Onlne communities offer people a chance to connect without
the limitations that distance creates. In Saskatchewan,
as in many places in Canada,
new teachers and pre-service teachers often find themselves teaching in remote
areas. An online community to connect them with each other as well as more
experienced teachers would help them to feel less isolated and provide them
with virtual colleagues.
I'm interested in whether anyone has tried this or knows of anyone else trying to set up something like this. Would it be used? Would there be any real benefits?
You have put your finger on one of the most useful aspects of online communities: the ability to connect people with similar interests, regardless of their geographic location.
I'm not familiar with Saskatchewan, but in BC, the teachers who are working with online programs have created BCEd Online . Perhaps there is someone connected with that organization who can help to answer your question.
As you will read from my posts, our focus in this forum is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, particularly in Higher Education, and if there are any developments in that field in your province, it would be good to hear about it.
Heather's inquiry about distance mentoring strikes me as quite apropos to defining the scholarship of teaching and learning in context of online communities.
Especially if we consider mentoring as an integral part of both teaching and learning; uptake of this element - mentoring, along with "reflection-in-action" (from Barb's post about Schon, 1983, on another thread), would give us scholarship of teaching, reflecting, mentoring, and learning (SoTRML). We could pronounce this new acronym, "So, turmoil!" :-D
Online learner and teacher communities may provide opportunities for both reflection and peer mentoring across geographical distances, say from inner to outer BC or Saskatchewan.
Moreover, such communities might disseminate models and benefits of SoTRML around philosophical or political disjunctures within districts, institutions, and departments, might they not, without providing immediate cures for what may ail the latter?
"Reports on the state of doctoral education from the usual suspects (the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, the National Research Council, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation) express concern about time-to-degree and completion rates, lack of diversity among those seeking and receiving degrees, uneven mentoring practices, the relevance of curricula to pressing public problems, poor preparation of students for the transition to academic and non-academic positions, ..." (Cohen & Cherwitz, 2006).
The more I read, the more I believe that exploration and dissemination of mentoring practices, online and otherwise, ought to be an integral component of SoTL in higher education.
Cohen, Philip; & Cherwitz, Rick. (2006). In doctoral education, it's time for an overhaul. Austin American Statesman, January 17, 2006 [Statesman.com]. In TP Msg. #702 IN DOCTORAL EDUCATION, IT'S TIME FOR AN OVERHAUL; received from Rick Reis, email@example.com; March 1, 2006 03:39:46 JST.
The likelihood of one succeeding over the other may relate more to culture than to effectiveness.
Mentorship, in its traditional forms, is normally learning in a one-to-one configuration. CoPs work many-to-many, which can greatly accellerate learning. But is a CoP so far from the lecture or research/publish mindset that it would not be a natural fit for many academics?
It is a pleasure to hear from you.
Your lead-in question and elaboration ("Mentorship or communities of practice?" February 2006, 05:41 PM) seem to suggest a dicotomy or conflict of interests between traditional mentoring and CoPs, namely, "one-to-one" as opposed to "many-to-many" relationships. Other connotations of traditional mentorship that spring to mind are master-protegé, and face-to-face relationships.
If we can escape some trappings of face-to-face mentoring through tele-mentoring, can we not also escape a mindset of master-protegé mentoring, in order to expand the concept and accelerate learning through practice and promulgation of peers-to-peers' mentoring within a CoP?
I think the online environment is different enough that it provides a catalyst for shifting paradigms. But this has limits. If one were to create a telementoring program, one would design it through a mentoring lens: master-protegé; 1:1 etc.
I know of at least one community of practice in which senior people used to be welcomed, but they were to enter the community as peers: leave their rank at the door, so to speak. In reality, most of them couldn't do that, so they have now been excluded from membership.
Which still begs the question of cultural fit. Is the academic "community" an egalitarian one? The number of descriptors we have invented to modify the word faculty suggests perhaps not.
