Vol. 16 : No. 10< >
Editorís Note: This month USDLAís Online Editor, Brent Muirhead, presents valuable information on mentoring from the literature and from his experience with the University of Phoenix. Mentoring should immediately follow training to reduce stress and improve performance of new online teachers.
Training New Online Teachers
Brent Muirhead D.Min., Ph.D.
The distance educator is challenged by the need to foster and sustain online discussion during courses. A quick review of distance education literature highlights the importance of communication in the teaching and learning process. The focus of this discussion is assisting new teachers to establish an online dialog philosophy that include essential strategies.
The Mentoring Process
The new online instructor often has an assortment of feelings when he or she starts their first online class. They are excited about teaching online and participating in a new instructional role that is filled with diverse educational challenges for professional growth. Yet, the new teacher can have fears about failing that need to be addressed prior to the start of their online class. The teachersí fears are about venturing into the unknown educational areas that they have little or no knowledge about. It is important that teachers are given opportunities to become familiar with the basic elements of their online course work such as how to communicate using e-mail, strengths and weaknesses of the course software, and key people to contact for technology expertise. For instance, the University of Phoenix has developed a large technical staff for teachers and students that are available to meet immediate technology needs.
The wise administrator will provide a training period for new instructors to help them learn in an actual online environment. Also, it helps distance education schools offer information on their policies, organizational practices and educational philosophy. Lynch (2002) notes that "it is only by actually experiencing the online environment as a student that teachers finally understand student fears, stress, frustrations, and joys in learning in the Web-based environment (p. 67)."
Mentoring new online teachers should follow closely after initial training to consolidate and enlarge upon what was learned and apply it in their own online courses. Ideally, new teachers should have their first online class within one or two months of training.
Faculty schedulers need to devise a system that integrates new teachers into online classes as rapidly as possible. It is also important to identify veteran faculty members who can participate in the mentoring program. Administrators need to recruit teacher-mentors who possess subject matter expertise, excellent communication skills and have experience teaching distance education classes. It is also important to create a teacher salary structure that fairly compensates the mentor for sharing knowledge and skills during the mentorship.
Henry (1996) provides relevant advice for effective mentoring:
Henryís recommendations stress the importance of cultivating a positive and productive relationship between the mentor and faculty candidate. Mentors can generate relational conflicts by being too controlling and not giving their colleagues the freedom to take some professional risks in their online classes. The wise mentor always strives to create a learning relationship that promotes self-directed attitudes and behaviors in their faculty candidates. The primary goal of the mentorship is to help prepare individuals to be effective instructors who will have the skills, knowledge and confidence to independently teach their students.
At the University of Phoenix, faculty candidates have two weeks of preparation time to work with their mentor prior to the start of the class. It is a time where the mentor can provide feedback on their lectures, syllabus and personal biography. The pre-course activities enable new teachers to have their curriculum plans and materials prepared for the first week of class. The preparation phase is a vital element in the mentoring process and if the new teacher fails to demonstrate adequate progress on their course materials, the mentor will postpone their first class. The mentorship process does provide diverse opportunities for new teachers to reflect on their instructional plans and strategies. Mentorship programs should offer new faculty members:
Veteran mentors devote a lot of time to helping their faculty candidate prepare a solid course syllabus. A syllabus that lacks clarity about teacher expectations for assignments will foster confusion in the classroom. The syllabus can provide clear instructions for students while offering them a time management device to integrate school work into their busy daily lives. Also, the syllabus plays a vital role in helping students understand the teacherís expectations and establishes a foundation for positive learning experiences. Fullmer-Umari (2000) a faculty member at the University of Phoenix recommends that teachers should consider using seven key elements in their syllabus:
The "live" classroom setting creates a practical place for teachers to translate their learning theories into concrete educational experiences (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Reflective Mentoring Process
The chart highlights the dynamic nature of the mentoring process. The creation of weekly lectures, discussion questions and other course materials does not occur in a social vacuum. Rather, the new teacher will learn many valuable lessons while working in the online environment. It is a practical way to evaluate instructional strategies by receiving feedback from the mentor and students. At the University of Phoenix, faculty candidates receive weekly reports from their mentor that address issues such as the number of days the teacher was an active participant in the class. Teachers are expected to be involved in the class 5 out of 7 days because their online presence is consider vital to having consistent social interaction and academic dialog during the course. Additionally, students complete faculty surveys during the course that provide relevant information on the teacherís performance. The mentor will receive the student surveys and delete the student names and share the information with their faculty candidates.
Student feedback provides a good dose of reality for new teachers. Teachers must avoid assigning papers and projects prior to preparing students to have enough background information to effectively complete the work. New facilitators will find that moderating an online discussion is a vital task that helps shape the entire perspective of the course. The teacher must integrate online dialog into their instructional plans and strategies. Edelstein & Edwards (2002) recommend that teachers need to ask themselves a series of questions before creating the dialog portion of the course:
It is important that mentors provide a flexible framework for their faculty candidates to learn the essential skills and knowledge to be an effective online instructor. The ultimate goal of the mentorship is to prepare teachers to be independent facilitators who can provide quality educational experiences for their students.
Edelstein, S. & Edwards, J. (2002). If you will build it, they will come: Building learning communities through threaded discussions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 5 (1). http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/spring51/edelstein51.html
Fullmer-Umari, M. (2000). Getting ready: The syllabus and other online indispensables. In K.W. White & B. H. Weight (Eds.) Online teaching guide: A handbook of attitudes, strategies, and techniques for the virtual classroom, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Lynch, M. M (2002). The online educator: A guide to creating the virtual classroom. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer
Henry, N. (1996). Mentoring Myths and Tips. The Resource Connection, 2 (1). http://www.etr.org/nsrc/rcv2n1/mentoring.html
SchoolNet, SA (2002).Educator development for ICT Framework. Retrieved September 4, 2002. http://www.school.za/edict/edict/