Population growth, demographics, advances in technology, globalisation and associated economic imperatives are a few of the drivers behind the changes we are experiencing. In response, some research studies suggest that we will see a shift in social values (Wilson, 2009), as well as a re-framing of notions of what constitutes ‘knowledge’. These factors have significant implications of the ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ of learning, including education practitioner Professional Learning and Development (PLD). Issues such as sustainability will become increasingly important, as will the ability to respond rapidly to novel situations and ill-defined problems. These all call for alternative approaches to PLD. The range of affordances of a virtual environment, when complemented by virtual mentoring and an online Community of Practice (CoP), can be exploited to provide more formal PLD that has flexibility of location, choice, time and approach. Educators can therefore, within their own context, build and shape their knowledge and skills. Virtual mentoring has great potential to support this form of PLD, in part by developing learning partnerships based on mutual respect and trust. The virtual mentor wears many ‘hats’ in this role, including offering support for innovative practice, boosting confidence, help with career options and progress, and asking the ‘hard questions’. The paper has two main aims; 1) to describe the roles of a virtual mentor working in a Virtual PLD initiative that has been offered in New Zealand from 2010 to date; and 2) to present and discuss key findings from the associated research study, including evidence of changes in the participants’ roles, which have resulted in, for example, shifts in beliefs about learning and teaching, corresponding changes in professional practice, and an increase in the development of students' metacognitive skills.
Hazel Owen, Ethos Consultancy NZ, New Zealand
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