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#IOLchat Report: Ins and Outs of Online Mentoring


Each week we meet via Twitter for #IOLchat to discuss current issues related to online learning. Participants include students, instructors, advisors, counselors, eLearning companies, schools, publishers, and instructional designers.

How can online students overcome the potential isolation of learning at a distance? Many students are finding ways to meet with each other, as well as connect with professionals in their fields, both on- and off-line. This week we talked about mentorship roles and resources for finding guidance. Here’s a summary of the discussion:

What should online students look for in a mentoring relationship?

  • Encouragement “through email, feedback, etc.”
  • “Connecting students to resources they need: counseling, online tutoring, textbooks, career advising, etc.”
  • Informal options “can just be through example and leadership.”
  • Accountability – “students in online programs can feel detached from the university.”
  • Mentorship can provide the “extra push” to use existing resources and to complete their academic work.
  • “You have to seek out mentors, people that are doing what you want or aspire to do.”

Benefits and Challenges of Mentoring

  • “Especially in virtual settings, just having a real person for support that cares about your entire education is invaluable.”
  • Mentoring tasks and roles could play a huge role in improving student success rates – instructors “may not see that students are behind until it’s too late,” especially in accelerated online classes and programs.
  • “Finding good mentors has been hard … finding people that you want to be like and observing/emulating has been good.”
  • Matching mentors with mentees can present multiple challenges – including recruiting.

Who does (and could) mentor online students?

  • Formal programs, like the one in place at Western Governors University, can positively impact student retention.
  • Guidance counselors in some environments, including K-12, may take on the role as similar to that of a college advisor.
  • “Instructors have limited time to be mentors. Easier if trained mentors take on advising, etc.”
  • Mentors can “fill a gap in student services” but it’s often an additional duty for instructors and other personnel such as academic advisors.
  • “Current and past [online] students could ‘work’ as mentors to reduce their tuition costs, much like residence assistants, tutors, [and teaching assistants] at traditional colleges.” Online student clubs are also finding success, providing peer mentors to new students.
  • “Instructors shouldn’t mentor; they should teach. Mentors should be dedicated to looking at whole picture of student’s career path.”
  • Retirees, and retired alumni, may be untapped resources of potential mentors. They could support students in their academic goals, as well as provide career and professional networking guidance.
  • Programs like Persistence Plus and StudentMentor.org provide some alternatives outside of their schools.
  • It may be helpful to explore existing resources before developing new programs and initiatives.

What kinds of support do mentors need?

  • “Freeing up instructors through technology, teaching assistants, and course support gives extra time for them to take on a mentoring role.”
  • “It could be useful to create a training program or mini-course similar to student orientations,” which includes how to identify at-risk behaviors.

Thanks to @AchieveVirtual, @jshamsy, @MandyZatynski, @ifrank, and @TcWhite1, for participating in the live event!

For more from the most recent live session, review the chat feed below. Our past chats can be found on the archives page.

Follow us (@OC_org) and plan to attend our next chat. We meet on Wednesdays at 12pm ET and look forward to hearing your perspective.

This week’s read-aheads:

Best Practices in Mentoring Online Students [presentation] from Western Governors University, Sloan Consortium Conference

Developing Online Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Programs for Distance Degree Programs [PDF] from Park University, TCC Conference

Calling for Success: Online Retention Rates Get Boost from Personal Outreach, from Mandy Zatynski, EducationSector

Staying the (Online) Course from Inside Online Learning, OnlineCollege.org

This week’s chat feed:

Image credit: tuija, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-SA

February 14th, 2013 written by (learn more about our authors)

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