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E-mentoring: a Novel Approach in the Use of Technology in Education

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E-Mentoring: a Novel Approach in the Use of Technology in Education

Erol İnelmen

Boğaziçi University, İstanbul-TURKEY

Abstract: Education technology is changing the way we learn. Since we are not anymore concerned with the transfer of information, we believe that mentoring can enhance the education process. The emphasis should be on motivation. The relations developed should assure a life long perspective for the learner. In order to make this relation of benefit to all parties we need the cooperation of all the stakeholders in education. Our recent experience shows that technology can bridge the communication gap between the instructor and learner. The paper covers a theoretical background to education, recent developments and case studies where the importance of mentoring is exposed.
In the last two decades we have been observing very impressive changes in the way technology is used in education. These changes have been possible parallel to the innovations made in the business life style: the customer is now at the centre of all activities [1]. From an “instructor centred education system” approach, emphasis is now shifted so as to give priority to learning. As a consequence, today a “learner centred education system” has been encouraged that requires instructors to be more involved with motivation of the learners, rather than the transfer of information [2].
We quote from the UNESCO report:
There is, therefore, every reason to place renewed emphasis on the moral and cultural dimensions of education, enabling each person to grasp the individuality of other people and to understand the world’s erratic progression towards a certain unity; but this process must begin with self-understanding through an inner voyage whose milestones are knowledge, meditation and the practice of self-criticism [3].
In this paper we suggest that the next stage of development in education will be in the direction of a “mentor centred education system”. The question will be then as how to use technology to facilitate this new emphasis: instructors now more concerned with developing adequate life long strategies of the learners. The paper covers a theoretical background to education, recent developments and case studies where the importance of mentoring is exposed. We conclude by proposing that “strategic alliances” [4] with all partners involved in education is now needed more than ever.


Here in this section we present an introductory theoretical background that our experience has shown is needed when preparing effective technology based education environments.
a. Knowledge integration: Plato argued in favour of a holistic approach to knowledge acquisition by stating that “the sciences which they learned without any order in their early education will be brought together and they will be able to see the natural relationship of sciences to one another and to true being” (from Republic, VII 537).
b. Read/write/draw sequel: Comenius is quoted as having said that “what a child has read he must write; what he has seen he must draw” [5]. As in this case, learning about the qualities of the author helps in appreciating the values of the teaching of the masters. They can be very good role models in guiding us [6].

c. Critical thinking: Another important thinker Kant, argues that “character consists in the readiness to act in accordance to maxims”, suggesting that we need to develop clear set of rules to guide our lives. It is appropriate to develop a “knowledge based approach” to educational covering facts and rules [7]

d. Cognitive levels: Reading from Biggs excellent summary on styles that enhance learning it is possible to develop a better understanding of “cognitive levels” [8]. By tapping in our own teaching experience, we can point at some of the keywords we need: memorize, paraphrase, describe, argue, relate and reflect.

e. Learners’ perception: According to Alderman motivation can be enhanced if we take into consideration the perception the learners has of his own abilities, the effort needed, the task difficulty, the strategy choice, the role of past performance and the role of the teacher [9]. Learners must be properly guided [10, 11].

f. Language syntax: Simon -interested in complex system - provided the artificial intelligence community with many new insights By putting emphasis on language syntax while referring to I.A. Richards recent book “Language through Pictures”, he opened a new important pathway. [12].

g. Theory/Practice dichotomy: Although Delors in his 1996 UNESCO report argues that education should develop the abilities: to know, to be, to do and to share, with great sorrow we observe that university students lack these basic skills [3]. We should blame the educational institutions for underestimating the importance of practice.

h. Learning environment: The most recent insights in the field of education come from the “activity theory” research approach. The design of new learning environments [13] is now catching the interest of corporations, where the cost of education is a major issue.

From this summary it should be now clear that if technology is to be used as a mediator between the parties involved in the learning processes, a novel system design is necessary.

It was Kelly that saw all people as "personal scientists" in anticipating the world. His first corollary -the construction corollary- states "A person anticipates events by construing their replications” [15]. Thus an education system should develop the ability of self- learning and applying various tools to problems that require the use of resources for the convenience of men. Unfortunately the fact that textbooks are written along disciplinary lines puts barriers between disciplines. When students are to be allowed to make their decisions regarding their education, fitting education to their abilities, counselling systems must be implemented [16].

A good example of how technology is currently used in education is given by Asan, who describes the results obtained during the implementation of a multimedia environment based on the experience of the instructors to be used by pre-service instructors [17]. In this particular case the educational environment was designed and implemented by computer experts. In contrast, we have suggested elsewhere that the instructors themselves should be developing the multimedia material for their own future consumption [18].

