The Evaluation of the 1995/96 Online Mentoring Course

J.M.Rogan May 1996

The course Online Mentoring, one of four Reach for the Sky online classes, was taught during the Fall 1995 and Spring of 1996 by Frank Odasz. Altogether, twenty teachers, all in the State of Montana, participated in the course. At the same time, these twenty teachers mentored four new teachers each from a five state area through the Beginning Internet course.

Feedback from Participants
At the conclusion of the course, five questions were sent to all course participants. Fourteen of the twenty returned the questionnaire. The questions, and a summary of the responses to them, are given below. The full set of responses to each question is included in the Appendices.

1. How do you perceive the content of the Lessons? Please explain. Feel free to use examples if that will assist you.

The responses to this question were generally positive. Two fairly typical responses read:
The content of the Online Mentoring Course Three was appropriate and for the most part beneficial. We could condense a couple of the lessons or maybe even combine the contents of a lesson or two.

I always got a lot from these lessons. This last year's lessons were much more concise that the first year's.

It seems that the attention paid to the feedback from the participants and the willingness to make midpoint changes paid off.
I think the content of the lessons improved as we went along. In the beginning, they didn't seem to fit our current needs.

Two specific lessons, 5 and 12, were cited as not being that useful.
With the exception of lesson 5, which I felt had more to do with teaching classroom students rather than an becoming good mentors of online students, I thought the content was very well thought out and relevant.

The only reoccurring criticism was one of redundancy - that some of the information could have been presented in a more condensed form.
I feel that the content of the lessons sometimes seemed rather redundant.

One specific suggestion on the content of the course was made. Much of the information (content was pertinent) to what we were doing. I would have liked more skills and information on dealing with adults as learners. I found the information presented by Dr. Rogan about adults as learners as very insightful and I would have liked this information before we began the lessons. The skills will be helpful when I continue instructing others online.

2. How do you perceive the length of the Lessons? Please explain. Feel free to use examples if it will assist you.

These was an almost unanimous feeling that the lessons were the right length, and that they were concise and to the point. The one dissenting opinion here reads:
I felt that the lessons were too long. I often found myself skimming them looking for the heart of the lessons. I really didn't have time to go through them word for word.

However most were very satisfied with the length of all, or almost all of the lessons.
A superb job was done on the timeliness and length of lessons. Adequate background information was given as well as enough time to explore and think about concepts and ideas that were posed.

Length was generally good except again I spent a lot of time on Lesson 12. I know that some probably complain about the content of the lessons but I feel they were concise enough yet provided valuable information and background.

The amount of extra material to read at times was much greater but dealt with the exact nature of the lesson and did not go off on unnecessary tangents. This lead to a lesson which was of a better length.

3. What are the best aspects of the course? Do you feel that what you have got out of the course was worth the time and effort that you put into it? Please explain.

Question three, as might be anticipated, produced a variety of responses. However, most of the responses fall into a number of dominant themes.

The first of the themes revolved around the process of becoming a mentor. The opportunity to add a new dimension to one's teaching abilities appeared to have been a powerful and positive experience.
It helped me to become a confident mentor, realizing that I could do the job. The fact that we could as mentors rely on each other for help was a vital part too.

I think the most important thing I learned was to be ever positive and supportive with mentees, even if I suspected that they might be giving me the bare minimum in effort. Most of the time, they really pushed themselves when time permitted. I see this support and positive attitude in Frank as a mentor and in most of the Reach for the Sky teachers while we discussed how to motivate people to communicate with us on-line and to do the lessons somewhat on time. (pushing the rope) I also learned this from my mentees. It seemed that the more sympathy I gave them during hard times-- telling them not to be hard on themselves-- don't worry about it-- no sweat--I'm here if you need me--... helped to boost their work efforts quite a bit.

For me the best part of the course was in doing it. I always learn a lot from doing. I know now what I would do differently as a mentor and what worked for me and what didn't. I feel it was worth my time and effort. I also got to know three highly motivated teachers who were genuinely interested in being a part of RFTS.

A second theme to emerge was the value of the online discussions. Indeed, the increase in discussion was a feature of the course. Some of the issues raised provoked some lively discussions.
I think the best aspects of this course were the discussion points made. I really felt that some of the issues presented for us to ponder were worthwhile and continue to pose some of them to my fellow teachers.

One of the best part of the mentoring course this past year was the online discussions that took place among the mentors. I felt that the discussions were more successful this year and that having a support group to work through the process this year was helpful.

The third theme to arise was the role of the course in fostering a sense of community.
The best aspects of the course is not just the course work but the development of a larger awareness of the teaching community. I have now made contact directly with 100 people I would never had the opportunity to work with, if I had never been involved with this program.

I liked the connectivity to other reachers. I felt I got a lot of experience this year with the issue of getting mentees to do the lessons. I think it will be an ongoing struggle and because of the uniqueness of each of us, there is no pat answer.

The final theme was one of continuing to use the skills developed in the previous courses and of being exposed to new resources and sites.
I felt like I got a lot out of the lessons. They were good for me to keep on top of things by having to work consistently at them. I think you lose so much when you are not continually reviewing. When you don't use it, you lose it.

It was very beneficial to be pointed to sites of value and to share information with other class participants.

