Sunday, November 25, 2007

The ASCILITE Mentoring Program

Image: 'One Of These Buttons Will Get Me Out Of Here'

At the end of last year I became a member of The Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education. As a midwifery educator, I have been very conscious that I approach my job from a midwifery perspective rather than an educational one. So I joined ASCILITE as one of my strategies to get to know more about e-learning on a more generic level, not just pertaining to midwifery education. A further aim for joining was to network and 'meet' e-learning experts.

At the beginning of the year, I was accepted into the ASCILITE mentoring program. One of my aims for this year and the next couple of years is to improve my academic writing and increase my publications in international, peer-reviewed journals. I have had a number of articles published in midwifery press, but I felt that I should also be looking to publish in educational press, especially as my PhD research has an education focus; looking at the life-long learning and professional development of health professionals. So I was allocated a mentor who has a strong background in education and academic writing.

My second aim for applying to this mentoring program was to experience being a mentee first-hand. I have been a mentor in many guises over the years but this is the first time I have been formally identified as a mentee. I thought it was important to see things from the mentee's perspective, especially as the situation I have been placed in replicates that of my own research participants ie building a constructive relationship with a stranger, mainly using electronic communication.

We started our relationship with a brief face-to-face meeting where we identified our aims and the roles we would both take in fulfilling the aims. Ensuing communication was by email. We talked about using Skype but never got around to using it. Our aim was to write a 7000 word academic paper about designing an e-mentoring system. The paper would be submitted for presentation at the annual ASCILITE conference in Singapore, December 2007. One of the benefits of the mentoring award is that I have free registration to the conference. The paper was accepted and I am looking forward to heading off to Singapore next week courtesy of my dear husband who gifted me his air miles!

Image: 'Literary cat'

On reflection, I have had a number of important insights during this process about me as a learner, the e-mentoring process and electronic communication (computer mediated communication (CMC)). Firstly, I am a terrible procrastinator but I have to be 'allowed' to get to things in my time. Only then will I produce good work. This is my style of learning and on the whole it has worked for me. But it does not work when you are collaborating with other people, especially when you have tight time frames. So I must thank my mentor for being extremely patient with me; a necessary skill to being a mentor, I would say.

The second insight backs up everything that is
said about formal mentoring coupled with CMC. It is difficult developing an electronic relationship with someone you do not know, especially if you do not meet them regularly face-to-face. But having said that, it is possible to do. We had a concrete aim and have achieved that as colleagues. I would not say that we have built a deep, meaningful personal relationship but then again, that was not an aim of this exercise. It does take commitment from both sides and both parties must take responsibility for persevering at relationship building.

I did a reasonable amount of avoidance, which is easy to do electronically. I ran behind schedule, not doing as I was supposed to do. I became embarrassed about that and did even more avoidance which only made matters worse. I also see this behavior in my PhD research participants. My personal experience casts some light onto why people do not engage with electronic relationships, which reinforces the importance of some sort of e-moderator, as outlined by Gilly Salmon. Having a supporter or motivator external to the mentoring dyad has been shown to be very effective, far more so than leaving the participants to find their way by themselves. If I was having trouble, how much more are my research participants who are far less computer literate than me? A very important point for me to remember.

My mentor was able to cast an educational light onto my work, whereas I came from a health perspective which focuses much more on the clinical context of practice. I believe that both of us have benefited from learning about each other's views and theories. I am certainly a lot more informed about educational concepts such as communities of practice and social networking. The frustrating thing about this is that I wish I had this knowledge two years ago when I first conceived my e-mentoring scheme. I would do things quite differently if I was setting up the scheme now for example, I would think about how mentoring can be a community experience. But that is an important discussion I can include in my PhD.

We used email to communicate and collaborate. I found this to be a tedious way of managing a large word document. I have never been comfortable with 'track changes' which usually drives me mad. For future corroboration like this, I will consider using Googledoc or a wiki which is web-based and can be edited by all without the inconvenience of the document going back and forth all the time.

Overall, this has been a great experience which has strengthened my knowledge and understanding about mentoring, professional development and life-long learning as well as widened my perspectives on education and e-learning. I am not sure I feel any more confident about writing, but I believe that will come with experience. Now I am looking forward to meeting my mentor again in Singapore and co-presenting the paper together.

Image: 'Multicoloured Splash'

No comments: