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FIRST ANNUAL FEDERAL FOCUS ED-MENTOR SYMPOSIUM
DR. JUDITH B. HARRIS
Dr. Judith Harris is an associate professor and area coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Technology Area. Most of her research, writing, and service during the past seven years has focused upon helping teachers and students to design and implement curriculum-based, Internet-supported telecollaborative and teleresearch activities in K-12 classrooms. The web site that supports my latest book for K-12 teachers, Virtual Architecture: Designing and Directing Curriculum-Based Telecomputing is
Dr. Harris describes herself as originally and forever an elementary school teacher. At the University of Texas she directs The Electronic Emissary program, a K-12 telementoring program, which has been online since 1993. Judi helps teachers use Internet-based tools and resources through her teaching, writing and research.
I am here to tell you a bit about a very small scale, in comparison to Dr. Muller's, but we think promising, K-12 telementoring project called The Electronic Emissary. To distinguish, just for a moment, we tend to serve classes of K-12 students working with mentors, as opposed to individual mentoring partnerships. Although, we do also sponsor, when required, one-on-one kinds of mentorships. Let me put this a bit in perspective, if I could, in terms of what the Internet potentially offers us today in terms of telementoring possibilities. The latest and most reliable statistic I could find were that there are about 195 million, probably more, users on the Internet today. More than 107 million of them just in North America. This includes more than 194 countries; more than 80% of all countries in the world have access to the Internet. This has been true for more than 10 years now, that the Internet is growing at the rate of about 100% per year, if not more, and it is expected to continue in that way. At this point in time, there are about 2.2 million publicly accessible websites. That is not even counting other types of Internet resources, just websites, that are publicly available, not including privately available or password-encoded sites. This adds up to about 300 million web pages. This is something that is a huge and very rapidly growing resource, both in terms of people potentially connecting with other people, and also in terms of information resources that are available publicly.
When we speak about telementoring, we are more concerned about the users of the Internet. As most of you probably know, the Internet has been used, whether it was called the Internet at that time or not, by university researchers, teachers, students for more than 20 years. So, there is a very well established culture of subject matter experts who have been using the Internet for a very long time. Compare that to corporate professional who, in most cases, have been using the Internet for a little more than 5 years. In terms of K-12 teachers and students, believe it or not, there are pockets of K-12 schools that have been using the Internet or earlier versions of it for 12 years or more. In this case, we have probably one of the few instances in history where we have education that has been using technology longer and has a more well established user base, person-to-person user base, than corporations.
Specifically, if you are interested in the Internet's use in K-12 schools, at this point in time more than 90% of U.S. K-12 schools have access to the Internet in at least one place within the school. Typically, if there is only 1 Internet connection within a K-12 school, it tends to be in the library, media center or computer laboratory. Unfortunately, although a great number of schools has access, still only about 39% of classrooms have access. This particular statistic was only generated with fourth through twelfth grade classrooms. Now that does make a big difference in terms of telementoring. That is one thing we found with our work with The Electronic Emissary, which I will talk about in a bit. In order for a telementoring program and project to work well within the established K-12 curriculum, regular, frequent, natural access has to be available. So, although we have a lot of people in our project, for example, and I am sure in the other projects you will hear about today, who schedule access for their students several times per week in a common center, such as a library, media center or computer lab, what we really need for these projects to scale in my opinion is much more ubiquitous access. With these kinds of statistics, we are doing better than we did before, but we still do not have a majority of classrooms that have the kind of access that would make telementoring truly viable and much more widely available yet.
About half of the teachers in the U.S. report that they are using the Internet in some way for instruction, but only about 7% of U.S. teachers report that their students use e-mail at all, or any sort of interpersonal kind of communication. Now again, the difference between those two statistics is significant. What we see are mostly teachers who are using the Internet to gather information in terms of preparing their lessons, to have students gather information in terms of their curriculum-based learning. However, what we do not see yet, are teachers really taking advantage of telecollaborative opportunities for their students, that is, their students communicating with other students, with experts or with mentors in those ways. So, in a sense, although the Internet is fairly widely available in our school, still most of our schools are relatively novice at true person-to-person telecollaborative kinds of learning for K-12 students.
