Thanks to Alec Couros for further information about his open course – EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education – and for the link to his call for mentors for this course which made for very interesting reading – and has had me reflecting on the question of how to scaffold open courses further – or whether we need to scaffold them at all.
Voluntary mentoring of online courses is not a new idea. John Smith, Bron Stuckey and Etienne Wenger always use mentors on their Foundations of Communities of Practice online course in CPsquare. This is not an open course, but mentors work voluntarily, having first participated in the course themselves. I was privileged to be a mentor myself for one the courses. As in Alec’s course, the mentor plays a different role to the course convenor. In CPsquare this is to support participants in finding their way in the course, to support them in their learning and interaction, to promote and encourage discussion and to support the course facilitators in their management of the course. This sounds similar to what happens in Alec’s course – the difference being that in the CPsquare course all mentors are already known to the course convenors and have been participants on the course for which they are a mentor.
Alec’s idea of a ‘call for mentors’ also struck me as very similar to Sugata Mitra’s ‘granny cloud’. Mitra is renowned for his ‘Hole -in- the -Wall’ experiments in India, which resulted in evidence that children can organise their own learning and teach each other – see http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html for details. However, there was also evidence that the experiments did not always work – see Arora’s work and this blog post for an introduction. Following this critique by Arora, Mitra decided that children’s interest and motivation to learn in the absence of a teacher would be more likely if they were supported by what he has called a ‘granny cloud’. So he recruited hundreds of British grandmothers who are willing to voluntarily connect with the children online and answer their questions – a very similar idea to Alec Couros’ call for mentors.
These ‘experiments’ in learning with minimum intervention from a teacher raise all sorts of complex questions about the role of teaching, both in traditional settings and in open settings. The one that strikes me as being important is how the quality of mentoring is controlled. What sorts of checks do we need to have in place to ensure the safety of learners and that they get a ‘fair’ deal. Under what circumstances would it be worse to be ‘mentored’ than to be left to manage your learning on your own?
I need to read around a bit more (Mitra, Arora and Couros) and see whether these questions have already been addressed.