Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Become a mentor

If you're a professional in the fields of science, technolgy, engineering or math (STEM) how would you like to give back, and help prepare the next generation. Become a mentor. MentorNet has a new starting place to become a mentor. Make a difference in someone's life.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Should computer programming be mandatory in US schools?

Friend and fellow troublemaker Bonnie Bracey Sutton got a discussion going on Facebook about an October 2 InfoWorld opinion piece asking "Should computer programming be mandatory in US schools?"

She was supporting that position, and I took a contrary position. I think programming is the wrong target. I don't think the goal is to make programmers, but to build an understanding about computational thinking and technical literacy. Teaching computer programming is one way to do that, but I don't believe it's the only way. And I think making it a mandae would cause more problems, and looking at how schools tend to deal with mandates, I believe making computer programming mandatory is just one more way to screw up education. It would be one more way that schools would believe they're doing all the right things to prepare students with 21st Century skills, and they'd miss the real point of teaching programming.

Do you have a mentor?

Sorry. I've not been very active lately. There's been a lot going on. I should be in Phoenix this week at VSS, but VSS doesn't connect well with MentorNet, and right now I need to concentrate on making connections that benefit MentorNet.

That said, let me talk about mentoring. I've been less active with the NACOL Research Committee this year, but I was providing some feedback to one of the teams writing one of the current Issues Briefs. They were using the term mentoring very broadly, and probably because of my experience with MentorNet, I see mentoring as a bit more narrowly that I see it used in a variety of contexts. You can see this definition: "a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. Some professions have "mentoring programs" in which newcomers are paired with more experienced people in order to obtain good examples and advice as they advance, and schools sometimes have mentoring programs for new students or students who are having difficulties" in Wikipedia.

I hear and read mentoring used to talk about programs that I'd call coaching, where rather than helping prepare a less experienced person to become a colleague, the program is designed to overcome a deficit or fix a problem the "mentee" is having. I'd put those programs into the category of coaching or tutoring, not mentoring. I clearly have a more narrow definition that some.

I'd like you to think of mentoring efforts as preparing the next generation. Of helping someoone who may be younger, but clearly less experienced to be successful as a person and as a professional in whatever they do.

It's interesting to look back over my career and realize how seldom I've had mentors. It wasn't part of my upbringing, and may have something to do with being the first generation in my family to go to college, I don't know, but I can definitely see that I didn't have any mentors in college, or in my first teaching role. I did have mentors later on. Mentors do make a difference.

I think everyone needs a mentor -- actually multiple mentors. It's not to correct a deficit, it's to help develop. It should be part of growth and learning. So, if you're not mentoring someone, please consider it. You can contribute to the growth of the next generation whatever your age and and whatever profession you're in.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Of Mentors and Intellectuals

Rob Weir writes an interesting article in Inside Higher Ed today about the importance of mentors, and for the new college graduate, the importance of developing new mentoring relationships as they enter new situations.

Working in MentorNet has given me the opportunity to think back on my experience in college and realize I knew nothing about mentors at that time. I'm first generation college graduate, and my parents didn't know about college life, or much about what teaching, (my intended career) would be like. There were a few profs that I had that spent some extra time with me, but none that ever moved to what I'd consider a mentoring relationship.

I know that when I started teaching I didn't have a mentor, and the people that could have served as mentors weren't interested in helping me.

I'm glad to see a greater emphasis on mentoring now. I hope we can find ways to provide mentors to more students as they develop. It's another aspect of education (maybe informal education) that shouldn't be overlooked.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I moved into a nice studio apartment in San Jose the beginning of March. It's fully furnished and includes utilities, except broadband and cable. It's almost like a studio in a hotel, small fridge, toaster oven, microwave, and two burner stovetop. I've had to get a GPS so I can find my way around. I'm not familiar with the area and San Jose is cut up by at least 4 freeways.

I've been working straight out since I started at MentorNet. Lots of things to learn. It's a very complicated program with many facets. There's a lot of automation which is the only way a small staff could accomplish so much. There has to be to enable over 2000 mentoring partnerships so far this year (July 1- June 30). In the ten years since the program's inception there have been over 21,000 pairings.