In our approach we take into account the need to empower the instructor -trained in preparing educational material while in service- to be actively involved [19]. There is a drastic difference here: with this approach we assure that the instructors acts as the champions in the divulgation of “technology mediated education”. The role of the instructor is now to a) set new goals, b) evaluate results, c) praise efforts, d) warn mistakes, e) request views, f) seek support, g) assure autonomy, h) encourage reflective learning, i) develop program, course and lectures and j) expect the learners to be polite, reliable, assertive, confident, flexible, and dedicated.

In the university where the author is affiliated, a doctorate thesis has been conducted recently on the benefits of mentoring in educational environments. In this work a classification of different mentoring relations is given. We take the “secondary mentor” as the most appropriate for our study. As is suggested by Özen in her thesis, mentoring is now becoming important ingredient in education [14]. The personal relation that is developed during mentoring needs to be carefully analysed in order to help the parties involved in a fruitful dialogue. Cultural factors must be taken into consideration


The author has been fortunate enough to receive help from the late Prof.Adnan Halet Taşpınar during the earlier period of his career. We feel now the need to share with others the experiences gained since, both in the industry and in academia. We have now realized -after more than 25 years of teaching- that encouragement is the most important ingredient in education. Help in this direction can only be given after mutual understanding and confidence –preferably face to face- is assured.

Although the importance of role modelling is stressed in Özen’s work [14], our experience shows that a more “humble” approach is need when communicating with the mentee. The mentee should not be overwhelmed by the experiences of others. We have been in most cases encouraging mentees to write “position letters” or other paper formats. The mentor must know when is the proper time to terminate the relation.

The possibilities of the wide use of “computer mediated communication”, has encouraged the author to keep in touch with some of the earlier relations as summarized in Table I. The case of H has been a long lasting relation and promises to continue in the future. Several publications in the local media were finalized. To encourage mentees to be active writers, we have created an “electronic pool” where their publications can be stored.












Possible acceptance in the USA





Need more encouragement



In progress


Need for a life long perspective





Need to be guided for doctorate



In progress


Started thesis preparation





Aim not clear yet, new venues foreseen



In progress


Need to re-focus the aim

* in months
It is important to understand that “mentoring” –the personal relation between the mentor and the mentee- requires patience and tact. Feeling the pulse of the mentee is possible in an informal environment. The mentor –by providing relevant information an enabling networking- should be concerned with a life long education program suited for the mentee.

After 20 months of experience with more than 18 mentees, we are ready to present here a “protocol” to be followed in mentoring relations (see Appendix). A mentoring relation begins when the prospect mentee asks for advice on an issue s/he is facing. It is necessary to keep the dialogue and understand the facts and provide relevant guidance. In most cases the dialogue is broken and is necessary to make follow-up contacts. Sometimes a very brief message can help in reviving the relation.


“Technology mediated communication” can be used in enhancing the way we build on our relations while improving the way we develop our personal skills. The instructor is now the coach and the technology is the mediator where all parties were expected to participate actively [11]. As in the real working setting, people should also be required to collaborate with each other. The idea of “team work” is now to be cherished [2].

Technology can also be used to make the learning process more enjoyable both to the teacher and the student. The emerging technologies and “project centred learning” techniques can bridge the expectations of the teachers and students. In our opinion it is more important to upgrade the computer skills of teachers, than the enhancement of hardware and software.

Mentoring should help the mentee to build on a life long planning, a general perspective in philosophy, arrange networking with people and give news about developments in the world. Although the mentor is not a counsellor, like in other personal services, s/he should receive supervision from senior experts. The mentor should be aware of the needs of the mentee at different stages –initiation, realization and maturation- of life. Technology can help in bridging the communication gap.

To make the necessary changes in the educational curriculum proposed here we encourage all stakeholders to “join in” in this mission national and international organizations have the responsibility of creating the platforms where change can be initiated. We believe that learners should be giving a holistic guidance to knowledge. Changes have been observed in education parallel to the innovations made in our business life style: the customer is now at the centre of all activities. All parties involved should share the responsibilities and eagerly help in making the educational environment more entertaining.

As the world seeks to become a more integrated community, new polices of encouraging strategic alliances between technical partners are being promoted. No one single institution has all the necessary know how to work by its own: cooperation is inevitable. There is clear preference for proposals having short and long term effects on the social and economic life of the community. Positive effects of these new polices are becoming evident as agents –universities, industries and centres- start to submit new joint proposals for projects and centres.

There is clear dissatisfaction with how the education institutions work today. We strongly believe that learners need to relay more on themselves than on the support of others. As pointed out by activity theory (see theoretical background section), “the transformation is occurring when there is engagement with the object” [20]. This is where mentoring becomes of relevance. As Sir Karl Popper -the widely acclaimed philosopher of our time- suggests, advice should be considered as “a signpost on [the] way to creative and happy life: however happy you may be with a solution, never think of it as final”[21].