One of the things that we have been continually amazed by, and I think this particular quote says it well, is, "The goodwill of people who are not K-12 educators who are willing to work, to take of their own time and energy, to work with K-12 students in an ongoing mentoring kinds of relationship." This is really what The Electronic Emissary and similar kinds of projects are founded upon. We were originally concerned when we first piloted and designed the project in the fall of 1992 that we would not be able to find enough subject-matter experts who, since we had no money to pay them, would willingly volunteer their time on an extended basis to work with students in K-12 schools whom they would never see face-to-face. Yet, we have found that we have many more subject-matter experts than we could ever offer the potential of work on electronic teams in terms of our being able to support those teams. I will tell you a bit more about that in just a moment.
To give you some specifics on the project, we began planning and piloting this in the fall of 1992. We have been online since February of 1993, probably as one of the earliest K-12 telementoring projects. We have only about 150 volunteer subject-matter experts in our database. We purposely keep those numbers controlled because, quite frankly, our levels of funding go from nonexistent to very moderate. So, we can only handle as many electronic teams as we have funding for facilitation to support. To date, we have facilitated a little bit more than 400 electronic teams. In addition to being the sort of matching and facilitating service for telementoring, we also have been engaged from the beginning in a series of ongoing research studies on the nature of communication between a subject-matter expert who comes virtually into the K-12 classroom and who may never meet those teachers and students face-to-face, but who in all other ways is very much a part of what goes on in that particular classroom. We were originally funded by the Texas Center for Educational Technology and also by the J.C. Penney corporation.
People often wonder what kinds of experts are available. We have about 50% of our volunteers involved in the sciences in one way or another. We also have large representations from the humanities, especially history. Some people list their areas of specialty in very specific ways, and others in rather general ways. What is especially fascinating is that we have subject-matter experts who work in their fields of expertise, but we also have subject-matter experts who work for example as administrative assistants at universities who happen to have subject-matter expertise in U.S. History. Their work with The Emissary, then, with teachers and students electronically allows them to continue to explore their passion, even tough that might not be the focus of their full-time work. When we have a particular request from a teacher or teachers for a particular area of expertise, we will try to find that; but, basically we ask people who hear about the project at presentations or from their colleagues if they want to volunteer to come to the site and fill out an information form, which we then preview, check on any information that needs checking, and then add to our database if appropriate.
The Emissary facilitates what we call electronic teams of people. Typically, each team consists of one or more students, one or more experts - typically one, but sometimes our subject-matter experts prefer to work in teams - usually one K-12 teacher, and one online facilitator. The last element of that team we have found through our work to be absolutely the most essential. I will discuss that in just a moment. So, this team then comes together at the request of the teacher and/or the students who will be involved in the mentoring. There is an existing database of subject-matter experts through which the teacher and, if the teachers sees appropriate, the student or students who will be communicating, search by word or by phrase. Then the teacher and/or students choose the subject-matter expert from the database whose expertise best serves the project that they have in mind. The teacher and students can choose whether this is a project for one student, a special area of interest, or whether this is a project for a group of students, perhaps a small group of students working on a particular project in a curriculum area, or perhaps a whole class or several classes of students. One of the things that we can do as a small project with each project having an online facilitator is that we can be flexible so that we can structure the project according to the student's learning needs and interests, and according to the access conditions that are available at that particular school. We have everything in terms of access conditions from a teacher that has several computers in his or her classroom directly connected through a fast Internet connection, to a teacher who has no access in the school at all, but has to take home what the students want to write to the mentor on a diskette and upload to his or her own computer, and everything in between. Although we recommend that there be access in the classrooms, obviously we accommodate people who want to participate who do not have that level of access.
The important thing to remember about The Emissary project is that the team topics are all curriculum related. The whole project is meant to help teachers and students use subject-matter experts' areas of expertise as it directly relates to the K-12 curriculum. Our project is really about the integrating the use of this particular new kind of ongoing relationship into the existing K-12 curriculum. It is hoped that in that process one updates and enhances that K-12 curriculum. I can safely say that in all cases our participants report that is happening. The idea here is helping people to change from the inside, rather than trying to impose some sort of reform effort from the outside. We believe very passionately that this is the way true and longstanding change happens in existing organizations, especially in schools. We in no way influence what it is that they want to study. What we do is assist them in understanding how they could make best use of someone with whom you will primarily have e-mail contact, sometimes desktop teleconferencing, sometimes collaborative web page design. Contact depends on what people have available and want to do.
