To start with, we moderate together. This division is an over-simplification, but I take care of the big picture and he takes care of details. I have tried to moderate on my own, but it's just too difficult to make sure the pace is just right and people feel welcomed and engaged for the duration of the chat. Major props to Brian Bennett, who ran the chat on his own for the first 7-8 months it existed. There is so much going on in that hour that having two people monitoring and engaging sometimes doesn't even feel like enough.
First: choosing a topic. There used to be a weekly poll with various topics, but lately, we have just asked for ideas from regular #flipclass chatters and then aimed for consensus on the suggestions. Generally, people latch on to a topic that is in the twittersphere already, so it's not difficult to choose.
Next, the tech set-up. Andrew and I start a Google Hangout 15-20 minutes before the chat and finalise the questions in a google doc. We tweet out the topic a few times leading up to the start time. When the chat starts, I have the hangout and the question doc open, and I then open Tweetdeck in Chrome (now that tweetchat is gone. Sad.) to follow #flipclass and interactions) and a Twitter tab to monitor the number of interactions I have. The extra Twitter tab is because sometimes the stream moves so fast in tweetdeck that I miss interactions. I like to have them all together at the end so I can scroll through them and respond to ones I missed during the chat. It also makes me feel popular to know the number of interactions I get in a chat.
Our primary jobs during the chat are as follows:
Me: asking questions, watching the flow of conversation so we know when a new question is needed, or if our questions need to change to accommodate the way the conversation is going.
Andrew: welcoming new people, making jokes, puns, and obscure (bad) music references, engaging in #hashtaggery, connecting people and continuing conversations, and retweeting good answers and the questions on nights that move really quickly.
However, we don't always stick to those roles. I know that some people are under the impression that I'm the moderator because I'm the one asking the questions. But that just proves how good a moderator Andrew really is - his work is largely below the surface. He encourages conversation, brings people in and makes them feel comfortable, brings a liveliness to the conversation, and helps me know when to move to the next question. Weeks where he's had something else going on and can't fully play this role have been weeks where the chat hasn't been as good.
Watch his tweets during the chat carefully and you'll see how good he is at observing, engaging, and making the chat fun. That's way more difficult than asking seven questions in an hour.
Something else that is probably not obvious: at least 70% of the time, we don't use all the questions we wrote because the conversation goes a different way than we expected. Sometimes that's because we don't always know which questions are good and which aren't. Just like in class.
We like there to be a bit of variety, so sometimes we end early and encourage people to find #coflip buddies, sometimes we run google hangouts, and sometimes we have google docs that people can use to engage further. We also try and have topics that can engage everyone, from newbies to veterans.
The two elements that are ALWAYS part of our chat are Collaboration and Connection. We know how much better our flipped class has been since we started working together. And we also know that part of the reason we wanted to take over the chat was to help people get connected to people with whom they can collaborate. Hearing that people were inspired by us to start a coflip project or partnership makes all the craziness worth it.
We love moderating #flipclass, but when we have weeks like this past one, where the discussion was better than we anticipated and there was a bit of alchemy in the way everything came together by the end, it makes everything worth it. There is skill in managing a discussion, and that's a little different online than it is in the classroom; however, I think moderating the Twitter chat has made me better as a facilitator of discussion in my classroom. It's forced me to learn to read the room better and monitor flow more actively.
It's easy to burn out when you work this hard on changing your classroom. I discovered the Twitter chat soon after it started, and found that I could sustain the intense focus and energy I needed through the relationships and connection with people in that chat and in the flipclass community. Through the Twitter chat and #flipcon12, Andrew and I met, and that has been the most important factor in keeping me inspired and motivated. As we said in the chat - you need to reflect, and a reflective practice can easily lead to inspiration. And collaboration weaves those two things - reflection and inspiration - into the fabric of everything we do.
If you haven't joined us on Monday nights, please do! Follow me (@guster4lovers) and Andrew (@thomasson_engl) and then watch the #flipclass hashtag on Monday at 8 PM EST. We do the Q1/A1 format, so when you see Q that means question and the number is the order in which the questions are asked. You should try to respond with A (for answer) and the correct number as soon as possible after it's asked, though sometimes it happens that people fall behind so they answer later. If you lurk but don't engage, you're missing out! Jump in - this is just about the nicest, most welcoming community on Twitter and people will go out of their way to help you in whatever way you need.
If you have other questions about how we run the chat, or how the chat works, leave them in comments!