Tele-Mentoring over the Net


The real power of the Internet is the energy

generated by human interaction


Tele-mentoring is bringing new resources into classrooms and making it possible for teachers to join their students as learners. Teachers who model learning strategies are often more effective than those who can quickly supply factual information. Examples of models of telementoring and resources that have been created to support them can serve as a guide to designing new telementoring programs. This guide is arranged in three parts:

1) Examples of Telementoring Projects

  • Ask an Expert
  • Pair Mentoring
  • Group Mentoring

2) Design Issues in Creating Telementoring Programs

  • Telementoring Human Resources
  • Matching Challenges
  • The Nature of the Interaction
  • Reciprocity
  • Sustainability

3) Telementoring Resources

Tele-Mentoring Programs


I find it useful to divide telementoring into three types of programs as they have different constraints and requirements.
  1. Mentor Experts who agree to respond to questions
  2. Mentors who are paired with a single learner
  3. Mentors who work in partnerships. 


1) Mentor Experts:

These are information resources provided by companies and communities. In most cases the experts see their role as giving the information sought. In some cases, the experts are also great teachers who understand that giving other the skills to find one's own answers is often better than giving information answers. Mentors who take this approach are helping information seekers to acquire important skills as well as providing factual answers.

"Ask an Expert" mentoring programs usually involve only a single exchange. A question is asked, the answer is given. In some cases there may be an extended dialog but for the most part, this is the exception.

Access to these human resources is an important way of connecting classrooms to the global community. There is an Ask An Expert locator that has lists of experts in most subject areas. but you can find help in any subject area. Another source arranged by category is Pitsco's "Ask an Expert" listing. In both these lists, you may find links to resources that are intended for a specific community. You should read the site to make sure that it is an open Internet invitation and read the procedures for asking a question. Most sites keep archives and it is good practice to search for your answer before sending off a new question. In a Passport to Knowledge Project where students were invited to send questions to scientist (after checking the archive) 500 of the 1000 questions were duplicate questions.

I recommend that you have students reflect on the answers to these three questions before they send off questions to ask an expert mentors. We need to value the time of those who agree to help.

  • 1) Why do I want to know the answer to this question?
  • 2) Is this the type of question that is not likely to be easy to find in an index or by a simple information search?
  • 3) What am I going to do with the answer when I find it?


Here are few of my favorites examples of Ask an expert resources:

Ask Eric for any question in education. Your basic Internet library reference desk.

Ask a Geologist is a place to find answers to questions about volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains, rocks, maps, ground water, lakes, or rivers. A team of geologists answer questions on a rotating basis.

Ask Dr. Math answers questions from K-12 students and their teachers about Mathematics. Questions can be about homework, puzzles, math contest and problems, or any other mathematical topic. There is a great archive of past questions and answers.

Ask a Mad Scientist "The laboratory that never sleeps" with the "collective crania of scientists from around the world fielding questions in different areas of science."

Global Classroom Mentors in Australia is a great example of local area mentoring.

Scientific American hosts "Ask the Experts" in all areas of science

For more extensive listings of Ask an Expert opportunities for schools see lists at Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education.

While most "ask an expert" sites have responses generated by human, Ask Jeeves is an internet butler who will take natural language question and answer them using search technologies.



2) Tele-mentor Pairs:

The word mentor comes from a root that means enduring. When we think of mentoring we generally think of a relationship between an expert and a learner that is long term. In fact, there are some who want to save the term mentoring and tele-mentoring only for these types of relationships. In this list, I have made a distinction between different forms of telementoring.

There are two main roles that a mentor plays. One is providing expertise and the other is to serve a role model. In educational mentoring, the expertise is in a specific area and the role modeling helps the novice learn the necessary skills to enter or continue on a career path. Social mentors help with personal development and serve as adult role models. Because one-to-one mentoring is about developing a relationship, it is hard to make a distinction between social and educational mentoring. However, most of the resources and programs listed here are directed more toward educational mentoring than social mentoring.

Telementoring as the term implies, involves the use of distance technology--email, text, audio or video conferencing.--to develop the relationship. Telementor pair relationships are the most difficult to support as matching strangers requires a great deal of work on all sides. However, when a good match is found, the effects can be very powerful.

Research has validated the visible results of many face-face mentoring programs. While there have been a number of case students and some evaluation studies, tele-mentoring programs are relatively new. One finding that is often cited is that the mentors learn as much or more than the novices. This finding is consistent with the research literature on peer tutoring. The strongest educational gains are for the students who tutor, rather than the students who are tutored.

Many of the programs initially listed in 1997 are no longer in operation. Teachers are often paired in mentoring programs and in some cases these relationships are facilitated by technology. A less formal arrangement was created by a high school English teacher. Ted Nellen, the teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School, NY sent a message to a writing forum inviting the participants to "adopt" one of his high school students and help them with their English webfolio. While the "Adopt a Student:" site no longer exists, it was an e creative way in which a high school teacher brought additional human resources into the classroom.

Hewlett Packard Mentor Program, offers to connect its employees to students in an e-mail mentoring program.

BBN Net Pals Projects uses the same software to facilitate mentor-student exchanges with mentors from the community who volunteer to work with students.



