or national cultures, some of whom come altogether under one numerical unit, interact with others with whom they would otherwise not even have touched sides with, were it not for the Net. Now they can, and they do, as numbers, a new identity, another layer to be added to the others, with its own particular peculiarities. In other words, an identity with the capacity to generate its own culture rooted in the environment within which it interacts: the virtual environment created by interconnected computer networks.

We shouldn’t lose sight of this aspect of the Internet when we say, as almost all of us do, that the capacity for creating and operating within networks is the essential feature of the Information Society. Because, unless we form exclusive little groups of old friends, no sooner do these networks acquire the dynamics of the virtual environment, than they force us into negotiating our relationships with others via a complex and intimate cultural process which sneaks up on us without warning and takes us by surprise. Generally we find ourselves facing this dilemma alone and unarmed. There is nowhere we can go to learn what approach to take, what the rules are and how best to behave in order to rapidly acquire the necessary experience to deal successfully with the new situation. When people talk of digital literacy, this –negotiating online– is exactly the subject that comes to my mind as one of the basics for learning virtual logic and not just the topical session to show us how to use an e-mail programme (however important this may be, one should not confuse the spoon with eating with your mouth full).

This process of negotiation is a permanent one, no matter what we do on the Net. Our capacity, large or small, to take this on board, and incorporate it into our routine activities, marks, to a large extent, our ability to take advantage of what the Net has to offer us. In fact, the ability to create networks where we can obtain, generate –and manage– information and knowledge relevant to us, both because of the way it is produced and its participants, depends on this capacity for negotiation between cultures masked behind a series of numbers capable, because of where they are, of generating a culture of a new kind, a networked culture.

That is why we at en.red.ando think that one of the most crucial professions within the Information Society will be networked moderators. Their presence will be a determining factor, ensuring that the creation and development of networks progresses by means of a guided negotiation process among participants, guaranteeing the fulfillment of proposed objectives, whether these be the organising of work within a particular real or virtual environment, developing learning processes of different types, directing projects in or between various organisations, obtaining information in a specific knowledge area, etc. Depending on the networks we belong to, moderators will, as a result of their professional skills or experience with the kind of work to be done, become essential reference points.

The networks we create via en.medi@ are all moderated. This is a skill we have been developing for many years, which not only allows us to reflect on this activity itself, but also to hone work methodologies which, since we don’t have grandmothers to praise us, we don’t mind admitting have put us at the forefront of moderation within the networked world. In fact, the development and growth of the en.red.ando magazine, whose “pages” have been supplemented by the contributions of dozens of internauts explaining their experiences in different fields and aspects of the Net, has been a privileged exercise in moderation right from the start. But, of course, it hasn’t been the only experience of its kind. The organisation of the online phase of The First International Congress on Electronic Publication in May 1998 was based largely on moderation work.

The first task of a moderator, and the most important one, is the creation of a working methodology within the network and the guarantee of a balanced exchange among members. The moderator is not just a “machine that approves –or rejects– messages”, something they do one way or the other anyway to prevent, for example, “spamming” or unwanted advertising. The moderator is in constant contact with participants and orientates the type of participation of each person thereby increasing their capacity for generating information to the benefit of the network.Their function is not to filter, modify or censor messages. On the contrary, they guide, harmonise inevitable cultural differences among participants and try to find the tone best suited to the culture taking shape in the network as it grows.

One of the most frustrating routine occurrences in discussion lists is when one person gives an opinion and loads of people feel the need to send “I agree” or “Me too” messages. In an en.medi@, the moderator’s role is, in addition, to remind participants that the network is there for the generation of content and knowledge and suggest that they say why or what they agree with exactly. Often participants surprise themselves when they have to justify an opinion. And, sometimes, they find out that they don’t really agree as much as they thought they did when they gave a simple “Me too”. These kinds of perceptions form the basis of personal and collective growth, because they uncover things that, as they are disseminated throughout the network, form part of a collective intelligence and contributes to the process of group learning.

The moderators also establish guidelines for participation, within the limits of the flexibility recommended. They do this as regards the personal exchanges that, more often than not, so easily become “necessarily negotiable disputes”, as well as with the content of these exchanges, For instance, opinions attributed to other people (or work) must be accompanied by relevant references and documentation. There is nothing so frustrating as someone who says “Take a look at this web page”, without giving any indication as to what one will find there, why one would be interested in it or why they are recommending it. The moderator establishes guidelines here to respect the time of other participants. Summaries of documents and referenced web pages are the cornerstones of the quality of the contributed information, of its credibility and reliability as well as the credibility and reliability of the contributors themselves, while at the same time becoming an invaluable resource for the whole network and those connected to it.

Finally, the moderator performs two more functions (and, it goes without saying that their job description does not end here). On the one hand, as the only person who knows everything about the information flows the network is generating at any given time (not just in the debate area, but in contribution areas as well: see the editorial “Woody’s Friend”), they can control the rhythm and prevent “info-somatic shock” which can paralyse participants. On the other, they direct the growth process on the network, either by direct participation in the debates, or by periodically producing the results of activity on the network, conclusions which orientate the creation of new contribution areas in line with user needs, develop communication strategies for disseminating the information and knowledge produced online, point out emerging needs or new research areas proposed by participants to knowledge managers, etc.

All this activity, which requires a capacity for negotiation as elevated as that which cyberspace itself proposes as a consequence of its very configuration, would all be just “info-mediation” –interesting and, undoubtedly, important as it is, but unable to grow — if it were not backed up by the work of other professionals that make up the human and technological architecture of the networks. In the first place, online knowledge managers. We will be taking a look at their job next week.

Translation: Bridget King