September 1, 1998
In 1994, Telementoring, online mentoring via the Internet, was still a relatively experimental idea. While there were many examples of online exchange programs between students at different schools, few programs at the time supported one-onone mentoring between older professionals and young people online. Over the last five years, the widespread use of electronic mail (email) has opened up a broad range of educational possibilities for students. As a result, online mentoring via the Internet has proliferated in the form of collaborative projects and special programs to provide resources for students and educators across the country. Yet, many questions remain about how to structure and support online relationships and how to scale-up such programs to reach a broad range of participants.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, EDC's Center for Children and Technology conducted a three-year experimental project to develop Internetbased telementoring environments that link high school girls in science and technology courses with practicing professionals for ongoing guidance and support.
Telementoring aimed to create online environments in which young women in high school could safely discuss their school experiences and feelings with practicing women professionals who have "made it" in science and technical fields. In turn, these professionals could constructively address many of the girls' apprehensions, tensions, and conflicts and help sustain their interest in science and technology. Mentoring programs specifically designed to sustain the interests of high school girls in science and technology are currently available in a wide variety of forms.
While many of these programs have succeeded in raising career awareness, few have provided widespread opportunities for girls to receive sustained support for dealing with the psycho-social and emotional issues that come into play as they pursue courses in nontraditional fields of science and technology. Because high school girls have no easy access to professionals, telecommunications appeared to be a particularly effective medium in which to provide this kind of support.
Over the course of the Telementoring project, we learned a great deal about the issues and challenges that arise in designing and supporting online mentoring environments which focus on building "relationships" among people who never meet face-to-face. Based on research from implementation phases of the project, we examined the key features of our program design and some of the critical issues that emerged as we worked with teachers, students, and mentors.