As online enrollments increase, there is a growing need to examine strategies with the potential to improve course outcomes, especially since students in online courses tend to have less success compared to their face-to-face counterparts (Freidhoff, 2016; Miron, G., Gulosino & Horvitz, 2014). One strategy that shows promise is to provide students with an on-site mentor in addition to their online teacher.
Previous research has found that a dedicated and skilled mentor can improve student retention in online courses. However, school administrators and course providers commonly fail to provide mentors with sufficient resources, direction, and professional development to have a meaningful impact on students. Before mentors can be provided with the direction and professional development that they need, we must first work to identify effective mentoring practices.
For the purposes of the report, Helping Online Students Be Successful: Mentor Responsibilities, we selected 12 highly successful mentors (pass rates ranged from 80-97%) who varied in the number of students they mentored (student loads ranged from 15-300) and in their geographical location (urban, suburban, town, and rural areas). Each participant then agreed to participate in two, hour-long interviews.
In addition to the 12 mentors, we interviewed 12 online teachers to get a more general perspective on mentoring at Michigan Virtual School. The online teachers unanimously agreed that mentors play a critical role in students’ online learning and could prove to be the determining factor in some students’ ability to pass their online course. However, the quality of mentoring across schools varied greatly.
While the mentors interviewed for this report were effective at working with students, teachers described the overall mentoring in their courses as just “pretty good” overall. Teachers also believed that many mentors were simply “thrown into the position” without fully understanding their responsibilities or having the skills and knowledge to have a significant impact on students’ learning.
In light of these findings we make two recommendations to administrators seeking to improve their students’ success in online environments:
- Ensure students receive structured and consistent mentoring.
- Ensure mentors receive adequate professional development.
[Download a copy...]