Crowd Wise 4a: Leaders are..? (Roles)

The greatest master is he who creates the most masters
Tao te Ching

Whenever I think about leadership in e-learning communities within the field of ELT, these are the following people who immediately spring to my mind as long-running, long-serving and highly experienced e-moderators:

(From top: Carla Arena, David Deubel, Duncan Baker, Gladys Baya, Tara Benwell & Vance Stevens)

At a minimum, without counting, I belong to at least 50 different web2.0 groups: on LinkedIn, Xing, Orkut, Google, Facebook, Ning, Moodle and Yahoo!Groups.  

My role on these varies across the different platforms: for most of these, I am a lurker(!), on others I contribute infrequently, responding to a call out for help or providing monthly blog summaries - not just of my own blog:), and on others, I contribute very often.  

In some, I actively and regularly engage in lively debates - sometimes heated exchanges on methodology, technology and pedagogical best practices.

I even run two groups aimed at other English teachers: one of which is on Facebook (strictly connected to my blog and helping my readers who choose to connect with me there) and one is entirely dedicated to enabling ELTbloggers to meet each other and collaborate across the blogosphere.  I  also have groups where I work in private blended learning courses with students.

BUT... I wouldn't begin, not even for a second, to put myself in the knowledge categories of those I've pictured above.*  

And that makes me wonder:   
what is it, that creates an amazing e-community leader?   

Many people believe, like rules, that having a specific leader isn't necessary and that communities can drive themselves.  On some this does work, on others it doesn't. Fact is, some leaders created their groups to serve their own (financial) agendas and simply do not communicate, care about or give anything back to their members.  Some  started their communities as part of an experiment in e-learning, something to put on the CV because it looks cool,  some gave up on the concept way before their group reached critical mass and others have been taken over by trolls, spammers and pirates.

I've seen, first hand, throughout the last three years that great leadership is not something to take lightly and is something to take special note of.   But what are the qualities these people possess?   Is it the desire to share? 

How are they able to lead others - people which, most of the time, they have only met online?  Did they learn how to do this, read books - which ones?  Or was it a skill they simply innately possessed dormant until the internet was born?

Let's do a quick experiment, for a second, read this ad:

I wonder...
How would the rest of the job ad read?


**Although there are many, many, many other online edu-group leaders I could have featured in the mosaic above,  I have specifically chosen ones in the field of ELT where there has been a clear leadership model over a long period of time, in communities I belong to or participated in.  However, please don't hesitate to recommend other great moderators you have also noted.   


This posting is part of a series, Crowd Wise, and is, in part, preparation for the swap-shop on web based communities at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, April 8th, 2010.  Your answers, as brief or as in-depth as you'd like to be, is very much appreciated!

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Note: if you would like to participate in this conversation anonymously, please do feel free to do so.  Alternatively, if you would like to specifically mention an online educational community when making reference to your experiences, adding your group's name and/or its URL, you are most welcome to!


12 Responses to “Crowd Wise 4a: Leaders are..? (Roles)”

  • Daily Alchemist says:
    February 19, 2010

    I think two necessary qualities for an e-community leader are credibility in their area & the ability to get people to participate.

    I'm more of a participant and am active in a few communities nowadays.

    As for the Esperanto Leader want ad - they'll definitely need someone who has a lot of passion to get people to participate. Esperanto desperately needs a celebrity-type leader.

    February 19, 2010

    I like that Neal, passion!! Someone once told me that passion is quite close to madness but sometimes I think it's very close to love - in the old sense of the word rather than in today's romantic meaning, love as in love of mankind.

    Maybe I'm just soppy but I reckon unconditional love and passion have a lot to do with what drives these leaders!

  • Gladys Baya says:
    February 19, 2010

    Dear Karenne,
    Finding my own picture in the mosaic has made me blush! I miss the days when I could share more time with you all at "Learning with computers". Not to despair though... As I agree with Tao te Ching 100% (your quote, I mean), I'm still working behind the curtains to see if a "team of masters" can get our beloved CoP into full action once again! (BTW, perhaps you yourself can give a hand!).