4. Can you suggest how this course might be improved? Can you suggest content additions or changes?

Not all the participants responded to this question, and two that did had no suggestions for improvement.
Everything was OK.

Most of the comments had to do with specific suggestions for the course, or content of lessons.
I would rethink Lesson 5. Does it belong in a mentoring course? Maybe if it was directed at mentoring, possibly off-line.

I would like to see a tutorial on creating a web page and less on using gopher etc. since it was so difficult to get into the places we were trying.

About the only lesson I didn't really get much from was lesson 9 on new forms of interaction.

Remodel Lesson 12.

If I were to change the course, I would shorten the lecture part of the lessons and eliminate the word lecture altogether. As the course went on I dreaded the lecture part of the lessons. I really didn't think that most of the lectures said much. The good points were lost because of the wordiness.

However, one theme did emerge from the collected suggestions. This is that the course should be focussed more sharply on the task of mentoring others online.
If this is possible, I'd like to see another lesson very early on about establishing a good mentor/mentee relationship during that early period. I'd like to see examples of what works with adults (teachers) on-line.

I spent lots of time browsing the sites and was wishing I was doing something more relevant to what I do or need in the classroom.

I liked the lessons that involved going to a site as a team and discussing the information and how it could be used in the classroom. That was the place where some bonding seemed to occur among my group.

Finally, some of the comments addressed technological issues and problems.
One area that may need to be looked at was the problem with everyone using different software and hardware. When they needed technical help it difficult to assist when I wasn't familiar with their hardware and software. Also technical problems with servers caused some mail problems.

I think that as the medium changes with the ability to communicate directly and not with email this skill needs to be included in the lessons. There is software now available for two people can manipulate data and see the results instantly as they work on it together from two different parts of the world.

5. Please describe your experiences with teaching an online course.

This question elicited the most lengthy and thoughtful responses.

Many reported on the specifics of their situation - how many mentors finished on time, and how one in their group was a real techie. These specifics will not be repeated. Since many of the replies are so eloquent, they really do speak for themselves - and so will be given space here.
This has been humbling in some ways. It's so much easier to be the critical mentee. ("I wouldn't do things that way.") Then, when you're a mentor, there are huge moments early on of being lost in how to handle things "the right way." Thank God we had one another and a good instructor. I did learn a lot. I feel so much more confident as a mentor now than I did in the Fall when this all began. That mentor/mentee relationship is great. I don't want to lose touch with any of the mentees or the other Reach for the Sky people. This has been a real growing experience!!! I am a better teacher in many ways for having done this!

The course and the concept of mentoring online is a good one. It will be a very important process in educating teachers about the internet as a possible tool, to be used in their classrooms. It was fun and the process will only improve with time. I am glad to be a part of the Reach for the Sky Project and would like to see it continue in the future.

Teaching online for the first time at times has been very frustrating and rewarding. How do you get people to respond online when there hardware is down. Sending lessons out into cyberspace and not hearing anything back is frustrating. As was stated in one of the lessons there is a delicate balance between pushing and trying to pull a mentee along. It is like pushing a rope uphill. This is a new medium and with the changing technology I think it will be much easier to do as mentee and mentor can communicate directly and not rely on email.

I enjoyed working with adults and I like the online medium. I like the idea of sending instruction and messages to students at anytime and anywhere. It was also fun to work with adult learners who were motivated to learn. We had a couple of good discussions and I hated to say goodbye to them when it was all over. This has been a good experience for me and I would like to do it again.

I am excited and thankful for all of your expertise and the rest of the rfts crew. You were all fantastic and I know that I am more knowledgeable from the experiences that you allowed me to have.

The one warning which was sounded in this section is that it is essential to have good and reliable local technical support. Mentors were often at a loss to help with mentees who used different platforms, different software, and unique Internet providers.
I felt helpless at times with their questions because of the platforms they were using or they had server problems. I wasn't always sure what my role was to be. They would ask for help and I couldn't always give them an answer. It was sometimes too technical for me.

For me the two biggest difficulties were in differences in hardware and a student who lagged behind. I felt badly that I couldn't answer questions because I wasn't sure how their machine functioned.

I still don't feel like I have a strong background on technical problems. I was shocked at the problems some of my mentees had with equipment and internet providers.


Overall it would appear that the positive aspects of the course outnumbered the negative ones. With the exceptions already noted, the content of the lessons was well received and the length of the lessons were deemed to be just right.

One aspect of the course that was really valued, and seen as a major contributor to professional growth, was the hands-on experience of mentoring others through an online course. It is what gave relevance and meaning to the lessons. In the light of this feedback, the idea of people taking the course who are not in the process of mentoring others must be questioned. While we cannot prevent anyone from taking the course, we should not encourage the divorcing of theory and practice when we are in control of the situation. Without the hands-on, it would be like taking a course on how to fly an airplane without ever getting into the cockpit.

We also need to take seriously the recommendation of monitoring mentors and somehow making them more accountable for their performance as a mentor. Some mentors did not perform well as shown by the evaluation of the Beginning Internet course. Poor mentoring could destroy much of what we are trying to achieve. Feedback suggests that good mentoring is vital to the success of the whole endeavor.

A final important point to emerge is an old, but important one. Technical assistance is vitally important to the smooth running of the course and the mentoring process. We should never be tempted to over-extend ourselves and to offer more courses than we are able to provide technical support for.