The moderator sets up the discussion groups. The moderator defines the initial discussion threads and posts messages to welcome learners and start conversations.
For each major area of the discussion group, welcome learners to the discussion area and explain what and whom it is for. Make the welcome the first message in that area.
Here is the opening message of a discussion group on strategies for dealing with difficult people.
Make learners feel welcome. Invite them to participate. Help learners decide whether they are in the right discussion group, especially if a class has more than one group. Link to alternative areas such as other discussion groups for a class or public newsgroups on the subject of a class.
When learners first arrive at a discussion group they should not find an empty warehouse. Put in some walls and a few rooms. Start a few conventional top-level threads:
Introduction. Tell learners what the whole discussion group is about in more detail than on the welcome topic. Put any needed instructions here.
Summary. Create a thread to contain a summary or digest of the scattered discussions in the group. Periodically assign learners to write and post summaries to this thread.
Administrative support. Provide a place where learners can request help with any aspect of the course ...