    And, as Vance Stevens once replied to a message of mine, "we work for recognition", so thanks a million for your kind works!!!!

    <a href="><em>Gladys</em><a>

  • Unknown says:
    February 20, 2010

    Dear Karenne,

    I was thrilled to see my photo there, for there are so many in the crowd that could be in this mosaic...There are so many inspiring people, leaders. Interesting that ad experiment. I'd say that I haven't learned from books, but from inspiring people. Gladys has taught me tons and pushed me to move forward. Vance is a true cat herder. He also takes me to the next level. Of course, you get to learn what works and what doesn't. Truth is that what people really want is to be heard, trusted, respected, cherished. They are willing to share, but there needs to be someone to guide, to push, to help them surface. A community is not made of top down decisions, but it will truly become one if there are some there willing to take the lead and keep it vibrant.
    Thanks for such nice words and for the mosaic. You made my day, and it is nice to get this kind of feedback from such a wonderful professional you are.

    Cheers from Brazil,

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 20, 2010

    When I started having babies of my own I moved to a small town where everyone already spoke English. I continued writing ELT materials which I had previously done while teaching English in Vancouver, but something was missing. It wasn't until we added MyEC to the EC mix that I began to feel the connection with learners again. I am so thankful to Josef Essberger for allowing me to find creative ways to teach and motivate English learners from afar. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I've never met learners like Salim or Lynne or Zhara. This style of teaching has become a way of life for me thanks to Web 2.0. I truly appreciate the mention here Karenne. This series is so interesting!

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    February 23, 2010

    Dear Karenne, we always need leaders who are just a bit ahead of us and have a handle that we can deal with. Maybe it's a bit like the n+1 we supply our learners woth.
    I don't think there's any really relevant hierarchy at work, any 'more' or 'less', it's what you do where you are that counts.
    I for one have loved the things you lead. You're always approachable and open and supportive, and I'm an avid learner (and, yes, sometimes a lurker). As a leader in your community, you really put yourself into it. I'm lovin' it. So thank you :)

    February 23, 2010

    Ar... shucks Anne, thank you.. *blush* do what I can.

    Hi Gladys, glad to make you blush... would love to give a hand (later on in the year, hands tied at the moment) let me know!

    Hi Carla, I love this
    "I haven't learned from books, but from inspiring people."

    Yes, it is people like you doing what you do within communities that have inspired and trained me much more than books have! In some cases, this is going to sound odd, but hope my readers will understand what I mean and that I'm not being dismissive of most of the other e-groups I belong to - but I have also learned from what some leaders don't do too...

    Anyway, thanks again for the years of service you guys have put in - I'm very glad I could finally do something back for all of you: Gladys, Vance, Duncan, Tara & David.


  • Vance Stevens says:
    February 23, 2010

    Hi Karenne, I also am deeply grateful for your post. To modify what Gladys posted, I think it's true we value recognition, but mainly as a form of appreciation. And we also do this because we learn so much from one another. I would therefore elaborate on Carla's comment that she learns, as we all do, from "inspiring people" networked together in such a way that they are always taking one another to the next level. Sometimes you don't realize the shape and extent of the network until you come upon a post like this one, but it rounds out what I know of each of the people mentioned here via mailing lists, Nings, blog posts, tweets, etc. into a neat a statement of appreciation of one another. So let me add my appreciation here :-)

  • The Real English® Blog says:
    February 27, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    Great post.

    Your blog is becoming more and more interesting as time goes on. (I'm glad you're no longer using the cute photo of yourself with your horizontal head. That photo turned me off for reasons which I would not know how to explain). But that certainly is not the point.

    I am friends with, or simply know about, the 6 people in your mosaic image.

    It reminds me that there are 2 basic categories of people contributing to development in ESL / EFL.

