While considerable lore has accumulated about effective leadership techniques for groups interacting electronically, until now it has not been systematically presented. This material is culled from the experiences of those who have moderated past online conferences, the knowledge common to the EIES User Consultants, and observed behavior from thousands of conferences convened on EIES in the past. While this is a system-specific guide, the general principles ought to be generalizable to other systems, with different structures for group discussion.
Robert Burns put it well:
The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley;
An' lea'e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis'd joy.
Dashed hopes can be prevented. This manual attempts to synthesize the acquired wisdom by presenting a set of guidelines for the effective facilitation of electronic groups, rather than a list of programmed specifications or conventions. Whether or not a conference is successful depends on the leader's skills, which are both intuitive and learned by experience. The leadership techniques needed to moderate an online conference are significantly different from those appropriate for face-to-face meetings. This is a compendium of lessons learned, written to help the leaders of future conferences. But since the "rules" change for each group, it is meant only as a set of guidelines.
Desirable leadership qualities include sensitivity to the needs of participants, knowledge, persistence, willingness to spend the time and effort, enthusiasm, creativity, and flexibility. Although the ideal leader doesn't exist, successful conferences have proliferated.
Many items are not covered here, such as pre-conference preparations, selection of the leader and members, invitations, finances and sponsorship, the mechanics of establishing accounts and conferences, intermediary or follow-up face-to-face meetings, and post-conference implementation. Note that this manual references features on the EIES system, which differ from those of other computer-mediated communication systems.
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Computerized Conferencing & Communications Center and Kerr, Elaine B., "Moderating online conferences, Revised Manuscript" (1986). Computerized Conferencing and Communications Center Reports. 20.