Education and Community: The collective wisdom|
of teachers, parents, and members of our community.
The question is what form innovation may take. Some critics—such as Lewis J. Perelman, the author of School's Out, a 1992 book popular in Newt Gingrich's high-tech, free market circles—believe that the new technology demands the end of school as we know it. The new media and schooling are incompatible, they say, and schooling must go. This is a setup for failure; Americans are not ready to abandon the very idea of school, nor should they. But there are important changes in schools worth making, some of which have been on the agenda of reformers ever since progressive educators first proposed them early in the twentieth century. Ironically, the continued diffusion and evolution of the new technologies may finally help to bring those reforms about. (Starr, 1996, p 51)
This concept, of not abandoning schooling as we know it, supports Cuban and the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll "Of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public School." Telementoring may be a way to ride this movement into the next century. Telementoring will help satisfy the politics, pedagogy, and values question while mollifying the paradox of changing and conserving society. Telementoring is a telecommunications version of mentoring. Mentor had its origin in Homer's Odyssey when a wise and learned man named Mentor was entrusted with the education of Odysseus' son Telemachus. Mentoring is simply the advice, guidance, experience from a respected, experienced person provided to someone who needs help. Using the Internet, we can now use telementors.
An early function of telementoring was teachers using cyberspace to mentor other teachers. Telementoring was and is used as a means of aiding the teaching profession as seen in the growth of teacher-teacher telementoring sites. (Nellen, 1997) In 1993, David Wighton writing about early telementoring practices in British Columbia reminds one of early accounts of pioneers to that region.
He further provides accounts of early pioneers of early telementoring efforts by teachers for teachers. Innovative uses of the new technology was quick to use the medium as a tool of education. This is important in light of the proliferation of commercial and entertainment sites on the Internet which cloud the original intent of this medium. The advance of a second Internet for education only is much needed and encouraged by Clinton. The early pioneers saw that telementoring was a valuable use for the Internet.
From 1993 to 1996, California explored telementoring in a project called Telemation. The three phase study recorded results of projects involving telementoring. The Milken Family Foundation oversaw the project and provided an analysis of it.
In much of the annotated accounts, teachers continually reiterated the importance of being able to provide outside resources which would stimulate even the most recalcitrant student. The message here is that schools just can't provide all of their students with the appropriate stimulation and as a result we see an increase in dropouts, violence in school, and an increase use of drugs. Much of this has to be attributed to boredom in school. On the other hand by engaging in telementoring, students become engaged and the negative behavior subsides. This, too, was iterated by the teachers in the three year program. My research, previously cited, supports this notion.
A fascinating and potentially lucrative project is the Hewlett Packard Telementoring Program run by David Neils. In 1996 HP decided to actually do something to support education. It undertook a project which would utilize its workforce to telementor to schools around the country who wished to use the human resources of HP. The results have been remarkable and are published on their telementor web site.
Certainly the most ambitious telementoring program, The Electronic Emissary, is at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, where Judi Harris is the project director for the Emissary Project.
Telementoring can be one to one or one mentor to a class. In my classroom, I use both types. In the one to one relationships, I find that the student becomes more involved and engaged. The results are quite remarkable and rewarding for the student. Students speak proudly of their telementor and come to rely on that outside voice. (Nellen, 1998) I find that telementors come from all walks of life: retirees, college students, alumni, business, military, and even other teachers. (Nellen, 1996) Perhaps one of the best by-products has been students communicating with their parents via email. Parents are able to view their child's web sites, see their work, comment on it and become engaged with their child's education. Hearing these stories is a highlight of my parent conferences.