It's interesting that you mention creating a telementoring program, because reading and writing on this thread brought to mind the program that first attracted my attention to SFU. Telementoring Orchestrator (TM) sounds to me like it has been designed to accommodate more than one-to-one pairings:
"In addition to supporting private correspondence between mentors and mentees by e-mail, Telementoring Orchestrator can also support mentoring in a shared discourse environment called Knowledge Forum. This allows any number of participants to benefit from the knowledge developed by mentors and mentees in a match" (http://www.telementoring.ca/).
As staging grounds for communities of discourse, environments such as the Knowledge Forum might also serve as foundations for communities of mentoring practices, might they not?
You also describe a "community of practice in which senior people used to be welcomed," but "have now been excluded from membership." This brief description suggests community intolerance of rank and pertaining privileges, in a community that nevertheless conveys to certain members the power to exclude others. Though you may draw this example from business or industrial venues, I take it that you may be referring to academics.
In a recent post, your reprise the question of cultural fit, asking, "Is the academic 'community' an egalitarian one?" (Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 07:16 PM), while, in an earlier post on this thread, you ask, "Is a CoP so far from the lecture or research/publish mindset that it would not be a natural fit for many academics?" (Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 05:41 PM).
Reading between the lines, I get an impression that you might answer that academics are not egalitarians, and thus may not fit CoP parameters. Perhaps academics cannot transcend competitive research, lecture, publish, or perish paradigms. If so, would that leave SoTL snared or stifled in the disciplines and ranks of academia, without hope of a paradigm shift catalyzed by online communities of practice? I hope not.
My question about whether the academic community is an egalitarian one is genuine and neutral. I have not been, and will never be a career academic, so I watch for signals from the outside -- such as the descriptors I mentioned (full, tenured, associate, assistant, and so on). I once tried to research interest in a faculty CoP but was turned down by the university. So I'm curious.
Your telementoring comments illustrate well how a traditional construct put online can take on a new face, if mentors are willing to share indirectly with strangers. Could be a good bridge to other collaborative forums.
Again, my CoP example was one illustration of how very different levels (novice-expert, low-high rank) don't seem to mix well in communities. I was setting the stage for thinking about work in universities based on experiences from outside of them.
In the first case, deep experts, working -- as Dave Snowden puts it -- at a higher level of abstraction, may give novices some support, but they will generally gravitate to an environment where learning is richer for them and for their colleagues.
In the second case, I don't think anyone in the community would say they were intolerant of senior people or were wielding power. The senior people had agreed to come in as peers and share/learn in relation to the profession of the community. But most of them just ended up lurking, which did not contribute to learning...which is what CoPs are all about. This was simply one of many ongoing adjustments to boundaries and practices to strengthen the learning.
I hope that helps to clarify?
Indeed, the profusion of descriptors for people who affiliate in one way or another with academic institutions is likely to reflect tenets of academic culture, much as language defines and reflects any culture.
Setting issues of lurking, intolerance, and power aside, if I may, I'd guess your example of a professional CoP formed outside universities could indicate how CoPs for academic purposes such as engendering or enhancing SoTL might evolve, fragment, cluster, or stratify in ways that reflect academic culture itself.
Perhaps, in a discussion as brief as this, we can but pool interesting resources, then go off on our own to hypothesize (and investigate) whether disciplinary clustering, group fragmentation, or novice-expert stratification is either inherent to CoPs or conducive to SoTL.
Paul, I'm not sure whether it was deliberate, but your words provide a very appropriate climax to this discussion. You point out that, in this brief time together, "we can but pool interesting resources, then go off on our own to hypothesize..."
This thread about Mentoring, which was started by Heather Ross, has proved to be one of the most lively and diverse. If you want to continue the conversation, I'm sure Sylvia will help you to find a corner of SCoPE where you can do so, and attract other opinions too.
In the meantime, thank you for your comments. This forum will wind up on Sunday, so please post final thoughts before that.