Sunday, July 02, 2006

Overview: what works well for mentoring online?

Coaching and Mentoring Online:

For this practice to be effective there needs to be a set of strategies and circumstances already in place:

1. a mentoring framework within the organisation
2. a purpose for the mentoring process
3. clearly outlined roles and expectations
4. a development of a model of capturing and sharing best practice
5. an understanding of and committment to the required electronic communications

Mentoring Frameworks I have known!

In the TAFE settings I have been involved with, a number of mentoring opportunities have been put in place by organisational development teams.

There is now a practice of creating part-time positions for such mentors so that their role is clearly acknowledged and outcomes are proposed. For instance in a number of TAFEs groups of Elearning Leaders are now emerging. The role of these leaders is to support and lead teachers into new elearning practices.

Purpose of Mentoring!

The main purpose of a mentoring framework is to ensure the pedagogical growth of teaching practice and create a positive impact on learners. Teachers can be recognised for their expertise in leading by providing them with a mentoring role; and the mentoring framework can set up an environment of expectation and of growth through its promotional activities within the organisation.

Groups of mentors or leaders can become a very powerful and influential group within their field of expertise. For instance consider the success of the Flexible Learning Leaders program for VTE and ACE practitioners from 2000 to 2004. You'll find details of this program at: Flexible Learning Leaders

Clarification of roles and expectations!

Some negotiations and preparations are required at the beginning of a mentoring relationship and these should include a set of 'rules of engagement'. These should outline the role that each will play and the expectations of both.

In some cases it can be beneficial to prepare a 'mentoring contract' with clearly defined outcomes and timelines.

Capturing and sharing best practice

I believe that there are many different ways to capture and share best practice for teachers in any field and often they are approached differently in an online CoP.

Here are some links to articles by our top thinkers in Networking and Communities of Practice.

Connectivism: a theory of social networking by George Siemens
Cultivating Communities of Practice: a guide to managing knowledge by Etienne Wenger
E-Moderating: the key to teaching and learning online by Gilly Salmon.

Committment to electronic communications!

Mentoring online requires both the mentor and mentees to regularly and consistently make use of the various electronic communication tools. These will vary depending on the needs and geographic locations of the key players.

For instance, if the mentor and mentee are in the same time zone and same area of the country, simple telephone and email contacts can be effective.

On the other hand, if the key players are not in the same time zone then email and asynchronous discussion forums would work best.

If the key players are in the same time zone but dispersed widely geographically, then email and web conferencing work well.

There are many other forms of electronic communication tools available to enhance the conversations between mentors and mentees online. One of the best I have found is Skype; which provides a free online real time Voice over IP service.