3) Tele-Mentor Partnerships

Matching an expert or experts with a group or a class of learners is often a more effective strategy. In these partnerships there is room for different forms of contribution by all participants. The distributed expertise of the group becomes clear and everyone can be both a learner and a teacher.

The Mathematics Learning Forums provide a unique experience for elementary and middle school teachers to reflect on and refine their mathematics teaching practices through on-line seminars.

The Electronic Emissary project matches a subject matter expert as a mentor to a classroom for year.

California Telemation Project lists curriculum projects for online learning. These listings include authors of the curriculum who serve as mentors.

Writers in Residence matches a professional writer with a classrooms of developing writers for a fee.

Passport to Knowledge, although not a mentoring program, does include opportunities for students to interact with scientist through video conferencing, television, and email in projects like Live from Mars.

Chemistry Telementoring is a university sponsored discussion of issues in chemistry instruction.

The Telementoring Project is a project of SUNY Potsdam Teacher Education and connects a small team of teachers who explore issues related to the improvement of elementary mathematics education.

The Online Internet Institute brought 400 teachers together online and an impressive array of mentors to conduct summer workshops across the U. S. exploring ways to make use of the Internet in classrooms.

The National Teachers Enhancement Network offers graduate-credit science and mathematics courses to teachers nationally. Teachers are able to participate in the telecomputing courses from convenient home or work locations by dial-up modem connections or Internet access. The Network provides teachers with high quality graduate science courses taught by university scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. It also enhances professional networking nationwide between science teachers and active research scientists.



Design Issues for Tele-mentoring


In thinking about new designs for telementoring, it is helpful to the discuss responses to following questions.

Telementoring Human Resources

Who will mentor whom? How will the mentors be selected and what training will they be provided? Good mentors are also good teachers.


Matching Challenges
How will mentors and learners be matched? Will it be based on content (matching inquiry to expertise), or talents of learners and mentors (person to person), or mentor to topic area (mentor to group)? The matching process should be as simple or automated as possible as it can be very different for the program to develop is the matching takes a great deal of interaction among individuals.


The Nature of the Interaction
What is the focus of the mentoring? Will it involve modeling the integration of many different aspects into a specific role (role model), or will it be to provide expert advice on a specified domain (subject expert)? Will the mentor be proactive or reactive to the needs of the learner? When should one respond with questions and when with answers that promote inquiry? The answers to these questions are very important in shaping the design of the program.


What will both mentors and learners give and get? What are the benefits that each will gain. There are many benefits that occur to the people involved but it is important to be very clear about the rewards and the commitment from the outset.


How will the program continue over time? What will motivate the mentors to continue? How will the matching structure be supported? If the program is to expand, plans for its growth will need to be set at the very beginning. If it takes a personal phone call to set up the matches, who will make the personal phone call when there are hundreds of matches? It is helpful to project the scale of the mentoring program and ask how each part of the process will occur at that scale.


Telementoring Resources


These resources have been developed by mentoring programs and are available as resources to those who might find them useful. They include advice as well as tools for structuring the interactions.

Peer Resources, a Canadian nonprofit organization since 1975, provide expertise in peer, mentor, and coach systems. Their site is a great place for design issues and examples of mentoring opportunities.

Fostering Reflective Dialogues for Teacher Professional Development by William Spitzer Kelly Wedding and Vanessa DiMauro is one of the best resources for learning how to be an online mentor.

Telementoring Young Women in Science, Engineering, and Computing was a three year project which matches female high school students with professional women in technical fields. While the project has finished, there guide to telementoring is still posted.

Sanda Kerka has written an Eric digest article: New Perspectives on Mentoring - 1998, summarizing various mentor concepts, paradigms, and practices with a short section on telementoring.

LearnWell has a short course on mentoring skills which does address telementoring.

The Mentor Center at BNN has great resources including a workshop and tools for mentoring.

Judi Harris has written a number of research articles on her telementoring project called The Electronic Emissary which brings together Students, Teachers, and Subject Matter Experts.

The University of California Mentor Program Guide (Rita Peterson) was not designed for telementoring but covers many of the major issues of mentoring and could be used without much change as a telementoring guide.

The U. S. Government Technology Literacy Challenge is a grant cycle to create technology mentors. The mentors would volunteer and there would be a trainers of mentors. Each mentor would prepare 10 new mentors each year until all teachers are technology literate.

Telecommunications: Preservice Applications (Editor) Sue Espinoza, East Texas State University. As teaching and learning opportunities are rapidly appearing online, teacher education programs are realizing the importance of preparing teachers of today and tomorrow to participate in the global arena of the Internet. Each of the papers in this section describes the integration of specific telecommunications activities into pre-service teacher education classes.

The Well-Connected Educator encourages teachers to teacher each other by supporting teacher reflection on experiences in teaching through writing.

David J. Wighton, ( 1993) Telementoring: An Examination of the Potential for an Educational Network . While this paper is a bit old now, it does include references some of the early research on telementoring.


Visit Learning Circles


Web Tours to the Learning Spaces in the Present and Future Networlds

The Learn and Live book and video is another form of

telementoring as it is available online with all the links to the authors and projects.

Telementoring on the Web is a Webtour by Margaret Riel, 1997 last updated Octoter 2002

Questions or comments to Margaret Riel at

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