Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the Digital Age: Creating Mentor Networks

In previous posts dealing with the development of real world scenarios as part of e-learning courses, you would have noticed that more than once I mentioned the use of professional mentors in the Sciences in particular that students needed to have access to in order to explore the type of cross disciplinary learning required by the scenarios. In this post I would like to describe to you how such a thing might be structured and set up.

Credit: phanlop88

The question is why should leading people in their particular discipline want to be part of a mentor network and be available to students who have an interest in their field? The best way to answer that question is to consider why apprenticeships existed at the time of the trade guilds in the 13th-14th centuries(Middle Ages). The reasons for taking on young apprentices were so that what was taught by the master could survive but also so that new ideas and refinements could be inspired. The world of the various disciplines is being impacted and changed by the exponential advance of technology and the Internet. The reasons of the original masters are still relevant today for those who are on the leading edge of their disciplines.

Another reason is to continue innovation and establish it as a cultural norm. Consider the students that I mentioned in the anecdotes. How far could they have gone in their pursuits if they had had access to a professional mentor network? How much could they have been inspired to be creators of new knowledge and skill sets which would benefit their respective cultures? One very apparent problem which would explain why such an idea might be rejected is the realization that some of the leading people in specific disciplines are the products of an industrial model of education which says that you can not contribute new knowledge  and skills until you have graduated from a university or college.

Credit: DigitalArt

I have a confession to make to you. The student who is labelled "Jack" is my story. I tell you this because I want you to try to understand the incredible feeling of excitement that you experience when you discover something new through your own efforts in which you add new ideas and skill sets to a discipline. This is what we want to nurture in the new digital apprentices but the caveat here is the importance of others valuing your contribution to knowledge and skill sets.

How do you set something like this up?

Just as Medieval masters and apprentices operated through guild associations, disciplines also operate through associations that speak for their members and convey their members wishes. For example the Royal Astronomical Society speaks for many in the scientific disciplines germane to Physics and Astronomy. Developing such networks begins with a willingness to share ideas and the ability to carefully assess the forces at work in the shaping of e-learning. Connecting with such associations will be a key.

Credit: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Next---More on mentor networks and their impact on learning objectives and assessment

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