Telementoring simplified

February 19, 2004, vol.29, no.4
By Christopher Guly



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In seeking to transform the internet's cacophony of advice-seekers into a symphony, Kevin O'Neill has become a conductor in cyberspace.

Over the past decade, organizations have been using the internet to offer tutoring, career guidance or networking opportunities to students, employees or members, regardless of their location.

These online mentoring efforts, however, have suffered the same fate as in-person mentoring, says O'Neill, an assistant professor and director of the online learning relationships lab in the faculty of education.

“Online mentoring can be so human-resource intensive in doing just the organizational work for the program, that there's very little time left over to do oversight and offer direction to make sure it's actually achieving its goals.”

To overcome these problems, O'Neill and four of his students received a $108,500 Human Resources Development Canada grant to develop Telementoring Orchestrator, a web application designed to co-ordinate and monitor online mentoring relationships.

Available for free at www.flintbox.ca, the software program enables organizations to recruit mentors over the web, explains O'Neill, who has received several inquiries about Orchestrator from organizations across North America.

Whenever a program co-ordinator receives a request for telementoring, the database of mentors is searched to find the appropriate fit and once located, the identified mentor is invited to participate.

When that match is made, the mentor and mentee can communicate using Knowledge Forum, a conferencing tool developed at the University of Toronto.

Or they can exchange e-mail via a central router, which tracks the volume of correspondence and records the online conversation, a feature particularly important when schoolchildren are involved, O'Neill points out.

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