The work of the online facilitator, the "coach" that Dr. Muller mentioned, is much more important than we ever expected. As a matter of fact, in our pilot semester, we were trying to start small. My mentor, Glenn Bull from the University of Virginia, is know for saying, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." By that, of course, he means that one must start small and learn from your mistakes. So, we tried to start small, you see, we simply offered this only in Texas. Although we thought we could handle ten to twelve teachers in that first semester, we ended up being kind and trying to support 33 who were very interested in participating. In that first semester we assumed that these teachers already have Internet access, they are comfortable and confident with the tools, and they know their curriculum. We further assumed that all we needed to do was hook them up with volunteer subject-matter experts who have Internet access, help them to talk to each other, and be available for questions. Wrong!! We found out, of course, is that about 50% of those unassisted matches will fail. It was actually sad, but heartening, to learn that people in other projects had some of the same discoveries. So, some sort of facilitation, and what Dr. Muller calls "coaching," is absolutely necessary. We also found, because of the curriculum-based emphases of our projects, like those you see in these team topics, that most of the facilitation that is necessary is not technical. It is not even organizational. The facilitation that is necessary is to the teacher to help him or her understand through his or her own experience how to actually weave use of the telementoring relationship into the regular curriculum, so that it is not a telecomputing project, and not part of a computer class, but part of their math, science, social studies, or language class. I cannot tell you how important that is in terms of sustainability and scalability in terms of teachers' willingness to use these kinds of resources. It has to be more than just a special project if we want it to reach many more students. Our facilitators, by the way, are graduate students at the University of Texas. These are people who are all experienced educators and also experienced with facilitating online exchange, preferably curriculum-based online work.
Through our work, I thought it might be helpful to tell you a bit about what we are learning. There are, of course, multiple reports on our research available at our site. You are welcome to come and peruse those. We continue to post them as we write them. A lot of times we are asked to tell what the keys to success are in terms of not only establishing but in sustaining and bringing to closure a telementoring relationship. From our research and experience - "our" meaning the facilitators and researchers who work with me on this project - we found the following items:
- Before the exchange takes place, we found that a fair amount of planning needs to occur. In most cases, the teachers that we are working with may be very comfortable with computers, or maybe not. They may even be very comfortable with using Internet tools and resources. What they oftentimes are not that experienced with is weaving this into their curriculums. Pre-exchange planning is extremely important. It is not something to be skipped over because you are excited about getting the kids online to talk to the mentor. There need to be clearly conceived learning goals. This does not mean these cannot change and emerge, but they need to be very clearly conceived at the beginning.
- Another thing we found extremely important is that teachers need to know realistically how much time this will take. They need to be aware of how much time from the regular class they need to allocate, and how much of their own time in terms of preparation and communication with the mentor, coordination efforts will be needed. We found that especially pre-exchange, not just during the exchange between the mentor and the students, that very prompt action needs to occur. A teacher is always excited, writes in, requests a mentor, we put them together, we contact the mentor, the mentors are typically very quick about coming back and being willing to talk with the teacher. We found that if there is even more than a week's lag time between when the mentor says, "Yes, I'll do this," and the teacher then begins to plan with the mentor and the facilitator, there is a much greater chance of that particular team not completing the project that they planned. So, even pre-exchange, there needs to be a very quick turnaround. It seems to be that with all of the conflicting demands placed upon teachers and students in K-12 environments, that there is sort of a window of opportunity. If we do not get the mentor to them quickly enough, or the teacher does not get the lab scheduled quickly enough, or one of any number of things does not happen, if that window is lost, then we may not even have the beginning of a project, much less the completion of one.
- There needs to be a very strong subtask structure. We have a number of examples in which the project was structured well overall, but all of the specific subtasks that the students would be doing, the subtopics, the parts of the project, the experiment that the students are doing with the mentor's help were not structured well. Not only does the overall plan have to be very clearly conceived, but also there needs to be a very strong subtask structure. In other words, overall there needs to be very detailed planning. We think the reason for this is because in most cases these folks will never meet each other. We think that it is the detailed planning that helps to overcome that out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon. Even though we know there are real people behind the electronic mail message, when everything is competing for a teacher's time, it may not be as compelling an impetus as we would like it to be.
- Obviously, on the front end, along with the detailed planning for the project, there needs to be a lot of front-end logistical planning. That is, how many times will the kids be in the lab; when will the kids send their messages; when should the mentor be prepared to answer them; when should the replies be due; what is the first sort of product that the kids will publish; how much time does the mentor need to look at that before he or she can provide feedback; will that give the kids enough time to meet their due date. Again, this can be very flexible, but we found that if a fairly detailed timeline is not planned out up front, there may be problems.
