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The introduction of technology into the classroom requires, if anything, more, rather than less, from the educator in terms of innovative learning methods. Educators must be given time, ongoing training and logistical support to achieve successful computer integrated teaching and learning - whether online or face to face. This article will discuss the critical elements for implementing a peer mentorship programme offered to educators online supporting them with the delivery of web based education.
Not only do educators need to know about the latest technologies, but they also need to continuously assess their own performance in terms of the latest expectations of learning theories. It is no wonder that educators often feel anxious, overwhelmed and negative with regard to the implementation of new technologies.
Yet the pressure on educational providers is to move beyond the traditional classroom's whole group instruction and instead deliver real time, individualised instruction when and where it is most convenient and needed. For this reason, the introduction of technology into the classroom is going to require, if anything, more, and not less, from the educator in terms of innovative learning methods (Poole & Axmann, 2002).
Although workshops are a very valuable tool to introduce technology, it is only through practical application in the classroom that the educator comes to realise how the learning materials and instructional design may need to be adapted to make the best use of the technology. There should be greatly improved long term support structures put in place to close the gap. For example, peer mentorship programmes to support the educator with the implementation of technology.
Poole (2001) emphasises the fact that educators must be given time, ongoing training and logistical support to achieve successful computer integrated teaching and learning - whether online or face to face. This article will discuss the critical elements for implementing such an online peer mentorship programme for educators.
A mentor is classically defined as a "wise and esteemed counsellor" and a mentorship is usually a long term, one to one relationship between a mentor and mentee with the purpose of acquiring a specific skill. (Selene, 2001). For the purpose of this research project, the mentor is a more experienced educator, and the mentee is a novice educator starting out or with certain specific developmental areas with regards to web based education.
Despite the fact that the idea of mentoring has featured as far back as Homer's Odysseus, and that the concept has been tried and tested recently in the corporate environment, it has not sufficiently filtered through to the educational communities.
There are currently several existing online mentorship programmes, but unfortunately, these are often reduced to a project sharing or FAQ (question/answer facility), and the true value of the mentorship-mentee relationship is not yet explored to its full potential, especially in the online environment.
It appears that an in house mentorship programme might be the most effective, as implemented by the Intel Company (Grovener, 2000), but there is also definite value in cross-collaboration and inter-institutional mentorship programmes which is yet to be tried and tested. This specific research programme will also include several international partners who will be mentoring on the system.
The Technikon Pretoria, South Africa, started with the introduction of web based education during 1997. Lecturers had the opportunity to submit project proposals to the Department of Telematic Education, which then appointed a development team headed by an instructional designer to assist with the design of these courses.
Soon, however, it became apparent that the demand would exceed the supply, as there were only a limited number of six instructional designers to assist the 1,200 lecturers.
As experience has proved, it is not possible to simply transfer a face to face course as is to the web based environment. New and innovative teaching methods are needed to make the course successful. It is proposed to set up an online peer mentorship programme where more experienced lecturers will assist the novice lecturers with the design and delivery of web based courses.
The developmental areas that were identified by the participants, were namely, technical skills eg. creating html pages, use of communication tools, elements of design, facilitation of online courses, active learning and technology; designing for inclusion, research skills and personal development areas.
The main issues to be addressed in the development programme are the following:
It is often difficult to measure the effectiveness of the communication, and to match the participants. An online peer mentorship programme has the advantage that many of these aspects can be done electronically by means of a web based database.
The Intel company developed a very successful online mentorship programme which was considered as a model on which to base some of the designs for the peer mentorship programme. Some of the design issues would have to be adapted for an educational community.
The first step is to create a matching system that will reduce guesswork. It is important to profile the participants so that they can identify their strengths and developmental areas themselves as well as those identified by the organisation. An online questionnaire that relates to the developmental areas (as mentioned above) has to be designed to facilitate the matching process.
Metacognition - thinking about thinking - is the ability of learners to plan, monitor, and control their own cognitive processes and performance, and to select learning strategies for themselves. Furthermore, transfer relates to the application of a trained strategy within a different context (Osman & Hannafin, 1992). It is especially with these two areas of mentee growth and development that the mentor plays a very significant role.
As this program is different from a formal learning programme where learning objectives are predetermined, the mentee has greater freedom in setting objectives based on personal and organisational growth areas. For example, a mentee might have sufficient skill in some of the performance areas, like technical skills, but might lack facilitation skills for the online environment. The tasks that the mentor sets in conjunction with the mentee would then be based just on that specific developmental area, and not on all the performance areas identified by the system.
One of the main differences between corporate mentorship programmes and educational mentorship programmes would be that personal developmental areas will have a stronger focus.
It is important that the mentor formally contracts with the mentee, and the performance area as well as the specific tasks for the duration of the mentorship. This can give the relationship purpose and direction, and make for a more successful partnership.
Virtual communication is something which can both facilitate and frustrate. The myth that needs to be explored is that computer mediated communication sometimes seems to be viewed as "not real". During 1994, Rheingold had the experience of meeting her online friends. Although she felt like she knew some of these people intimately, she was somewhat taken aback that "there wasn't a recognisable face in the house."
However, with the advancement in mobile devices, video conferencing, video streaming, the affordability of web cams, and so forth, this experience need not be the case any more. It is now possible to view someone as clearly as sitting opposite the person in a lounge chair, so that one is able to take into account both verbal and non-verbal communication.
The phrase "irl"- in real life - should be replaced with the phrase "unc" - under normal conditions, because the only difference between virtual communication and face to face communication is the condition under which it takes place. It may be one person's early morning when another is finishing the day, but the reality of the interaction can be just real as in a normal face to face situation.
Apart from the one to one sessions, there should also be a space provided where the mentors and mentees can report back. This can be done within the system on a public forum or "meeting place". Creating this community of sharing can increase the effectiveness of the mentorship programme.
Logging interactions and having threaded discussions is only one solution. The result of the mentorship should still be in measurable outcomes. For example, if a mentee wants to learn more about facilitating the online environment, their should be a project like an article, a research study or a formal evaluation done on the actual facilitation of students in the learning environment. Evaluation needs to be done by all the participants.
The areas that should be evaluated are progress, the interaction and the system. For an effective mentorship programme to take place, it is also often necessary to have a programme supervisor that can monitor the progress of both the mentee and mentor. Continuous evaluation of the system and the interaction on the system is needed for continual improvement and upgrades. Despite the fact that the mentorship system has been with us for a long time, there is still a wide scope for formal study and research, especially in the online environment.
Similarly to the popular television series, the X-files, stating that "the truth is out there", it can also be said, "the support is out there". Nobody needs to feel alone. We just need to get the systems in place.
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Selene, L. (2001). The Mentorship Programme: A Closer Look at What it Is and How it can Help You. Engineering Society of the University of California. [verified 26 Aug 2002] http://www.esuc.ucla.edu/pub/articleShow.asp?articleId=43§ion=1
|Author: Mandi Axmann, Tehnikon Pretoria, South Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Axmann, M. (2002). An online mentorship programme for the online educator: Patterning for success. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/2002/axmann.html