The Renewed Importance of “community” in the 2020 Community Mentoring Program

By Associate Professor Michael Cowling (CQ University, Australia) and Dr Kwong Nui Sim (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), CMP Leaders

Ever since its inception in 2003, and even more so in 2011 when the Collaborative component was added, the ASCILITE Community Mentoring Program (CMP) has had a strong focus on a sense of community and connecting people together. Coming out of 2020 however, with its forced isolation and many online meetings, the role of the CMP as a tool for connections has never been more apparent. Through our meetings with the cohort over the course of the year, this theme was very apparent and it also came out in an end-of-year survey we conducted with the 2020 mentors and mentees. This blog post will report briefly on these results and provide some thoughts on how we can position the CMP in 2021.

Many comments highlighted this sense of connection that were made during such a challenging time. For example, one participant reported: “Being faced with challenging circumstances, it was incredibly valuable to talk and brainstorm with my mentors, to gather perspective and channel our evidence and thoughts into a relevant topical paper.”  Another highlighted the value of this connection being multi-institutional: “It provided each of us each with a window into how education development was being played out at different institutions in Australia and NZ during the emergency response. A real positive of the CMP model is that it is flexible. In our case the original project changed as we responded to what was happening in our institutions and in our roles as the impacts of the pandemic unfolded.” Another participant highlighted the value of flexibility in the CMP: “Flexibility was a key attribute this year in terms of the mentoring program with all three of our institutions needing to respond rapidly to Covid, however we managed to sustain a mutually beneficial, collaborative relationship over the time.”

Undoubtedly also, CMP relationships are built upon various types of support. For instance, one participant reported: “I love to collaborate and share industry knowledge and practice and being in this program allowed me to do just that.  I learned so much about various tools used in other institutions and also about different research methodologies. I also enjoyed catching up with other mentor and mentees in the program as it expanded the Community of Practice in the space of teaching and learning using technology.” whilst another said “In working with my mentee, we focused on her perceived knowledge gaps and strategies by which we could fill these gaps and potential projects that she could develop to evidence some of her learning. In general, she set the pace, and I served as that critical friend with whom she could share and bounce around ideas. I in turn provided alternatives, suggestions, and learnt a few things myself about her area of expertise.” This was well summed up by one comment which simply said “It was a valuable experience for the mentee and the mentor as the interactions provided insights and support that they would not have been privy to without the mentorship.”

More than in any other year, this sense of connection and learning from each other was highlighted in the feedback, with one participant summing up by saying:

“Mentorship is more than supervision it is a two way street where both the mentor and mentee learn and grow together through the journey. I learned a lot from G around the area of critical thinking and the synergies between us allowed for not only the scholarly concise paper outcome but also new innovative teaching practice that I can take into my own classrooms and that of others at my institution.” and another listing a host of benefits for the CMP, including: “cross institutional and cross disciplinary collaboration; academic, instructional designer and HDR collaboration; building of networks beyond institutions;  and relationships often have publication outputs as well as survive much longer than the mentoring period”.

Even though the relationship did not endure, it did serve its purpose: “Although we ended the program prematurely due to unforeseen circumstances, the initial work we did to identify common interests, working out a schedule and openly communicating expectations and highlighting issues in a timely manner were useful tips for me in future mentoring projects.”

So where to from here for the CMP program? Well, whilst it’s clear that the program was a success with 21 members in total (with one team of three), producing a range of outputs, including papers at the 2020 ASCILITE conference, blog posts, media coverage and heaps of new network connections, 2021 will provide a chance for the authors as CMP leaders to work to enhance this sense of community. Current plans include more regular meetings between the entire cohort, a place for CMP members to meet informally via a forum, and even meetings for mentors! Stay tuned for more details in a blog post coming early 2021.

If you are interested in joining the 2021 CMP, either as a mentor or mentee, we will be holding an Information Session on on 27 January.  You’ll find details on the ASCILITE website here.  If you can’t make the info session, you can still find-out about the program and apply here.

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