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Our third semester in EDUTOOL-studies is coming to the end. You can clearly see, how the students’ expertise in learning sciences and applying educational technology has gone up. Last Friday the senior students had the opportunity to begin mentoring students who have started studies in the international LET-program which is similar to our EDUTOOL-studies. Listening to the LET-students’ perspectives in the beginning of the mentoring process clearly brought out that Oulu University has established an excellent concept to provide students an opportunity to grow to be adaptive experts in a field that is necessary through out education, life long learning and working life.

Mentoring requires a shared object. Picture by Stephen Shaheen http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/stephen-shaheen-light-bulb

As to mentoring, after our first mentoring session I noticed, once again, that for me it’s necessary to read up on the concept before writing down any comments about it. This time I searched documents in Google Scholar for a change, and it’s obvious that mentoring is a renowned concept. It’s been used in business and working life as well as in educational activities. Actually, it’s a little bit surprising that mentoring by peer students seems to be an exception rather than a rule!According to McKimm, Jollie and Hatter (2007) mentoring is a complex phenomenon that varies from situation to another. They see it very important that mentor and mentee agree on what mentoring in their context is in order that there comes into being mutual understanding – and I’d say a shared object – of mentoring. Through that understanding it’s possible to define the zone of proximal development (ZPD) through which the mentor and mentee together can travel.

ZPD has been defined by Vygotsky (1978) ”the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers”. Term scaffolding has commonly been linked with ZPD. It is defined Wood et al. (1976) as  ”elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence”, which is actually ZPD defined backwards. Essential in scaffolding is that when the mentee with the benefit of scaffolding, masters the task, the scaffolding can then be removed and the mentee will then be able to work as an expert in his/her own right.

Mentoring is an allocated activity. Picture by Sarah Ann Wright http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/sarah-ann-wright-clouds-photography

McKimm, Jollie and Hatter (ibid.) refer mentoring as a protected relationship in which learning and experimentation occur through constant analysis, examination, reflection, problems, mistakes or successes of  both the participants. An important lesson, as we planned the start of our common mentoring process, was that it is imperative to create a relaxed and safe atmosphere from the beginning. For our group of mentors this was a challenge, as we suddenly noticed just before the first meeting, that all the mentors had incidentally mandatory things to do at work. Some multitasking and lateral thinking was required to overcome the challenge of being in two places at the same time.

A mentor is – according to McKimm, Jollie and Hatter (ibid.) – someone who helps another person through a transition – i.e. through ZPD – such as a major change in  circumstances, career development or personal growth. As it is like that, mentoring fits together well in studies that strive for adaptive expertise and growth to be a specialist in a field that requires constant collaboration. By that I mean learning sciences and exploiting educational technology – both are fields that are rapidly changing by nature.

Further reading:

McKimm, J.; Jollie, C. & Hatter, M. (2007): Mentoring: Theory and Practice.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.