- During the exchange, there needs to be as prompt and quick turnaround as possible. One of the things we find to be a source of much misunderstanding between subject-matter experts and teachers is that the two cultures from which subject-matter experts and K-12 teachers come are very, very different. Subject-matter experts have Internet access on their desk all day, every day. Teachers may have access in their classroom, but that does not mean they have access to the Internet all day, every day. They have many other things that they must do in their classrooms. So, the notion in terms of turnaround is for people to have realistic expectations of how often they will receive messages. We have had a number of subject-matter experts who have become disheartened because several days have passed since they sent a message before they receive the teacher's reply. What they often do not understand, and what our facilitators have to explain to them, is that teachers' access to computer time, whether the computers are in their classrooms or not, is rather restricted. So, as prompt and as quick turnaround as possible is important. We also found that we have to help people understand different working situations so that the interpretation of what constitutes "prompt" or "quick" is context specific.
- Another unexpected finding is that teachers do not necessarily know ahead of time that they need to prepare students offline for their communication with the mentors. Oftentimes, the students will go to the lab with the idea to send a message to the mentor. Well, if they have not really thought about what it is that they want to know in relation to the curriculum-based project, specifically which questions are most appropriate to ask the mentor and which are more appropriate to look for answers in encyclopedias, or other sorts of online resources, then sometimes mentors can feel frustrated with the vastness of the task, the vastness of the question. So we have learned to help teachers work with students offline to help them prepare the kinds of questions and statements that would help them best accomplish their curriculum-related goals in the telementoring project.
- We found it really important to have what we have called multidimensional communication. In other words, in instances in which students only send content-related questions to the mentor, the mentors often report feeling like a human encyclopedia. Perhaps these questions are specialized and appropriate questions for the mentor, but if that is not supplemented by sort of interpersonal exchange - information about both the students and the mentor - then the exchange really does not have the energy or spark that can really create magic. We especially see this with students who are preteenagers or teenagers. If they cannot connect with the mentor as a person, then the learning is not nearly as meaningful for them. We tend to see this also with very young children, who, teachers report, ask very first thing is to see a picture of the mentor. They want to know about the home where they live and whether they have pets or children, this type of thing. Although you may think that this is off the topic, we have found that this type of information mixed in moderation with the content-related talk becomes a very important part of this true mentorship taking place, as opposed to just a series of question-and-answer sessions. Again, the subject-matter expert, or SME as they say in my field, is a person, not an encyclopedia. It is important for teachers to work with students outside the online communication forum to help them to know how to best frame their questions and their comments, and their requests for feedback, so that they are talking with a person.
- We also found that our facilitation, as far as we can tell, really cannot be standardized. There are some basic concepts, such as those I have shared with you, that tend to help these relationships along. We have found that our training for mentors and teachers, and our facilitation of these particular projects really needs to be individualized. So, we typically have a facilitator who is working about 20 hours per week, on average. We have found that our facilitators can handle about 20 teams simultaneously over the course of a semester. We warn them that in the first month, they will be spending probably double or more the amount of time that they will be spending once the teams get going. This averages out to about an hour's worth of facilitation per team per week, over the course of a semester. We have found that after that semester of active facilitation, then if the teacher, students and SME want to continue communications, then we can be available on an as-needed basis. We do find that we need that first half-year of intensive facilitation to ensure a higher level of success.
- During the exchange, students must be actively engaged in the communication. It is understandable that teachers who tend to feel isolated because of the nature of where they work and the fact that they are mostly alone with students with very minimal face-to-face contact with colleagues during the school day, that naturally teachers want mentoring themselves, especially teachers in new curriculum areas who are being mentored in terms of content from the SMEs. We have found that in those cases where the teachers are primarily the ones communicating, that the project as it was planned in the classroom has a much higher rate of failure, with "failure" meaning not coming to closure or not being completed.
- We found it helpful to have a regular rhythm of message traffic. Again, it is this notion of quick turnaround time, but "quick" is a relative term depending upon the level of access that students and teachers have. We are basically trying to maintain here a bilateral flow, so that once that rhythm becomes established, we do a lot to try to sustain it.
