Fully Including Students, Teachers, and Administrators with Disabilities in Telementoring

Fully Including Students, Teachers, and Administrators with Disabilities in Telementoring

Sheryl Burgstahler, Terrill Thompson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-861-6.ch006
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The authors of this chapter discuss challenges that must be addressed to ensure the full inclusion of teachers, administrators, and students with disabilities in telementoring activities in elementary and secondary school environments. Potential barriers to participation relate to the physical environment, the technology used to support a telementoring program, and communication strategies within that environment. Solutions presented to address access challenges employ both universal design and accommodation approaches. The content of this chapter may be useful to administrators, teachers, and technology specialists as they integrate telementoring into elementary and secondary classroom practices; to professionals who seek to promote telementoring in formal and informal settings; and to researchers who wish to identify telementoring topics for further study.
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Telementoring has been defined as an approach that uses “e-mail or computer conferencing systems to support a mentoring relationship when a face-to-face relationship would be impractical” (O’Neill, Wagner, & Gomez, 1996, p. 39). Interactions between students and mentors can augment teacher-student engagement in a classroom. Well-established communication technologies (e.g., email) as well as rapidly-emerging electronic tools (e.g., social networking websites) provide creative teachers with an exciting array of options for engaging students in authentic learning experiences that “reflect how knowledge is built and used in the world” (Electronic Emissary, n.d.a).

Leaders of the Electronic Emissary Project, which has supported hundreds of teams of students, teachers, facilitators, and subject matter experts in telementoring relationships, report that

Today, a teacher no longer needs to be the sole content matter expert in the classroom. It is possible, for example, for students to learn about weather phenomena from meteorologists studying weather as it occurs, or to discuss the paleontological implications of a recent T-Rex skeleton discovery with evolutionary scientists, using simple telecomputing tools such as email and chat. Volunteer subject matter experts, such as the meteorologists and paleontologists mentioned above, can work virtually with students over an extended period of time, developing and sustaining mentor-protégé relationships that contribute to the richness and relevance of curriculum-based learning in elementary, middle-level, and secondary classrooms. (Electronic Emissary, n.d.b)

Members of Electronic Emissary teams have engaged in dynamic exchanges using Internet-based tools such as email, text-based chats, and websites. Project evaluations have revealed high value of these relationships to both mentors and protégés.

Subject matter “came alive” for students who could interact with someone for whom curriculum content is part of everyday life… Subject matter experts often reported delighting in opportunities to revisit and delve deeper into their disciplinary specializations by interacting with interested, but less knowledgeable others. (Harris, 1999)

It is likely that the intention of teachers who implement telementoring practices in their classrooms is to engage all learners in a rich learning environment and to recruit the best mentors. Depending on how it is implemented, however, telementoring can serve to level the playing field for students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers or to further widen the gap in the educational attainment between these two groups. It can also be designed to include all potential mentors, or restrict recruitment to only those who have specific abilities and use certain types of technology.

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