A Study of Faculty E-Mentoring
Introduction to University Teaching Professional Development (TPD)

by Luis M. Villar & Olga M. Alegre

April, 2006

Introduction to University Teaching Professional Development (TPD)

The conceptual basis for this study comes from three sources: online teacher development, curriculum and teaching capacities model, and telementoring.

Online technologies for academic staff learning

Changes in knowledge technology and in the academic university programs are making it increasingly feasible to use online learning activities for university curriculum and teaching development. It is possible to formulate a staff development program for examining online technology in the University context and identifying the features that would support further developments within each setting. This process brought about the present model of the use of online technology in academic staff development, as well as the possibility of identifying the relationship of three important factors: (a) activity-centred selection teaching and learning methods, (b) curriculum and teaching capacities, and (c) flexible mentor learning.

By giving careful thought to the design and implementation of the UTPD program we tried to produce a successful course that would take full advantage of the benefits made possible by technology. The issues we took into consideration were participant access, teaching capacities transformation into an approach which constructs a more interactive, self-directed learning experience for teachers, and faculty participation in computer-mediated mentor asynchronous conferences. The structure of the information on the capacity model incorporated up-to-date readings and resources through the inclusion of hyperlinks, teaching capacity concepts, tasks and activities to develop and test relevant curriculum and intended teaching knowledge and skills. UTPD is a site using Moodle (http://gid.us.es:8083), a free, course management system, with many different components in its design.

Range of Curriculum and Teaching Capacity Development Activities

All Spanish universities are turning to curriculum and teaching capacities as a framework for quantifying student learning. Currently, curriculum guidelines that would prescribe evidence of students? levels of learning results are being established as a useful means of addressing outcomes in teaching program accreditation reviews (Villar and Alegre, 2004). The UTPD model is a twenty capacity-based training program that is built on basic information about the construction of teaching practice knowledge and experience, and the performing of specific tasks and assignments offered across the discipline curriculum. The model for designing this online course focuses on core curriculum and teaching capacities aimed at providing faculty with a solid foundation for solving students? learning problems (Villar, 2004).
The use of curriculum and teaching capacities enables to connect the online course with related educational outcomes into seven modules. Table I summarizes the UTPD framework, including the component capacities for each of its modules.

Table I
Modules and Capacities Framework


Module I. Personal Identity
C1. Capacity to perform quality agent or reflective professional roles.
C2. Knowledge of student motivation and ability to promote students? positive attitudes.
C3. Awareness of students? diversity in all its forms.
C4. Knowledge of counsellor development and ability to set appropriate boundaries.

Module II. Social Relations
C5. Capacity to solve students? problems.
C6. Capacity to assess classroom climate.
C7. Capacity to build classroom communication and negotiate learning contracts.

Module III. Curriculum
C8. Capacity to develop metacognitive skills in the trainee.
C9. Knowledge of goals and value of ethical principles.
C10. Capacity to encourage and use cooperative learning among students.

Module IV. Methodology
C11. Capacity to provide effective and free curriculum time.
C12. Capacity to hand out study guides that have coherence, progression and differentiation.

Module V. Decision Making
C13. Knowledge of area being supervised (learning tasks, research, assessment, etc.).

Module VI. Interaction
C14. Teaching and didactic skills for large groups.
C15. Knowledge of conversation and discussion methods.
C16. Knowledge of questioning skills.

Module VII. Evaluation
C17. Knowledge of formative and summative evaluation.
C18. Capacity to provide effective feedback and to encourage and use evaluative feedback from the student.
C19. Knowledge of learning tasks measurement.
C20. Capacity to conduct own self-assessment process.


Goldenberg (2001, p.19) has asserted that, ?the quality of teaching affects what students learn?. Consequently, it was essential for the UTPD to practice the capacity approach for reinforcing the faculty professionalism and competence necessary to perform specific teaching tasks and academic duties in a ?better or excellent? way.

Mentoring as a context for training

Mentoring is a relationship in which experienced faculty work with less experienced teachers to stimulate both academic and personal development. It becomes a way of revealing the secrets of the teaching profession or discipline for others, a process-oriented relationship involving knowledge acquisition, application, and critical reflection. Advantages of mentoring have been verified in a variety of settings that imply real gains for newcomers. The final outcome of mentoring can either be friendship and collegiality or unfriendliness and antipathy. Thus, the value of mentoring relationships seems to depend on the roles mentors play with their protégés. What began as an honestly mentoring connection evolved into a true partnership built on mutual esteem, admiration, and trust. Training as mentoring must address the joint goals of developing the protégé as a learner (a person who is going to be learning over a life span), and as a teaching specialist (someone who is applying disciplined knowledge and curriculum and teaching capacities in particular learning settings and will need to continue developing departmental leadership, teaching and research creativity, and problem-solving skills in the academic and social worlds). Ideally, a mentor-protégé relationship can be founded on similar University, academic, or community interests. The mentor and mentee schedule formal and informal meetings to create a plan for the mentee designed for fulfilling the goals of the training program. The professional and personal benefits that can be accrued from mentoring interactions such as teaching guidance, academic support, and research sponsorship are likely to unite to turn a mentoring rapport into one in which the protégé will be greatly concerned in keeping up. Faculty mentoring involves the practices and strategies of mentors to develop the curriculum and teaching capacities of individual protégés for them to function as self-directed teachers.

