Tuesday, October 9, 2007
E-mentoring tools: chicken before the egg or egg before the chicken?
I am writing this as a reply to a blog entry by Jennifer Lubke, who is a teacher interested in e-mentoring. First of all, I am very excited because Jennifer is the first person to ever cite me in a blog (to my knowledge) - so that must add to my online score, surely!?
As an aside to those of us who are New Zealand academics: would a mention in a reputable blog count toward PBRF? For those of you who live/work outside New Zealand, Performance Based Research Funding is a rating system and measurement of research outputs by academics, similar to RAE in the UK.
Back to Jennifer: she is looking at online tools that may be used for e-mentoring. She has developed an assessment tool for looking at the viability/effectiveness of social networking tools for e-mentoring. Jennifer talks about teachers who are linked by a common interest and want to go 'virtual'. They should think carefully about what they want to achieve and then select the appropriate tools. But in our own enthusiasm for online social networking, we must not forget the obvious; to make sure that people have the knowledge to be able to make the choice about the tool to use. I am afraid that I am very guilty of assuming that people have the same knowledge and motivation to use computer-mediated communication that I am. However, in my experience of setting up an e-mentoring email scheme for health professionals, there is a considerable reluctance to use CMC, despite the participants articulating an appreciation of the advantages of CMC, such as flexibility of time management and breakdown of geographical barriers. I have even been surprised by the lack of knowledge of online tools by the teachers I work with. So when we are working with people to develop formal online systems of mentoring or teaching/learning programs, assessing participants' needs and knowledge must come into one's planning and thinking.
Another trap we must be very careful not to fall into is thinking that the latest technology has to be the best tool to use. If you are working with people who have a resistance to technology, keeping it simple has to be a key point. It's often things that we haven't considered that impedes uptake of CMC and networking tools. I have never forgotten talking to a rural midwife who always lost her Internet connection whenever her next door neighbour, who was a farmer, put his electric fence on. Jenny refers us to George Siemens who writes that 'it's not about the tools. It's about change'. Rather than focusing on the ins and outs of blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and so on, we need to think about collaboration, open communication and 'democracy of voice'. A salutary reminder.