restricted access 10: MENTORING IN ELECTRONIC SPACES: Using Resources to Sustain Relationships
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10 MENTORING IN ELECTRONIC SPACES Using Resources to Sustain Relationships JAMES A. INMAN DONNA N. SEWELL Electronic media influence more and more of contemporary writing center theory and practice, whether offering new tutoring options, stimulating outreach and other professional connections, or providing new genres and forms for scholarship. Books like Wiring the Writing Center (Hobson 1998) and Taking Flight with OWLs: Examining Electronic Writing Center Work (Inman and Sewell 2002) have identified specific aspects of electronic media’s influence, as has the CD-ROM The OWL Construction and Maintenance Guide (Inman and Gardner 2002). Leading journals like Writing Center Journal, Writing Lab Newsletter, Computers and Composition, and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy ( have also featured publications about the increasing influence of electronic media on writing center theory and practice. Electronic media enable writing center professionals to stay connected to each other. Such interactive media as electronic mail (email), electronic lists (e-lists), and MOOs have enabled several important forums.1 Perhaps most prominent is WCenter, an e-list created by Lady Falls Brown and Fred Kemp at Texas Tech University and now moderated and maintained solely by Brown.2 In operation since 1991, it provides a popular discussion forum for writing center professionals, and its active participant base includes many prominent individuals in the writing center community, all of whom contribute regularly. Reflecting this popularity, as well as the importance of the e-list as a forum for professional exchange, citation of WCenter posts has been evident for some time in publications (Brown 2000; “Conversations”). Another important electronic forum is PeerCentered, created by Clinton Gardner in 1998.3 Initially held mostly in The Virtual Writing Center (a Center will hold final 8/26/03 9:23 AM Page 177 MOO at Salt Lake Community College), PeerCentered sessions enabled writing center professionals to discuss theoretical and practical issues in real time. Now, Gardner has shifted PeerCentered to an asynchronous blogging community, where individuals share ideas as their time allows. His choice reflects not just the changing nature of technology options, but also the material conditions around writing center work; professionals struggled to commit to a specific time every week, so the asynchronous format has proven more popular. Both forums, WCenter and PeerCentered, help us consider the possibilities of electronic media for connecting writing center professionals in new and important ways. The issue is more than opportunity, however. Contemporary writing center theory and practice compel us to learn about how to connect with other professionals as effectively as possible through electronic media. After all, the writing center community has now become global, with the relatively recent change of the National Writing Centers Association to the International Writing Centers Association, as well as the emergence of the European Writing Centers Association and new initiatives in such countries as South Africa. Budgets simply do not allow everyone to travel globally and to connect with each other in person, but we can utilize electronic media to reach out, and we need to do more of this sort of work. If we are truly an international organization, then the same support systems and professional initiatives that are available in national contexts should be available around the world, including opportunities for writing center professionals to sustain each other in ways like mentoring. New and veteran writing center professionals need each other’s support and guidance, but we cannot just magically begin this work. We also need training—detailed knowledge about how to mentor across great distances by using resources like electronic media. Thus far, the writing center community has simply done what it can, and the results have been useful, but we need to know and do much more. We begin below with a definition of mentoring, followed by a corresponding definition of electronic mentoring. We then apply this definition to WCenter practices, using the resulting knowledge to craft recommendations for future mentoring practices. We study the past and the present in this chapter to present information valuable for the future. For too long now, writing center professionals have had limited or no guidance about how to utilize electronic media effectively in reaching out to 178 TH E CE N T E R WI L L HO L D Center will hold final 8/26/03 9:23 AM Page 178 colleagues for purposes like mentoring. This chapter fills that gap and, we hope, meets the compelling need for...