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The reflective colleague in e-mail cyberspace: A means for improving university instruction


Computers & Education Volume 29, Number 4, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


Two university academics living in countries on different sides of the world captured their e-mail communications during a ten-week teaching course. The power of e-mail over face-to-face conversation was explored as Nora, living in Oregon, U.S.A., contemplated her struggle to teach a new subject and Anne, living in Queensland, Australia, responded to Nora's introspections. As the terms coach and mentor did not represent the reciprocal nature of the interactions, the term reflective colleague was used to explain the mirror-like role. The reflective colleague provided: supportive affirmation, belief clarifications, alternative perspectives, and future and global projections. The role of e-mail in the process of journalizing together was non-hierarchical and became symmetrical in a short space of time. Both colleagues found value in exploring together the teaching of a new course. Benefits to Nora were: being heard, feeling support when things were difficult, getting new ideas and alternative viewpoints, and transforming the experience to one focusing on her own learning. Benefits to Anne were strengthening her own understandings of data she had previously collected as well as applying strategies discussed to her own teaching. The value of e-mail over other types of media or interpersonal interactions involved two paradoxes: it was rapid, yet allowed time for deep reflection, and it was spontaneous, yet permitted an accurate and permanent record, one that could be reviewed again and again. E-mail as a medium for reflective dialogue has considerable potential for use in improving university instruction.


Russell, A.L. & Cohen, L.M. (1997). The reflective colleague in e-mail cyberspace: A means for improving university instruction. Computers & Education, 29(4), 137-145. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved January 27, 2023 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on February 1, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

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