The second case in The Expertise (ASPI) –course started out in November. This time we have been given the opportunity to act as mentors for the learning and educational technology (LET)-students who have started their Master’s programme this fall. Acting as a mentor feels a bit overwhelming. I don’t feel that much more experienced than the LET students already are. I feel that I am more an advanced novice rather than an experienced expert. I feel that a person should be an expert before she/he would be justifully called a mentor. I do have gained many meaningful learning experiences over the period of 1½ years of these studies and can most likely relate very well to the feelings the students are going through, and can share my experiences with the mentees. But being a mentor is much more than just sharing what you have learned and experienced. Even more importantly a mentor offers scaffolding in the zone of proximal development (ZDP; Vygotsky 1978) of the mentee. For this to take place it is important that the mentor actively listens to the mentees. The mentor should also know the mentees (their personalities and the level of their prior knowledge) as well as have the skills needed to be able to determine individual levels of ZPD. This, in turn, means that the mentor should be able to provide experiences that would be beneficial to the mentee and help him/her engage in activities through which the mentee can learn new, meaningful and relevant things. It is, therefore, important that the mentor listens what the mentees have to say and define their ZDP and plan mentoring the way that it would benefit the mentees the most.
We, as mentors, have a great responsibility. We are not only responsible for creating a meaningful learning experience for ourselves, but even more importantly our plans and mentoring affect the mentees of our group. How can we create meaningful learning experiences for them? We have now met the students once and I can tell that they are very motivated, hard-working and eager to learn new things. The meeting with them raised the bar for this mentoring task. Since the students already know a great many things and have many experiences of their own, from now on we will need to even more carefully decide what topics would be the most beneficial to them.
If I would picture myself as a mentee and imagine what I would consider as the worst case scenario for a mentor – mentee relationship, that would most likely be that the mentors would not take their role seriously. Participating in poorly planned, or even worse, totally unplanned sessions would most likely feel like wasting valuable time and I’d feel frustrated because I would be missing out on important learning experiences. For this reason I want to take my role as a mentor seriously, and plan the sessions carefully. The task is still difficult, because I feel like I haven’t yet truly grasped the true meaning and purpose of this task and our role as mentors. What are we supposed to teach them? I believe this course will teach us (the mentors) a great deal on mentoring and how to implement scaffolding in practice. I also believe that we will collaboratively solve this open ended problem and find a way to provide the mentees with some meaningful learning experiences. We will need to sit down and really think about the content of our next mentoring sessions though.
It was a lot of fun planning the first mentoring session. I truly enjoy planning things. It didn’t take a long time to come up with the idea of adding some creative collaboration and experimental learning into mentoring. We thought that a collaborative walk at the botanical gardens would offer creative stimulants and promote learning. We felt that during the first mentoring session it was important to focus on the emotional atmosphere as well as in learning to know the mentees. Therefore our goal was to try to create an environment that fosters spontaneous discussions; an environment where everyone feels safe. My fear, before the first meeting, was that we would not get the mentees to talk and express their thoughts. Luckily, this did not happen. Our mentees were great. They were easy to talk to and they took part in the discussions. We had some icebreaking tasks in the beginning that helped our group share experiences, likes and dislikes.
We had chosen collaborative learning as the theme for the first mentoring session. Our goal was to understand collaborative learning more deeply and discuss about its pros and cons as well as the importance of regulating ones’ emotions and motivation in collaborative learning situations. I think we accomplished those goals, but we could have also gone into greater depths, because the students already knew much of the things we had prepared for the discussions. Next time it will be easier to plan the sessions as we know how engaged and motivated the LET students are.
In a nutshell, the learning task we chose for the first session went as follows. The mentees toured in a tropical greenhouse and were asked to choose a plant that describes the best themselves in collaborative learning situations. In addition, the mentees we asked to choose plants that represent the possibilities of collaborative learning. What does fruitful collaboration enable? What are the positive aspects of collaborative learning? The next phase took place in another dryer, colder and more arid greenhouse where the mentees were asked to think about metaphors that describe unsuccessful collaboration and problems collaboration may bring about. What kind of challenges collaborative learning situations often include? In the end we discussed how we could turn these challenging situations into more fruitful ones and what could we learn from these situations. We talked about how we could learn to look at the problematic things from another perspective and focus on the positive aspects instead of the negative things. Regulation of emotions and motivation has an important role in accomplishing this.
I’m looking forward to this course with great anticipation. It’ll be exciting to work with the LET students and learn from them. I especially look forward to learning from the multicultural perspectives our group has to offer and the opportunity to put into practice the theories and skills we have learned during our previous studies. As I said before, I don’t feel like I am a mentor in the real essence of the word. I feel more like a peer who can offer emotional support by being able to relate to the mentees and cheer them. I feel more like a peer who encourages and cheers on, sort of like a cheerleader for the LET students, a “cheerLET” so to speak. 🙂
Here’s a Prezi presentation we mentors created and shared with our mentees. We talked about our Edutool experience through this presentation.