What Makes Electronic Mentoring Effective?

In disciplines with few experienced women available to serve as mentors, electronic mentoring, or “e-mentoring,” enables same-sex mentoring of many more women than face-to-face mentoring would permit. It also benefits K-12 students through improved teamwork, critical thinking skills, integration of knowledge across subject areas, self-directed learning, and writing skills.

E-mentoring is mentoring via electronic communication. Structured e-mentoring programs include the components of formal mentoring programs, but the medium extends the benefits of mentoring to a wider audience. It removes the constraints of time and location, enables thoughtful, deliberate communication, and provides a useful record of that communication. E-mentoring also can limit status differences that might inhibit communication between protégées and mentors.

Problems can arise from technology failures or loss of email addresses, but these can be resolved with technical support or help from the e-mentoring program administrator. Other difficulties that may be inherent in e-mentoring are related to communication via a computer. There can be increased miscommunication due to the absence of non-verbal cues from body language and tone of voice, and lower inhibitions about venting anger or frustration. These problems can be mitigated through participant training and education. Even so, a prominent e-mentoring researcher, Judi Harris, encourages use of e-mentoring only when face-to-face mentoring is not viable.

Important ingredients for successful e-mentoring programs include: participants having easy and reliable access to the necessary technology and a desire to participate in the program; self-matching or participant approval of a prospective mentoring partner; staff to facilitate and document matching, provide coaching, help maintain contact between mentors and protégées, and respond to questions; multiple methods of contact between pairs for better mentoring relationships; and protection of participants’ confidentiality.

 

 

WHAT IS MENTORING?

Mentoring occurs when an experienced person serves as a trusted counselor, teacher, and advocate to an inexperienced protégé. Mentoring usually happens on a personal level in the context of a relationship that develops over time, in contrast to the more remote and one-dimensional role modeling. Mentoring may combine affective support, such as offering a sympathetic ear, with instruction in professional behavior and tasks. It includes actions such as sponsoring, coaching, acquiring resources, and providing exposure and protection to the protégé.

Formal mentoring programs usually have several components. They match mentors with protégés, offer events or activities to develop mentoring relationships, provide resources and instruction for achieving the desired outcomes, and evaluate results for participants and the organization. Effective mentoring programs are carefully planned, with attention to specifying, communicating, and measuring objectives, and developing sufficient resources to implement fully.

Mentoring programs most commonly fail due to unanticipated high costs of operations; usually time costs for program facilitation are severely under-estimated. Although mentoring is not always a positive experience, it usually enhances career commitment for men and women, including women in male-dominated fields such as IT. Benefits include more rapid career advancement and career satisfaction, as well as enhanced academic self-confidence of women in disciplines where the majority of faculty members are men. Both same-sex mentoring and mixed-sex mentoring are effective, although participants may find same-sex mentoring more comfortable.


References

  • Single, P. B. & Single, R. M. (2005). E-mentoring for social equity: review of research to inform program development. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 13(2), 301-320.
  • Single, P. B., & Muller, C. B. (2001). When email and mentoring unite: The implementation of a nationwide mentoring program. http://www.uvm.edu/~pbsingle/pdf/2001_ADTD_chpt.pdf

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Authors: Lecia Barker and J. McGrath Cohoon