Learning trouble in mentoring conversations

  • G.J. Van der Westhuizen
  • A.J.M. Pretorius
  • H.H. Tillema


Mentoring interactions in higher education are intended to help students achieve their learning goals. This entails mentors taking up the epistemological responsibility of sharing what they know and facilitating effective student learning. When this goal is not achieved, the well-intended mentoring actions create trouble for both the mentor and mentee. We approach learning trouble from an interactional learning perspective where the mentee does not learn what is expected, and where the mentor is left with a need to resolve the barriers to learning. We argue that this as an interactional problem since learning trouble is contingent upon the epistemic access provided during a conversation. This conversation analysis case study formed part of analyses of mentoring conversations between university professors and senior students in the final year of a teacher education programme. Mentoring took place after school experience and the aim was for students to share their reflections on situations where they needed support from the mentor. Mentoring interactions were video-taped and transcribed, and we analysed one particular session as a case study in order to understand what is involved in learning trouble, and how it is resolved. We found that interactions around identifying and resolving trouble could reflect the status of and stance taking by the mentor and the mentee. In our case study, this often contributed to misunderstandings and delays, while illustrating the importance of understanding the lack of epistemic access experienced
by the student. These drawbacks resulted in asymmetry in the mentoring relationship. However, the roles were at times temporarily reversed in that the mentor could allow epistemic access on the part of the mentee, enhancing learning at the same time. This case study highlights the importance of conversational actions in mentoring, and how participants use their turns-at-talk for the improvement of learning.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614