    There are super-bloggers with delicious insight like Vance
    "I belong to at least 50 different web2.0 groups..." with no and Carla, Gladys... and the 3 others who are not yet internet friends - and yourself... (I'm surprised Bee is not in that mosaic, BTW), and then, there are worker bees making learning materials for teachers & students of English.

    Although there are a lot of crossovers - Dave D for example with one of the biggest hearts on the web, also conceretely participating in materials development...
    But most of us concentrate on one domain or the other.

    Take Randall for example, with his incredibly succcessful esl-lab. Does he take the time to participate in our social arenas? No, not very much (apart fom his own site and blog), but he is constantly providing great materials for learners.

    I count myself in the worker-bee category but I think it is essential (for my own mental health if nothing more), to find out WHAT ELSE is going on in my specialty.

    Your blog entry here reminded me of these simple facts. Thanks for that post!

    And excuse me, but I must finish a video edit and the lesson which goes with it.

    Bises from France,
    Mike M

  • abracadabra says:
    March 03, 2010


    Thanks for the nod, hat tip and compliment. Like Gladys, I'm blushing......

    I do like so much how you "stir" the soup and bring out the "people" side of both ELT and "being online". You are on to the big thing - it is all about the people and relationships.

    I have met so many generous and red heart thumping people online (Mike is one of them!) -- but for me, it isn't about "presence" as about "service". We all help in our own way. On my own community, there are so many who seemingly don't participate BUT I know - they do in their own way, their own forum, their own group. That can be offline too.

    So my hat goes off to all those invisible ones who serve in ways we don't see online. Who go back to their classes and "lead" their colleagues and students. There are so many, an army.

    I'd also recommend Ellen Pham from my own community as a LEADER par excellence. many might not know of her but she does much more than me - her own sites/resources are amazing. Her is a work of love and dedication.

    I'd also like to say I second/third and fourth Carla's comments about a "guide". I've tried to do that too and though at moments it can seem like one is Plato in a cave -- the sun rises and you see more and more people reacting to the honesty and belief in what you do.....

    Thanks Karenne, I'll be pointing my grad students to your dogme resources - it will enliven our curriculum classes!


  • Tara Benwell says:
    March 19, 2010

    Hey Karenne,

    We're going to be inviting a few of our long-term members to do a bit of their own moderating. It's a great way for advanced learners to get experience using English in an administrative role. Some of them are already doing it without being assigned an official role and we want to recognize them for their hard work. This is all new to us, so we'll see what happens. I wonder if any of the other moderators have begun sharing responsibilities with members.

    March 19, 2010

    Hi Mike,

    Whoops - that was my first "public" photo of me when I was still venturing out into the web2.0 world, t'was a facebook picture... I didn't think too much about it other than I've tried very hard not to have a business-like studio photo of me throughout my time here but hmmm... will think about that as that photo is still in circulation on wordpress blogs whenever I comment!

    Anyway, yes, ta for bringing out the behind-the-scenes folks, they're doing amazing work which yes, we are very grateful for! (This series is focusing on community e-leaders in particular - rather than materials producers tho').

    And like David, I tip my hat off to them and all their incredible work!

    I agree with David, sometimes the mark of a great leader is also in the helpers he has around him.

    It is virtually impossible to create a great e-community without having great editors/co-moderators/active contributors - as it's these who really keep things moving along and intriguing!

    Which brings me to your work, Tara - I think there are so few sites of your size but I would be very interesting to know what they're doing too - just a quick note I was made co-moderator on a Ning and got ALL the mail that the owner would get normally - my inbox was filled within a day and two days later had no idea what I was going to do. Anyway, telling you this just in case, so that you can warn the members to change their email settings and to make some decisions about whether or not they should have "approval" rights!

    OR find a digital work-around?

    And then can you tell me what to do :-)

    I need to give moderatorship rights to one of my members and haven't changed her officially-electronically re above problem!


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