When Kiser Intermediate student Jaida Thomas grows up she wants to be a teacher. Or a beautician. Or a pediatric oncologist. That’s quite a wish list for a young lady to have, and she’s already getting some first-hand experience of the first occupation on her list.
Jaida is part of a reading program that links students from her Lincoln County school with their younger peers at Battleground Elementary across town. The pair of schools connect every week by video conference to share a common reading program, which includes letting the older kids like Jaida take the educational lead.
The link is a good example of the growing trend of e-mentoring, a digital update of the traditional mentor-protégé partnership that lets the next generation of students, business people, and others learn the realities of their field from those that have gone before them.
With video conferencing removing the need for travel, e-mentoring can radically increase the number, type, and benefits of this traditional way of passing on knowledge.
E-Mentoring for Online Connections
Thousands of students have formed educational partnerships with experts and volunteers from outside their classroom via video conferencing over the past decade.
The celebrated ‘I Could Be’ program has specifically targeted middle and high school students from traditionally disadvantaged areas with an aim of reducing the number of kids who leave school before graduation. So far the program has linked almost 20,000 students with experts and everyday Americans who spend time with them online every week to discuss the student’s future after school.
I Could Be mentors can reach out to students in resource-poor areas due to the fact the cost of internet connections and video conferencing equipment has dropped within range of most schools in recent years, so much so that 75% of American students attend a school that has high-speed broadband.
That level of connectivity means students like Jaida–whose home state of North Carolina boasts fiber internet connections to 99% of its schools–can take advantage of a whole new range of online mentoring connections, both from their elders and their peers.
E-Mentoring from Young Teachers
The I Could Be program, for instance, could be expanded beyond the current 10 minutes a week formula to become a more immersive relationship in line with the e-mentoring partnerships currently thriving in the business community.
While students are generally restricted to the desktops available in class, especially the younger ones, their online mentors are potentially accessible at all times through the video calling platforms on their smartphones. They could become more rounded mentors, like their business equivalents who are available 24/7, but with less of a focus on facts and figures and more on emotional support in the form of the well-established offline Big Brother/Big Sister program.
This kind of intensive, on-call mentorship may be better suited to education professionals, and might be a good job for the students currently enrolled in teacher colleges.
Teaching students should have more time available to take impromptu video calls from their protégés than adult volunteers with full-time careers and families of their own. They have a better grasp on current teaching techniques, and the relationship would be an ideal way to hone their own talents at delivering those techniques. They’d certainly be better placed to help out with after school activities such as homework.
Building Partnerships Beyond the Classroom
Taking the e-mentor relationship beyond the classroom means making sure students have access to video conferencing equipment at home. Given the fact that an affordable, functional webcam can be bought for less than $50, however, it shouldn’t be much of a strain on the school budget to get their students video calling.
With the tech in place, mentor and mentee can meet regularly after hours to talk homework, the day’s in-classroom activities, and just discuss the world in general. This could take place between teachers-in-training and young students, or student-to-student, in the format Jaida and her friends are using.
It would rely on the school giving students access to a secure video calling platform, but there’s also an opportunity to create an online community of students from participating schools across the country. Students could be paired up into middle school and elementary school pairs so that the older kids can help the younger ones with their homework, or just act as online friends.
It’s a way to forge bonds across age groups, and an invaluable introduction to social media and the online world that will dominate the working lives of the next generation of teachers, beauticians, and pediatric oncologists.