Effective in Moderation

As some readers know, I am the moderator of the College Board’s AP Biology Teacher Community. I got roped in to the gig when the prior moderator decided to hang it up as we transitioned from an email list-serve to a more modern online space. We were one of the first Teacher Communities to come on line, and I think we are still the largest, though I am no longer able to access the backend to see the member count (last time I checked it was nearing 10K). It’s a great place, for a lot of reasons.

I get a lot of props from a lot of folks for the way I moderate the TC. I don’t really deserve them (but I will gladly take them). Frankly, most of the time, the job is notable for just how little effort it requires. I get real-time emails as folks send in their messages, and every three days I have a repeating To-Do event to remind me to hop on and “curate” the place, which basically involves approving/rejecting membership requests, and moving new posts that were submitted without a categorization to one of the various categories. Every once in a while the College Board will give me an announcement that I have to post. No big whoop.

This is the process for ~50 weeks out of the year. But there are 2 weeks every year when I probably do 95% of the earning of my stipend. These are the week in May immediately after the administration of the AP exam (aka “this past week”), and the week in July when student scores are released to instructors. These are the times when I have to post most actively, and work hardest to help the Community deal with the inevitable angst that accompanies these two events. I don’t have the data (yet), but I am relatively sure that the volume of posts increases by several multipliers during these two weeks.

This being the case, I have found that it’s most effective for me to hold to a few core principles in these periods of heavy posting. Here they are (in no particular order):

  • Everyone can speak: I know enough about myself to know that I have a very “progressive” attitude about things like exams, their ratings, and how I consider scores within the context of my practice. I also know from years of interactions with the larger AP Biology Community, that my perspective is by no means unique, but it is also by no means universal. The job of the moderator is not to control the conversation. I try to be as careful as possible to make sure that everyone feels comfortable posting about their own particular perspectives on these course events. The only thing that might make me ever delete a post would be a violation of the Teacher Community usage policies. Short of that, I am not interested in being the arbiter of what is, and is not, appropriate.
  • Claims require evidence and reasoning: Being that we are a Community of scientists, we really should be making every effort to conduct ourselves by the standards of the discipline. If a Community Member wants to make a claim, they should feel free to do so. But the only claims that really merit further discourse (at least from me), are those that bring evidence, and reasoning along with them. I’m not interested in conversing with science teachers at a standard of quality that is below the one that I expect of my students.
  • No claims are above scrutiny: Again, this comes from the discipline. The minute a claim is no longer subjected to scrutiny is the moment that we can no longer engage with it analytically. To that end, I will frequently challenge claims that I disagree with. When I do this, I try to make sure that I am providing my own evidence and reasoning in my replies. Often, this can be as simple as referencing other material that has been posted elsewhere in the Teacher Community (again, and again, and again, sometimes). Occasionally I have to cite historical items that Members may have forgotten, or never been aware of to begin with. When I do challenge a post, I try to make sure that I am respectful in my language, and my tone, while still being clear and crisp in my own internal logic. I’m not always perfect here, but I do think that I am objectively MUCH better at it than I was in the days when I was just another Member of the group. Unsurprisingly, being the moderator has moderated my style.
  • Use the position for good: The moderator role is powerful independently of anything I might bring to it. I’ve been a loudmouth for as long as I have been part of this wonderful group of folks, but since I took this gig my soapbox is a bit taller, and my megaphone is a bit louder. To that end, I try to make sure that the conversations that I am having are all oriented toward positivity and problem-solving. A good portion of this is just the “it just ain’t so” type of post. Another large part of my posting tries to move grumpy conversations toward more constructive directions. I will frequently respond to a Member who is griping about something with questions that try to get that Member to engage in a bit of reflection as to why he/she is having a particular problem, or has arrived at a particular conclusion. I’ll often try to invite other folks in to the conversation, too, in an attempt to recruit a diversity of perspectives. One thing that I try to never, ever, do, is to use the authority of my position as an argument within itself. We all know where that leads.

Moderating the AP Biology Teacher Community is tremendous fun. Even though there are a few weeks of the year where it can be a bit busy, it is always a privilege to be engaging with a 10,000+ member professional learning community, to say nothing of the effect that it has on my own practice. I’m very proud of the place we have built, and I don’t imagine I could get a better professional education if I tried.