MentorNet provides the infrastructure to connect post-secondary students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to industry professionals for One-on-One e-mentoring experiences. Mentors and proteges both complete a 34 item profile and then are matched with a bi-directional algorithm.

MentorNet has a coaching curriculum that is sent regularly to proteges and mentors based on the educational level of the protege.

Right now we need mentors in the bio sciences. We have proteges waiting for mentors. Just the opposite is true in the computer sciences where we have lots of mentors waiting for proteges.

For students to be eligible to be paired with a mentor they need to be attending one of our hundred-plus partner institutions, or be a student member of one of our partner professional societies.

We're not just looking for mentors and protege's we also are looking for financial support. If you know of a foundation or personal donor that would be interested in supporting our work please let me know.

Interesting OCR decision.

You know I've been concerned about access and equity issues in online education. When I've been talking about the issues I've predicted there will be a finding within the year. What I didn't know, really, I didn't know, was that at the time I was writing the NACOL Issues Brief the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) was investigating a complaint in Washington.

Here's an excerpt from the letter of finding by OCR. this is a narrow ruling, but it's a start. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

108 LRP 17959
Quillayute Valley (WA) School District
Office for Civil Rights, Western Division,
Seattle (Washington)
November 16, 2007

Dear Superintendent Reaume:
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has
completed its investigation of the above-referenced
complaint against Quillayute Valley School District
No. 402 (QVSD). OCR investigated whether, in
August 2006, QVSD discriminated against a student
on the basis of disability when it denied the student
admission to the Insight School of Washington (ISW),
an online high school operating statewide under a
management services agreement with QVSD.

OCR conducted its investigation under the
authority of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
l973 and title II of the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990, which prohibit discrimination on the
basis of disability in programs and activities receiving
federal funds from the U.S Department of Education
and by public entities, respectively. QVSD receives
federal funds from this Department and is a public

As discussed below, the evidence established
that QVSD did not comply with Section 504 and Title
II when it denied the student admission to ISW. OCR
also found that the 2006-2007 criteria for admission
to ISW did not comply with Section 504 or Title II
and that, during 2006-2007, QVSD did not ensure that
ISW complied with Section 504 and Title II. QVSD
and OCR discussed the compliance concerns and
QVSD agreed to take the actions set forth in the
enclosed Settlement Agreement. OCR concludes that
QVSD will be in compliance with Section 504 and
Title II with respect to the issues investigated in this
case upon full implementation of the actions and
commitments contained in the Settlement Agreement.

OCR's findings and conclusions are specific to
the 2006-2007 school year, and are based upon a
review and analysis of written information provided
by the parent, QVSD, and ISW, and interviews
conducted with the parent, and staff of QVSD and

more information may be available from: http://www.specialedconnection.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lifestyle change

I've just started a new position! I'm the Director of Programs for MentorNet. I've moved to San Jose, California and will be very busy bringing my past experience with diversity and online education to MentorNet and at the same time, learning more about e-mentoring . At the present time MentorNet programs are all at the post-secondary level. There is a lot of interest in developing e-mentoring programs at the high school level, but there are also a lot of issues (such as insuring the safety of the students) that are less an issue with post-secondary students, graduate students, and post-docs.

More on this in the future.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Works in K-12 Online Learning

Finally! We, Rose & Smith, wrote Chapter 9 -- Online Discussions -- at least a year ago, and now finally the book is out.

Of course we don't get any royalties so, don't feel the need to run out and buy it to help support me, but if you're interested in learning more about What Works in K-12 Online Learning I thing there is a lot of good stuff in the book.

I heard from a friend who said:

"Ray, this was the book I wanted most of the new crop of ISTE titles, and yours was the first chapter I read...it is great! I like the way you made clear what many of us assume will be understood about intention, that freedom requires structure, the comparisons between reflexive and reflective practice and above all the importance of community (and what it takes to build it). It is excellent, and coming from you, I am not surprised

Innovation 2008

The Issues Brief that I wrote with Bob Blomeyer on access and equity and followup webinar has attracted some attention. A Google search shows a number of links. And now, Bob and I have been asked to speak at Innovation 2008 April 14-15 at Breckenridge CO.