I attended an online seminar on Tuesday 4th September led by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, based on her work 'The Art of Building Virtual Communities'. This has led me to think about the online communities I have been a member of or still am - are they communities or networks? I have not thought about the 'to be or not to be' argument about communities and do not really want to go down that track because it will lead me away from my thinking about e-mentoring and the role of communities, and communities of practice and mentoring - more about that later.
The first online communities I belonged to were email discussion lists, both midwifery related. One was based in the USA and the other one I set up for New Zealand midwives. The activities were passing on information, reflection and debriefing. The list that I moderated was small with only about 60 participants (out of total of over 2,000 registered midwives). It was hard work keeping the list going at times, and I would often try to generate posts by introducing topics. I don't know whether you would say it was a community because of the work that was required by me to keep it going - I'll have to go back to Sheryl's definition of community. Having said that, it is still going after 10 years although I left the list a few years ago.
I now belong to several international research lists: midwifery research and Association of Internet Researchers. We support each other in various ways, giving each other ideas and resources. On the midwifery list, there is huge scope for international collaboration which hopefully, one day, will come to fruition. As a result of being a member of the two lists I have had three books chapters published/accepted for publication, spoken at two conferences and been a visiting scholar in the USA. This ties in with what Sheryl said the other day about the new digital divide between those who network online and those who do not - those opportunities would never have eventuated if I had not been a member of those two email lists.
Going back to community of practice and e-mentoring, I tend to think of mentoring as being in one-to-one dyads, but group mentoring is just as valid as one on one. In fact, isn't that what we do in groups without even realizing it. Blog networks and wikis lend themselves really well to electronic e-mentoring, be that formal or informal. There is very little in literature about the use of blogs and wikis in e-mentoring, so this is an exciting avenue to think about.