By Dr Kwong Nui Sim (2022 CMP Coordinator) and A/Prof Michael Cowling (2021 CMP Coordinator)
The Community Mentoring Program (CMP) has been running for close to 20 years and has always proven popular amongst members. However, in 2020 the program was forced to go predominantly online due to the global pandemic. In last year’s piece for the TELall Blog, we talked about how, despite the remote nature of the program during COVID-19, ASCILITE members valued the networking and connection aspects of the CMP even more.
As we all know, the pandemic continued unabated in 2021, requiring us to react even more strongly and often cancel hopeful plans made in 2020 to get back to face-to-face in 2021. As a result, the CMP embraced the concept of mentoring and being mentored at a distance. Undoubtedly, digital technologies played an important role in this approach and these technologies greatly helped the program to run smoothly 24/7. Coming out of 2020 with its forced isolation and many online meetings, the role of the CMP as a tool for connections became even more apparent at a time when the use of these remote tools was viewed as an emergency measure.
The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 brought to the forefront a need to understand how mentoring could be conducted outside of the usual hallway conversations and coffee meetings, and whether there was more or less value in mentoring during this situation (Termini, et. al., 2021).
Selected comments from 2021 CMP participants are presented here to demonstrate how the CMP has once again provided psychological support, much needed networking opportunities and support in the nitty gritty and big picture for both mentors and mentees. We hope these comments provide insights into the key benefits and challenges of a mentoring program designed for a new world involving hybrid or online only interactions between members, along with the clear need for such a program. This is particularly relevant when networking and peer support could only be obtained virtually in the current setting, both for mentors and mentees. For example:
“Given that this is my 3rd time being a mentor, I have found it to be different in terms of growing my strength each time I participate as a mentor. It has been a rewarding experience and also expanded my networks and understanding of third space professionals immensely. I will encourage everyone to be part of this program at least once.” [mentor]
“As someone who detests networking, the CMP has provided me with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with prominent professionals outside of my institution in an organic and meaningful way. These collaborations have generated tangible outcomes but also personal ones in that I have gained a greater sense of how to grow my career and contribute to the field.” [ mentee]
As always, enhancing professional development is the key when it comes to the CMP and this is highlighted by both mentors and mentees. For instance,
“It important to think of the mentorship program more as a “meeting of minds” where it models the Wenger’s (2010) Community of Practice with embedded reflective practices (Schon, 1979). At the beginning of the relationship there is always a power dynamic that uses uncertainty and wants as foundations which then manifests into shared values and goals and, understanding of positionalities. We are all at the end where we are still practicing and reflecting but more so on the same level as peers.” [mentor]
“My mentor really challenged me, both to focus and value the process, and I found the check-ins and sessions with the rest of the cohort a great support. The CMP opened up possibilities I wouldn’t have considered myself capable of otherwise—thanks to the whole team!” [mentee]
Lastly, it is not surprising to see that both mentors and mentees enjoy the CMP journey together with each gaining benefits in their own manner:
“Participating in a mentoring program like this is an effective way to accelerate learning, connect theory with practice, build confidence and find your place in a profession. The mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial as both partners engage into very productive conversation and enhance their perspective on the project that they are working on.” [Pair X]
“We were surprised how much we had in common as mentor and mentee. We were both experienced educators, not from an academic research background. The mentee wanted to further their academic career through publication. Late in the process they decided to apply for a new job, and were successful with this.” [Pair Y]
Having now dealt with a predominantly remote program for two years, as the program coordinators, we realise that there is a huge opportunity for us to further support the professional development of the program members, such as by inviting them to contribute to co-publish or even opportunities to showcase themselves beyond the program itself. We were excited to see this point sometimes recognised in the feedback:
“Kwong Nui and Michael have provided timely support and leadership in making sure that the mentoring program was running smoothly throughout the very challenging year in 2021. We are appreciative and grateful for their initial, middle and final check-in sessions and continued communication with mentees and mentors.”
Moving into 2022, A/Prof Michael Cowling, (2021 CMP coordinator) has taken up the ASCILITE Vice President role while Dr Kwong Nui Sim will continue as a coordinator, assisted by ASCILITE Executive member Dr Hazel Jones. All signs for 2022 point towards a resumption of more face-to-face meetings, but even if 2022 turns out to be a surprise like 2021 was, it’s good to know with two years of data that the program can work remotely, and that good connections can be made. After all, the most rewarding feature of our coordinating role is to see mentor-mentee relationships strengthened over time and relationships continuing after the program ends.
Stay tuned for more on the 2022 mentors and mentees soon!