- We found it helpful for our facilitators to act as models in terms of how you communicate. We discovered almost by accident that our facilitators who are willing to tell a little bit about themselves, especially in the beginning, to be friendly, that that sort of model of personal self-disclosure and friendliness then extends, oftentimes, to the teachers who may be uncomfortable in communicating, especially with a SME in the teacher's field of expertise that they will never meet. Some teachers understandably can be concerned about negative judgment from this sort of remote expert. All in all, the thing that works best is if we can help create an active, inquiry-based exchange with the SME. When that happens, and it is actually fairly easy, literally magic can happen.
The notion that you have to see someone and hear someone in order for a strong bond to exist may be a relic of ways that we are used to communicating, as opposed to ways that we can communicate now.
If you are interested also in what we are focusing on. Our research is emergent, much like these partnerships are emergent. We are now very interested, and just received a very small grant to work on some preliminary work with the notion of what we call authentic professional development for participating teachers. One of our doctoral students, Dr. Patricia McGhee, who is now working at the University of Texas at San Antonio, found much by accident when she was looking for something else, that the teachers who participate in The Electronic Emissary projects report a lot of authentic learning themselves. Even though they go into the project expecting to do this curriculum-based project for the sake of their students, they find that they themselves learn an incredible amount, not only about the content area, but also about teaching and learning. So, Dr. McGhee focused her pilot studies and her dissertation work on what she called unintended professional development. We are sort of going beyond that to what we call authentic professional development. We are convinced that with many types of curriculum-based online projects, not only telementoring projects, there is significant learning occurring for teachers "in context".
Another of our researchers is very interested in what causes some teachers to persist with use of telecomputing tools in the classroom, as opposed to others who will try it and then give it up. She is focusing on that. We have another researcher who is quite interested in the differences between whole classes and individual student protégés communicating in telementoring relationships. As I have said, we do sponsor both. So he is focusing on the individual student protégés having come from work that we did with whole classes. He is interested specifically in speech acts and the message flow and how they might be different with those different groups.
We have another researcher who is just beginning her work who is very interested in the motivations and perceptions of the volunteers. It is a mystery to us, but in our formative and summative evaluations, our SMEs all tell us how much they learned, how much this was important to them. As far as we can tell, so far from just preliminary findings, it is important to them because it is something that they are passionate about. This work with students then gives them a "good excuse" to explore that. But we have a sense that it is more than that, and this is part of what this particular researcher is investigating.
We also have done some work, and will continue to do some work, in the functions and flow of messages to see if there any sort of predictable patterns. So far, there are no predictable patterns, but there are some interesting trends. Kirk Winters, a policy analyst at the Department of Education helps create the Internet-based customer service for the Department. His team has developed EdInfo, an e-mail update that tells 13,000 individuals about new reports and grant opportunities from the department. The team, which includes Peter Kibbich and Kitt Stubbs, among others, also has created what they call FREE. FREE is a website that makes hundreds of teaching and learning resources from across the federal government available and searchable at one site. Before coming to the department in 1986, he taught high school English in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
The Electronic Emissary Project
University of Texas at Austin
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
406 Sanchez Building
Austin, Texas 78712-1294
The "Electronic Emissary:"
Judi Harris, Director
Greg Jones, System Developer
Lynda Abbott, Laura Amill, Vicki Dimock, Courtney Glazer, Judi Harris, Greg Jones & Patricia McGee, Researchers
Instructional Technology Area, Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
University of Texas at Austin
There are now more than 195 million people worldwide with access to on-line information and computer-assisted communication (NUA, 1999). Many of these millions are subject matter specialists whose knowledge encompasses a wide spectrum of expertise in many academic and practical fields of endeavor. Telementoring efforts, such as U.T. - Austin's Electronic Emissary Project (http://www.tapr.org/emissary/) , bring volunteers from this group virtually into K-12 classrooms to communicate directly, longitudinally, and electronically with students and teachers who are studying about the experts' specialties.
What is the Emissary?
The Electronic Emissary, an Internet-based interpersonal resource and research project, has been on-line since February, 1993. It serves students and teachers globally, but primarily in North America. The Emissary is a "matching service" that helps K-12 teachers and students with access to the World Wide Web locate other Internet account-holders who are experts in different disciplines, for purposes of setting up curriculum-based, electronic exchanges among the teachers, their students, and the experts. In this way, the interaction that occurs among teachers and students face-to-face in the classroom is supplemented and extended by exchanges that occur among teachers, students, and experts online, via electronic mail and desktop teleconferencing. The Emissary is also a research project, which focuses upon the nature of telementoring interactions in which K-12 students are active inquirers, and authentic professional development for teachers.
Facilitation is important!
