Teaching and mentoring is something that everyone does in varying degrees. I’ve been doing it full-time for the last decade, but now it’s to be done with a new intensity. My block-release vocational students (who require occasional support between classes) are being replaced by online trade contracting students – I need to explain how mentoring works.
Sharpening the axe.
It can be argued that teaching and mentoring online is no different to classroom teaching. “Just do what you do face-to-face, only online!” Sounds simple, right? Well… I’ve honed my technology skills during the past few years, using Gmail, Twitter, Flashmeeting, Flickr, Youtube… in fact, every Web 2.0 tool that I could play with, so I’m ready for the challenge. My EdTech friends from Australia, New Zealand and around the world have been a wonderful support network for me as we’ve tried out many communication tools together.
It’s a familiar situation to me, only in a different context – when I was trade contracting, I’d spend part of my non-working time searching hardware stores for tools to make my jobs easier, and cleaning and maintaining my gear. I decided that I’d never be like the timber-getter chopping at a tree with a blunt axe, who complains how there is never time to stop and sharpen the blade.
Cooperative learning – somewhere between Constructivism and Behaviourism.
Online learning is easy. It’s meant to be! That’s what I keep telling myself, but what if my students don’t find it so? Then I’ll need to help. They’ll be ranging widely in ages, experiences and expectations, and I can’t be all things to all people. Perhaps some might like to learn alone, but I’m expecting that these students will be rare. The majority will need support at a number of levels, and communication barriers that can be overcome in a face-to-face setting will only be intensified.
Success lies in encouraging peer interaction, collaboration and individual accountability. Students will be arranged into work groups so that individual success follows group success.
Assessment by ePortfolio is not a new concept, but there is an opportunity to embed student assessment items in an industry portal website, open to examination by potential clients and fellow students. This gives a chance for students to show their work after the course is completed, and their enrolment ended.
Studying at home means that less time is lost at work, as well as travelling to classes. Provided that students have a computer and an Internet connection, as well as webcam and microphone headset, then study times can be arranged around work and family schedules.
I’m planning to ask students to provide regular updates on their progress, as well as reflections on their learning, by podcast. The web service Ipadio.com makes this easy – it’s literally takes just a phone call to upload a conversation to a website or blog.
It’s always difficult to get busy people together, so I’m planning to use data collated by observing email time stamps – meeting students when it suits them. Web services WhenIsGood.com and Doodle.com will also be useful for planning meeting times.
Including team members.
My responsibility as a mentor extends beyond teaching and managing students. I will also help to coordinate the team of teachers delivering many subjects in Certificate IV, Diploma and Vocational Graduate Certificate.
The mentor is responsible for managing the team’s email inbox – this is an important communication tool for the group of delivery, design and administration staff.
A ‘sked’ is a scheduled online meeting, and I’ll be starting and maintaining skeds for student groups, with a view to students claiming ownership of them. Skeds will be one of the main support tools in the course.
Induction, Blog updates and FAQs.
A page of answered Frequently Asked Questions is just one way to manage distracting emergency phone calls, recognising the fact that students often prefer the reassurance of human contact. A course induction will be undertaken during the first week, followed by friendly blog updates written to engage, encourage and redirect learners.
Virtual student lounge.
Students need a place to meet casually in between skeds, discussions, completing assessment tasks, work, family, life… just somewhere for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat. Perhaps even in Second Life?
Whew! After all that, a time for celebration – this will be a special event to thank learners for their efforts during the year, taking the time to mark their achievements.