Online Mentoring

Online Mentoring

Elizabeth Buchanan (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 4
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch222
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Abstract

The practice of mentoring has existed as long as civilization. Mentoring as a practice was noted in Homer’s The Odyssey, and a mentor, a word from the ancient Greeks, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: a person who acts as guide and adviser to another person, especially one who is younger and less experienced. Later, more generally: a person who offers support and guidance to another; an experienced and trusted counselor or friend; a patron, a sponsor. Traditionally, a mentor shares his or her experience and knowledge with a less experienced and knowledgeable individual, in a relationship upon which both parties agree. In recent years, an emergence of online, e-mentoring or telementoring relationships is taking place across the Web, taking the traditional, longstanding face-to-face practice into the electronic environment. Online mentoring relationships exist among formal and informal learners of all ages. Effective e-mentoring requires extensive planning and commitment (National Mentoring Center, 2002).
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Introduction And Background

The practice of mentoring has existed as long as civilization. Mentoring as a practice was noted in Homer’s The Odyssey, and a mentor, a word from the ancient Greeks, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:

a person who acts as guide and adviser to another person, especially one who is younger and less experienced. Later, more generally: a person who offers support and guidance to another; an experienced and trusted counselor or friend; a patron, a sponsor.

Traditionally, a mentor shares his or her experience and knowledge with a less experienced and knowledgeable individual, in a relationship upon which both parties agree.

In recent years, an emergence of online, e-mentoring or telementoring relationships is taking place across the Web, taking the traditional, longstanding face-to-face practice into the electronic environment. Online mentoring relationships exist among formal and informal learners of all ages. Effective e-mentoring requires extensive planning and commitment (National Mentoring Center, 2002).

Online mentoring relationships can take on many forms: professionals in a field mentoring high school students (Field, 2003; O’Neill, Wagner, & Gomez, 1996); graduate students mentoring undergraduate learners in university settings (Easton, 2003); professional women engineers mentoring undergraduate and graduate women students in the science and engineering fields (Muller & Barsion, 2003); adults with varied interests mentoring youth with disabilities (Connecting to Success, 2003), and many more (National Mentoring Partnership, http://www.mentoring.org). Recognizing the potential import and efficacy of online mentoring programs, important funding bodies such as the National Science Foundation (Duff, 2000; Muller & Barsion, 2003), as well as such corporate entities like IBM and Alcoa have contributed to the implementation and development of e-mentoring.

It seems self-evident why children and young adults would benefit greatly from mentoring, and, given the current popularity of electronic communications among youth, e-mentoring has great potential: a caring, learning relationship that facilitates “trust, warmth, and support” (Connecting to Success, 2003). Yet, particularly in the realm of higher education, where research continues to suggest that online learners are “voluntarily seeking further education; highly motivated and self-disciplined; older; willing to initiate calls to instructors for assistance; possessing a more serious attitude toward coursework; and already a holder of a college degree” (Easton, 2003, pp. 88-89), it may seem a mentor is unnecessary. Yet, the complexities of online education, from the frustrations of the technology itself to the potential isolation of online environments to learning the nuances of participating in online discussions all contribute to a situation where a mentor provides a much needed virtual hand to hold, for learners of all ages.

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What Is E-Mentoring?

Online or e-mentoring uses the principles of a traditional mentoring relationship but changes the means of communication. The National Mentoring Center (2002) defines this emerging practice as “mentoring projects that use technology to facilitate and support mentor relationships” (p. 6). Instead of the mentor and mentee meeting once a week or once a month for social and /or professional development, e-mentors have the ability to meet more frequently and more conveniently. Typically, online mentoring is done through asynchronous communications, e-mail or a discussion forum, thereby freeing the mentor and mentee from the constraints of time, geography, high costs, or other limiting factors. Unfortunately, in a traditional face-to-face mentoring relationship, mentors and mentees may be matched based on geographic proximity despite other significant incompatibilities. E-mentoring facilitates a relationship with potentially greater compatibility, and, it is hoped, efficacy.

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