Mentoring is crucial as we seek to become a more integrated community. New polices of encouraging strategic alliances between partners must be promoted. No one single institution has all the necessary know how to work by its own: cooperation is inevitable. There is clear preference for proposals having short and long term effects on the social and economic life of the community. Positive effects of new polices are becoming evident as agents –universities, industries and centres- start to collaborate.

We conclude with the story of a traveller that amazed with the beauties he saw in the construction site of a new building, asked an artisan what he was doing. The artisan answered reluctantly that he was laying bricks. The traveller moved on and asked a second artisan the same question. The artisan answered that he was building the wall of a new headquarters. Exactly the same question was repeated to a seemingly more experienced artisan. The third artisan answered enthusiastically: "I am proud of working on the wall of a building that will be in the future the pride of our nation" [22].
The former Dean of the engineering faculty the late Prof. Adnan Halet Taşpınar of the university we are affiliated has been instrumental in developing a culture for personal support for the learner. The help of my students in developing a new approach to learning is acknowledged. The work of other academic institutes and organizations is acknowledged.


1. İnelmen E. ‘Frontier research’ as a novel approach in the engineering curriculum of tomorrow, 6th Baltic Region Seminar on Engineering Education, Wismar, (Germany), 22-25 September, 2002, pp. 107-111.

2. İnelmen, E. “Using Technology to Enhance Under-standing Across Cultures”, International Conference Technology Impact on Cultural Tourism, Istanbul, (Turkey), 27-29 June 2000, pp. 523-532. ISBN 975-518-154-7.

3. UNESCO “Learning: The Treasure Within”, UNESCO Publication, Paris, 1996.

4. İnelmen, E., “The Role of the Third Sector in Enhancing University, Industry and Government Collaboration: A Case Study”, UnIG’96, International Conference on Technology Management: University/Industry/ Government Collaboration, UNESCO Chair on Mechatronics, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, pp. 554-558, 1996.

5. Paterson, M. “Johann Amos Comenius” Blackie and Son, Ltd. London, 1892.

6. İnelmen, E. “Challenging the Administration to Implement Problem-Based Learning in the Under-graduate Curriculum” International Journal of Engineering Education, Special Issue 19: 5, (2003) Problem Based Learning, Erik de Graaff, E, Kolmos A., Fruchter, R (guest eds.), pp. 725-729.

7. Kant, I. Education, The University of Michigan, Michigan, 1960, pp.6.

8. Biggs, J. Enhancing learning: a matter of style or approach. In Perspectives on thinking, learning, and cognitive styles (edited) Robert J. Sternberg, Li-fang Zhang. Mahwah, NJ : L. Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

9. Alderman, M.K. Motivation for achievement: possibilities for teaching and learning, N.J. : L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999.

10. Egi, S.M. and İnelmen, E., “The Role of Extra-Curriculum Activities in the Life Long Education of Engineers”, Global Journal of Engineering Education, UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education, Vol 3, No 3, 1999, pp.199-202.

11. Eldem, E. and İnelmen, E., “Encouraging Students to Prepare ‘Technological Mediated Learning’ Material”, International Conference on Information Technology Based Higher Education and Training, Istanbul, (Turkey), 3-5 July 2000, pp.198-200.

12. Simon, H.A. The sciences of the artificial Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996, pp.78-80

13. Akpınar, Y. Graphical Environments for Understanding School Science, Master Thesis, CBL Unit - Leeds University, 1991.

14. Özen, R, Mentoring, gender and ideological per-spectives: a case study PhD thesis (unpublished) Boğaziçi University, 1998.

15. Kelly (2002) (

16. Yerlici, V. “The Same Degree for All Engineering Students”, Proceeding of the European Society of Engineering Education Conference, 1987, Helsinki, pp. 365-370.

17. Asan, A. School experience course with the multimedia in teacher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2003, pp.21-34.

18. İnelmen, E., Egeli, B. and Özturan, M. Training School Teachers Using Project Based Learning Techniques: Case Study”, In 5th International Problem Based Learning Conference, Montreal, 1999, pp.113-117.

19. İnelmen, E. “Encouraging Learners to Prepare Oral Presentations Using Computers”, in: Networking the Learner, Computers in Education, (D.Watson and J.Andersen (eds.)). IFIP, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston (USA), ISBN 1-4020-7133-7, 2002, pp.199-205.

20. Jonassen, D. Revisiting Activity Theory as a Framework for Designing Student-Cantered Learning In Theoretical foundations of learning environments / edited by David H. Susan M. Land. Mahwah, N.J., L. Erlbaum Associates, 2000, pp. 89-105.

21. Popper, K. All Life is a Problem Solving”, Routledge, London, 1999, pp.161.

22. Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1983) Mental models: towards a cognitive science of language, inference and consciousness / Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1983, 368-371.


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