The rise of the Internet and the popularity of Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter illustrate how humans now have established a new place for engaging with others and forming communities – on the Internet. For many of us the relationships that we have developed online carry as much importance for us as the physical relationships we have in our lives. New technologies such as smart phones, texting, instant messaging, and video conferencing give us instant access to the Internet and allow us to instantly communicate with people across the globe. All around us we see people, especially young people, interacting with their cell phones while ignoring the world around them. As educators one question we should be asking ourselves is how can we take advantage of this phenomenon in order to reach our students and enhance their learning experience?
Mentoring is a concept that goes back to ancient Greece, “Odysseus, leaving for battle asked his female friend, the goddess of wisdom Athena, to take on the male form of Mentor to watch and guide his son Telemachus while he was away” Hansman, C. A. Mentoring: From Athena to the 21st Century (2002). Traditionally an older, more experienced person would take a younger person under their wing and guide them in their career or through their education. It is a concept that is employed in the work place, educational institutes and many other organizations. One of the drawbacks of the traditional mentoring relationship was the demands it put on the mentors time and the constraints of geographical location. Telementoring is a modern day solution to the problem.
Telementoring serves the same function as the traditional forms of mentoring but instead of face to face meetings or physical work relationships it relies on the Internet to connect mentors and protégés. This allows for wider possibilities for interaction as time and place are no longer barriers. Telementoring uses email, instant messaging and video conferencing to develop the mentor/protégé relationship. In the early years of telementoring the primary means of communication was through email. Text based and asynchronus it allows communication to occur at any time. Once restricted by access to a computer modern day smart phones allow mentor and protégés to keep in touch with one another almost instantly through both texting and email.
Telementoring is also well suited to the modern day work place. With the rise of the global economy, workplaces are now located around the world. With the rise of telecommuting, workers are dispersed and isolated, traditional mentoring relationships are harder to initiate and maintain. Telementoring allows protégés to access a wider pool of potential mentors. It also allows for people of different cultures to relate and learn from one another. This is becoming increasingly important for a country like Canada that is becoming more multicultural and more ethnically diverse.
One of the drawbacks of telementoring is that mentoring is a very interpersonal relationship and text based communication lacks the intonation and body language clues that we gain in face to face meetings. Advances in computer technology and the ability of the internet to stream content has made video conferencing which allows real time conferencing for mentors and protégés and so a they can develop a more personal relationship. But technology is only as good as the people who use it. One of the ways to insure success for a telementoring program is mentor training, “the training of mentors is vital to the success of a mentoring program” Nichols, R. J., & Amick, B. T. (1995). The case for instructional mentoring. That is why I was excited to read “The Telementor’s Guidebook” by O’Neill, D. K. (2000).
This guidebook originated with the author’s work at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois as part of project called Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) and continued in collaboration with the CSILE/Knowledge-Building team at the University of Toronto.
The main research for the guidebook is a series of interviews with 13 volunteer mentors who were involved with mentoring high school science students. Their primary goal was to assist the students with an in-depth, extensive science investigation over a period of time. This is sometimes referred to as Project-Based Telementoring.
I chose this publication because I found it one of the few resources that gives practical advice drawn from real life mentoring experiences. Although it is somewhat limited in its scope as it studies to the mentoring experiences of high school science students, I feel that the lessons that the author presents can be useful in any mentoring experience. It is also written in a way that it is accessible to the non-academic community. Drawing on real life experiences the guidebook stresses the importance of establishing a good rapport between mentor and protégé, the importance of early and timely involvement, that one strategy does not fit every mentoring relationship, and discusses how much help a mentor should give a protégé.
The rapid advancement in technologies, the dramatic changes in the workplace, and educator’s increasing familiarity with technology will see an increase in the use of telementoring and e-mentoring. This will necessitate the need for further study and education of mentors in this process to assure successful mentoring relationships. This guidebook is a step in that direction.
Mott, V. W., & Ellinger, A. D. (2002). Critical perspectives on mentoring: Trends and issues. C. A. Hansman (Ed.). ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, the Ohio State University. http://calpro-online.org/eric/docs/mott/mentoring4.pdf
Nichols, Richard J. and Amick, Beverley T., “The Case for Instructional Mentoring” (1995). To Improve the Academy. Paper 339. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/podimproveacad/339
O’Neill, D. K. (2000). The telementor’s guidebook. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. http://www.sfu.ca/~koneill/TMG.pdf