Online communication is different from most other forms of interchange in significant ways. It lacks the full spectrum of visual and audible information that we depend upon, often unconsciously, in face-to-face exchange. Therefore, it requires somewhat different interaction strategies if it is to be used to create maximal educational benefit by and for students and teachers. These techniques can be modeled and made explicit by someone closely following online conversations in the role of facilitator, helping participants to construct the online teaching/learning experience in mutually beneficial ways. The Electronic Emissary's first years of research have shown that the people best prepared to assist in this way are those having the experience requisite in both online communication and education to know how to help project participants build mutually accessible bridges between differing workplaces. The most important and valuable part of the Emissary's services is its online facilitation, providing "just in time" assistance to teachers, students, and subject matter experts.
Sample Telementoring Projects
Here are some examples of recent curriculum-related work conducted via Emissary-arranged "matches":
- High school students in Delaware who were studying Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter communicated with the character Arthur Dimsdale, who was actually an American literature professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. During the following semester, the students communicated with the professor himself about Mark Twain's Huck Finn, culminating their exchange by creating a newspaper that they called The Mississippi Times, an idea first suggested by the expert. The teacher and the professor shared instructional ideas, resources, and perspectives about Mark Twain's works and views.
- Students in the "upper room" of a country school in a rural and mountainous region of northern California (11 students, ranging from 4th to 8th grade in the same classroom) learned about bones and skeletons by studying their own skeletal systems and the bones found in owl pellets in the woods near their school. Their teacher, along with a biological researcher at Michigan State University, guided the students' hypothesis formation and testing as they extracted the bones from the pellets, measured them, labeled them, then reconstructed the skeletons, and deduced what kinds of animals the bones supported.
- Jannah, a 10-year-old student in Connecticut, corresponded frequently with Dr. Eisner, a professor in Arizona. They continued their study of Arthurian legends that begun in the spring semester of 1995 for more than three years. Jannah, Dr. Eisner, their online facilitator, and the Emissary's director co-authored an article describing their online educational experiences that appeared in the May 1996 issue of the professional journal, Learning and Leading with Technology.
- 19 4th and 5th grade students in McAllen, Texas compared the experiences of their families on the Texas "La Frontera" to colonial life in the original 13 U.S. colonies, with the help of the director of a historic preservation center and museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
- Eight groups of four girls each, studying in an honors science program at a New England high school, communicated with a graduate student at the University of Minnesota about DNA and infantile leukemia (the topic of the subject matter expert's thesis), cancer research and therapy, and professional careers for women in science. The teams discussed both scientific and ethical issues online with the university-based genetics expert.
- A computer scientist at the State University of New York-Potsdam with interest and expertise in American history posed as a young Union soldier to help gifted and talented fifth-grade students in Omaha, Nebraska learn about the Civil War. He answered the students' questions in character. The students used what they learned from his responses to write a play about the Civil War, which was performed at their school.
To date, the Emissary has supported more than 400 electronic teams of students, teachers, facilitators, and subject matter experts. The members of these teams were engaged in in-depth, dynamic exchange using Internet-based tools such as electronic mail, text-based chats, and World Wide Web pages. Project evaluation results provided by team members have emphasized the importance of the relationships that have developed among participants. Subject matter "came alive" for students who could interact with someone for whom curriculum content is part of everyday life. Many of the teachers developed close, apprentice-like relationships with the experts, requesting and receiving assistance with content-related concepts, resources, and activity design. Subject matter experts often reported delighting in opportunities to revisit and delve deeper into their disciplinary specializations by interacting with interested, but less knowledgeable others. Online facilitators expressed fascination with the often challenging, personal, and in-depth communication that people who know each other only as arrangements of pixels on a screen can co-create.
We have learned that students and teachers exploring real-world, many-faceted, curriculum-based topics need to actively build deep and sophisticated understanding. One of the most effective ways to do this is by engaging in ongoing dialogue with knowledgeable others, as the students form, refine, and expand their comprehension. Classroom teachers typically serve as the subject matter experts with whom students interact in such complex areas of inquiry. Yet when the issues being explored are multi-disciplinary, technically and conceptually sophisticated, or dependent upon current and highly specialized research and theory, additional expertise must be made directly available to students and teachers longitudinally, and on an as-needed basis. This is what telementoring offers to learners and educators today, and what the Electronic Emissary Project brings to students and teachers worldwide.
NUA Internet Surveys. (1999). How many online?