Beginning Thoughts on “Virtual Mentorship”

"Throwin 2", Martin Cathrae, via Flickr, see post for CC LicenseThe Computers and Writing Conference for 2010 begins in a week, and I’ve started in earnest shaping my presentation. I’ll be presenting with Derek Mueller, Stephen Krause, and Brian McNely on “Virtual Mentorship.” In a relatively blatant ploy to get you interested, here’s a link to the C&W201o program, and our panel description:

Our work inquires into virtual mentorship by positioning its theory, history, and practice in relationship to digital, networked writing platforms. Self-sponsored online writing practices and the informal circuits of influence they make possible, we contend, invite us to reimagine commonplace approaches to mentorship.

And here’s the description of my particular portion of the panel:

[Trauman] will offer a theoretical framework for an historical analysis of contemporary mentorship structures. He argues that as material modes for transferring disciplinary knowledge and skill, mentorship practices evolve as technologies change. Speaker #1 will contrast his experiences as a potter’s apprentice with his current status as a graduate student learning disciplinary practices. He argues that while certain mentorship practices in Rhetoric and Composition have waned, their necessity has not. As a result, various digital technologies have structured more distributed and disembodied notions of mentorship.

I know that as part of the presentation, I’m going to end up speaking about my own personal experience as an apprentice to a potter in Boulder, Colorado (technically, Longmont, but only technically). I spent almost two years studying  with him before opening my own pottery on the same rural property.

But I also want to talk about my own experiences as a graduate student in Rhet/Comp, and as a young scholar in Computers and Writing studies. I’ve encountered three great mentors along the way, and their roles as mentors are also relevant to my presentation.

And for the last part of my presentation, I’d like to arrive at the topic of how digital, networked tools both problematize and allow us to reimagine what mentorship means in contemporary writing studies.

There are several factors I’m going to try to consider:

First, why does this topic matter? Is there an on-going conversation in the our scholarship that I can tap into and forward? I haven’t really run into anything by happenstance, but I’m going to have to look in the literature about administration and new teacher training (if anyone has some good places to look, let me know!).

Second, I’m the only graduate student on the panel, so that status, to some degree, aligns me most closely with the mentee/apprentice role. And that’s great, because I’ll likely at least mention how I’ve depended plenty on each of my co-panelists blogs to help me think through my own role as a graduate student in our discipline, as well as a blogger focusing on computers and writing.

Third, when I think about the topic of mentorship (i.e. passing on a knowledge from the experienced to the inexperienced, or the socializing/initiating of new members into a profession), I think of three basic structures: immediate-physical, differed-print-manual-handbook, and more contemporary methods framed within digital technologies.

Fourth (yeah, clearly there are starting to be too many topics to cover in my fifteen minutes), there’s a question about how the term “craft” might operate in our scholarly activities. Is our scholarship a craft? Our teaching? Our administrative work? And if we’re going to make that claim, then what exactly do we mean by craft? And how is it different that skill? I’d argue that there’s a significant difference, but I’m not sure how much I can go into that during this presentation.

Finally, as I’ve been reading, there seems to be one common factor that operates in different ways within each of these structures: intimacy. I know that the term might ring some alarm bells without further exploration, but that’s what I’m going with at the moment. It’s the best I can do at the moment, but I’ll also say that “intimacy” is a term that I’m hoping suggests a combination of privacy, honesty, trust, and risk, and safety.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for today. I’ll continue to work through this term in my next post.

(“Throwing 2,” Martin Cathrae, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license)

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