Tag Archives: American University

How do you find a good professional mentor?

Some rights reserved by Peter Guthrie

Tonight, my post is really more of a question: How do you find a good professional mentor?

The importance of mentors for one’s professional growth and guidance has been emphasized to me repeatedly over the years but recently the reminders have been even more prevalent. With the ending of my master’s program and the beginning of the next phase in my career, I have been attending a number of professional networking events, including a recent conference at American University. Like the other events I have attended, the Women in Business Conference reiterated the value of having a mentor but when I sat down at the “mentoring” table during lunch, there were no clear answers about how to find a mentor. I heard warnings about the political and professional complications that can arise from having a mentor in your workplace (e.g., a boss or colleague) and I heard the age old advice of reaching out to everyone you possibly can to connect with potential future mentors. I also heard comments about the added-value of mentors for women and young professionals. I’m curious to learn if there is research behind those ideas but I’m even more curious to discover why mentoring can be such a “hot topic” at networking events yet rarely have any clear actions steps associated with it. I have discovered that finding a mentor is not as easy as simply contacting as many people as you can or crossing your fingers and hoping that one will magically appear (I’ve tried).

Given the crossroads I am currently at professionally (i.e., selecting a career path to build upon my new master’s degree, one that ideally combines some or all of my interests in early childhood education, global education, and educational technology) it seems like the perfect time to search for a professional mentor. It would be amazing to have guidance about various professional paths, such as working as an independent consultant versus a full-time employee, or to to learn more about the best ways to find a career that will allow me to continue to grow professionally. I’m interested to hear another person’s professional perspective about each of the career fields I am exploring and the ideal way to set myself up to achieve my professional goals.

So with all of those questions in mind, I ultimately come back to the first question, how do you find a good professional mentor? I’d love to hear others’ ideas and experiences with answering this question!

Reflecting on Technology as a Global Learning Tool

It’s been about two weeks since I taught my first graduate course at American University, entitled Technology as a Global Learning Tool (or as you might have seen on Twitter, #T4GL12). I wanted to wait a little while before writing a post about teaching the course to give myself some time to reflect and review all of the learning that occurred.

The stated learning objectives for the course were as follows:

Skill — To practice new technology skills and use new technology tools (e.g., Tweeting, Voicethread)
Skill — To build a collaborative online workspace to serve as an ongoing resource (i.e., wikipage)
Skill — To engage in dialogue with other educators and trainers around the globe
Skill — To begin building or further enhancing a virtual, personal learning network (PLN)
Knowledge — To examine how to use a PLN and related technology tools to connect your students/clients to other students/clients around the globe
Knowledge — To identify ways you currently do and could globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Knowledge — To build a wider repertoire of technology tools and strategies to globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Attitude — To expand your willingness and interest in using technology for global collaboration
Attitude — To develop a sense of community with other members of the skills institute
Attitude — To be empowered to use new technology tools and skills in innovative ways

I am happy to say that I think each of these goals was achieved during the course and further developed in our online spaces (Wikispace, Twitter) after the course ended. I was a bit concerned about how easy it would be to establish a course community in such a short time span (the class was taught in an intensive two-day workshop-style design). Luckily, participants were willing to open up and engage with one another and I think some of the course activities helped to facilitate the connections that were made. For example, we used a shared MindMeister to map each of our existing PLNs and then took time to use the connector tool to make connections within and between our PLNs to visualize how we are all connected and can help one another network.

Throughout the course, I asked students to be active in editing and adding to various pages in our wikispace with the hope that it could become a collaborative,  community resource. It was exciting to see students learn this new tool and apply their new knowledge so quickly. I felt like they really took ownership of the space, especially as they returned after the course to post their final reflection projects.

We covered numerous different web 2.0 tools, such as Lino, Pinterest, and Prezi but we also took time to talk about sustainability and ways to overcome existing and future barriers to their ongoing tech learning. I think this was a valuable part of the course because it allowed everyone time and space to step back from the tools themselves and reflect on the specific steps they could take to integrate these tools into their organizations and classrooms. The concreteness of this activity seemed to really facilitate students’ understanding and was named as something the students appreciated in light of the almost overwhelming amount of new tools they had been exposed to in the course.

One surprising result to me was the popularity of Voicethread. I had imagined that various students would be taken with or attracted to different tools depending on their professional context (e.g., nonprofit, classroom) and learning styles but a majority of students all ended up focusing on Voicethread for their final reflections (in addition to citing Twitter as a new favorite). I wonder if the multiplicity of applications and various modalities it allows for (e.g., video, picture, audio and text comments) are what make it such an appealing tool. I think students appreciated that whether they were planning to work in study abroad/exchange, create global learning in their K12 classrooms, or work globally through their nonprofits, they could use this tool to communicate and collaborate.

As a teacher, it was truly exciting to see students begin to engage with Twitter through our course hashtag and to see them start to explore many of the new tools we discussed, creating step-by-step plans for how they would implement them in their professional lives. It was also great to have students share their own resources using these tools (e.g., sending out a symbaloo of websites they currently use for homework the first night) so that I could also learn from them and be exposed to resources they were aware of that I might not know.

We also documented our learning throughout the course on a page of our wiki. Some of the things that were recorded included:

  • How to create a new wiki page
  • How to create a personalized Google Map
  • I sent a tweet!
  • How to grow your PLN using Twitter
  • Voicethread connects people on a more personal level – more genuine
  • How to create a professional presence and how to cross-pollinate all of your interests
  • Process for setting up a sustainable global project
  • Creation of mini-teams/groups for support and guidance
As one student said,I learned so much in this class, mostly about trying new things and thinking about how to use technology in ways I had never really thought of before.”

I too learned a great deal through the course. In addition to gaining more experience with course design and implementation, I learned more about what works best in introducing new technologies to different audiences. I was reminded of how important “play time” is when exploring new tech tools and when I showed some technologies being used for global collaboration projects, the value of relevant, meaningful examples was reinforced. It was amazing to have an opportunity to work with this great group of students in thinking through ways technology can be used as a global learning tool. Through students’ final reflection projects, I was able to observe their learning in-action and students were able to demonstrate their growth in tech knowledge, skills, and comfort. I hope they all now feel better prepared to explore how technology can be used in meaningful and relevant ways for global learning and collaboration in diverse professional contexts.