Talk:Peer Assists Online - Case Studies

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Nancy White, 2010/2/12

Hi All

I have a very practical question - can anyone share stories of how they have done peer assists online either on telephone bridge lines, web meeting tools or even asynchronously? Tips for what worked and what didn't. Some of us are doing a little experimentation and I'd like to get some sense of others' experiences.



Wini Dagli, 2010/2/12

Is online "peer assist" same as "online mentoring"? I'm about to develop an online mentoring program and in our context, it is a semi-structured learning process where there is a mentor and a mentee, someone post questions and another one answers, but essentially it is about finding solutions to problems in an informal online conversation.

If an online peer assist is similar or the same as online mentoring then I'm raising exactly the same questions as Nancy.

Many thanks,

Wini Dagli Instructor Department of Science Communication College of Development Communication University of the Philippines Los Banos

Nancy White, 2010/2/12

Hi Wini

Actually, in my understanding they are different, but related. A peer assist is a structured meeting that gives the assistee (who brings their problem or challenge) a chance to gain insights and perspectives from his/her assistors. you can read more about it here:

For me, this could be an "event" along the lifetime of a mentoring relationship but one that uses a group, rather than a pair.

As to online mentoring, my most successful experiences have been when the pair or small group alternates some scheduled synchronous conversations, then keep a persistent chat window open for those little "back and forth" interaction over time. (We never close the window). If we have to, we start a call, but the aim is to keep it simple and easy to "say yes to."

Joitske Hulsebosch, 2010/2/12

Hi Nancy,

I have two different experiences with online peer assists (in Dutch: intervisie). In one experience we used a Dgroup and a relatively longer, structured period (I think it was 4 weeks) with an international group of about 12 people. The first week was used to make an inventory of question and choose a question. Next phase, asking questions only and probing. Next, diving into solutions. It is in this phase that people were also given the opportunity to join a skype session in a smaller group, something that was very much appreciated. At the end, the problem owner would anonymize and summary everything for a blog.

In another experiment we used skype and a ning online platform. On the ning, we were making an inventory of questions or cases. During the skype we made a choice for one of the questions and did analyse the case. We also experimented with two different chat rooms.. one for compiling questions and one for taking notes. This worked well, but needs a bit of practice, so it is only worthwhile if you plan to do several and build the capacity of people to work with the multiple chatrooms.

Let us know how you will organise it!

Cheers, Joitske

Mark Hammersley, 2010/2/12

Hi Nancy,

I have done peer assists via telephone conference calls. This evolved to take up 20-30 minutes of a monthly conference calls among a group of 10-12 people in similar roles across different organizations (the remainder of the call was regular business for management of an inter-agency project). Participants took it in turns to put forward one of their key challenges for the rest of the group to consider. Normally we tried to send an outline description a few days beforehand by email then the assistee summarised their challenge during the call and we followed a condensed version of the classic peer assist (group first discusses without the assistee intervening, then a Q&A followed by round the table reflections). There was good trust and respect among group members as we had been meeting by monthly conference calls for a couple of years and also face to face every 6 months. Some questions generated better results than others and over time I tried to coach the assistees a little in advance so that they would be able to pitch their request at the right level. We also found that the quality and style of facilitation had an impact, and as we had a rotating chair this was variable from month to month. Typically the group would chew over a problem during the call, providing there was enough in the request for them to chew over. Realistically these "off the cuff" reflections were fairly generic and often not of great immediate value to the assistee. However it ensured that the assisters did understand the situation. Sometimes it helped the assistee to gain a richer perspective on their own situation. It also helped everyone to understand the process and I think the "quality" of these sessions improved over time. Significantly I think the real value often came out over the subsequent few days when individuals followed up on the group discussion to share resources, introduce colleagues with more relevant experience or engage in private conversations on points that had arisen during the conference call.

I have also facilitated a more open online Q&A process which had characteristics of peer assist. The participants were self selecting from a global community of practice with several thousand members. Any individual could post a question to the group using tools that were similar to the Q&A system in LinkedIn today (live web bulletin board with optional email notification plus key questions highlighted in weekly email summary). The content and tone of questions was very practical - how to do something relating to the poster's immediate work situation - and well presented questions would generate several useful responses in a short period of time. Feedback was generally very positive on both quality and timeliness of knowledge shared, also the technology platform ensured individuals only received large numbers of emails if they really wanted them whereas others could participate entirely online with only the one-page weekly summary email to maintain a heartbeat and draw people back to the website for more information on topics of particular relevance to them.

Hope this helps - Mark

Lucie Lamoureux, 2010/2/15

Hi Nancy,

Do you remember waaaay back (in 2003) when we tried to do electronic peer assists on KM4dev? I believe we did two of them, the first having to do with KM4dev itself (issues around emerging sub-groups and diversity) with myself as peer assistee, and the second one with Tony Prior as peer assistee regarding the FRAME project, though I can't remember the specific topic.

If I recall, what we did was to give a bit of background, then stated the issue through a couple of questions (like in a F-2-F peer assist) and then asked people to contribute on the discussion list for the two following weeks. We then concluded the peer assist with a conference call (no Skype at the time!).

We got more participants in the first one, perhaps because it was about KM4dev and they felt more involved. Maybe Tony can remember how the one on FRAME went? In any case, it is interesting that not long afterwards the KM4dev list sort of became a place for online mini-peer assists. I remember that the telephone calls were definitely beneficial in delving deeper into the issues but we didn't get a huge group, as we had originally apprehended. There were no more than 8 people, which is probably why it worked well.

Best, Lucie

Sam Lanfranco, 2010/2/15


I have done a number of these over the years and the advice we gave ourselves 25 years ago still holds true. Sychronous (live online, phone) time is valuable and scarce. Use it for high value elements of the peer assist effort.

Use Asynchronous time as prep time and follow up time. Load stuff online, use a wiki, whatever before...and after...the synchronous episode. During the live time try using a platform that allows uncluttered slide-like presentation, built on the pre-live asynch session, and allows SMS/Chat to the moderators, as well as side SMS/Chats among participants.

Have a week or two of async follow up on the session itself. Video is nice, but optional. If you have it try using a platform that includes video thumbnail windows from participants. They pay more attention when they know others are watching them.

Sam Lanfranco Distributed Knowledge

Nancy White, 2010/2/17

Thanks to everyone for the online peer assist stories. I'll compile and share back!