Online mentoring is not just about educational levels. This is especially true when you are mentoring students are your own grade level. These students are not necessarily looking for your educational advice but instead your real work experience. Being a mentor is not about reciting information from a book, but instead giving opinions on what you have experience in your career. Hutto defines mentoring as “an experienced, successful and knowledgeable professional who willingly accepts the responsibility of facilitating professional growth and support of a colleague through a mutually beneficial relationship” (Hutto, Holden, & Hayes, 1991). That definition may be over twenty years old, but it still holds true. If a PhD level graduate is mentoring another PhD level student, education takes a backseat to experience. This fits well into the online model because with online learning, experience from many different fields are able to come together.
Online learning allows for people from many different areas to come together in a single online environment. It’s these experiences that make for a great online environment. In the online environment, mentoring plays an important role because without it, students may feel disconnected. Students though in the online environment often feel more comfortable asking peers for help because they are comfortable at home and not in a class (Sinclair). Therefore, the importance of it in the online environment is very high. Also, “online students want their faculty to be partners in the learning process by providing content expertise, scaffolding learning experiences, helping students make connections, and providing prompt feedback” (Barcelone, R. J., 2009). It’s these mentors that make the experience that much more fulfilling.
Students need that interaction whether it is through email, instant messaging or through comments on student work. In my experience, I do not teach an online course but I do have a lot of online components to it. I make use of forums a lot of with this, students need a lot of feedback. If a student completes their research and posts a message on the discussion board, they often would like acknowledgement of their work. As Marc mentioned below, I can give this feedback at anytime, whether I am at work or not. By making use of the CMS, I am able to have contact with the student at convenient times and not just at a specific time during the week. This helps with that loneliness feeling and helps bring everyone a bit closer together.
Barcelona, R. J. (2009). Pressing the Online Learning Advantage: Commitment, Content, and Community. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 57(3), 193-197. doi:10.1080/07377360903262218
Hutto, N., Holden, J., & Haynes, L. (1991). Mentor training manual for Texas teachers. Dallas: Texas Education Agency.
Sinclair, C. (2003). Mentoring Online about Mentoring: possibilities and practice. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 11(1), 79. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.