The Ponce, Williams y Allen (2005, p. 1160) mentoring model is apt for faculty development. They derived their model ?from a collectivistic philosophy that emphasizes wider arrays of interpersonal contact between more - and less - expert individuals, greater sharing of resources, heightened advocacy, and more frequent use of formative feedback that generally centers on both instrumental goal-oriented career support and psychosocial nurturance?. Experienced academicians also need training prior to serving as mentors to new teachers, especially if they are mentoring in university programs. This training generally includes written guidelines, checklists, and evaluation tools. In substance, an adequate mentoring program must supply written guidelines for all concerned. Therefore, a mentoring program design usually relies on voluntary involvement by mentors and participants as well as on a process of individual negotiation to determine the matching of mentors and participants.

Besides, e-mentoring has been defined as the use of telecommunications technology (such as e-mail) to develop and sustain mentoring relationships between a more senior individual (mentor) and a lesser skilled or experienced individual (protégé), where face-to-face ones would be impractical. Several e-mentoring programs do exist to support professional personnel. Bierema and Merriam (2002, p. 219), for example, observe that telementoring is a ?mutually beneficial relationship that is highly versatile and can be adapted to work in a variety of settings?. Effective virtual mentoring environments not only serve as a conduit for information, but as a setting for social learning through collaborative understanding.

Single and Single (2005, p. 305) have also stated that, ?e-mentoring is not a panacea?. In effect, a Web site and software design (lessons, activities, questionnaires, tests, etc.) to facilitate a delivery and evaluation of the e-mentoring programs have called for costly resources, which are often in short supply in University programs.

Purpose of the Study

A major purpose of this study was to assess the relative importance of personal and academic factors associated with both the UTPD evaluation and capacities learning. The study ought to elicit faculty perceptions about several UTPD program factors that might detract or enhance the likelihood of faculty from the universities of the Canary Islands taking part in the mentoring process. Finally, the study also sought to determine the faculty?s perception of how mentoring processes might benefit their learning. Hence, the specific aims of the study were as follows:

To assess if faculty involved in the online UTPD program mastered a series of curriculum and teaching capacities.
To analyze if faculty involved in the online mentoring UTPD course extended their professional roles as mentors and protégés.

Methodology

Participants
Participants included thirty tenured professors and pretenure lecturers enrolled in the UTPD program. All of the respondents were full-time faculty at the two public Canarian Universities: La Laguna and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain).
E-mentoring process elements and participant dyads
Three underlying UTPD and e-mentoring process elements were applied: Planning, Organization and Assessment. Figure I illustrates the mentoring process. First, adequate planning. Second, cross-university pairings was established. Third, participant dyads were assigned according to discipline areas. Fourth, the six-week online minicourse consisted of twenty capacity lessons; the mentor module was composed of seven capacities. Fifth and finally, planning allowed for early and clear communication of the mentoring program goals.


Organization
- Workshop at two universities
- Social discussion
- Require online contacts
- Dual professional roles

Assessment
- Collect a digital portfolio
- Questionnaires and scales
- Self-reflective narrative statements

Planning
- Recruit participants
- Consider cross-universities pairings
- Dyads: Disciplined areas
- Minicourse: Twenty capacities



Figure 1. Model of mentoring process

Following the planning phase, four elements of organization were considered. First, a meeting of participants in each university was held, at which a four-hour workshop was given providing details about the training requirements (electronic mail, reporting activities, etc.), the interests of the potential mentors and a statement about what they were willing to do and learn in the program. Second, participants and online course components (twenty capacity lessons, follow-up of activities, evaluation standards, etc.) were introduced and there was a period of social discussion related to the minicourse and questions of the participants. The third element of organization emphasised the need for both mentors and protégés to take responsibility for initiating and maintaining online contacts and for ensuring fruitful outcomes from the program. Fourth and finally, the fifteen mentoring dyads had a dual professional role. Participants practiced both roles of mentor and protégée thus fostering a sense of involvement with the program.

Through the mentoring module, mentors and protégés acquired mentoring knowledge and practice on seven curriculum and teaching capacities. Finally, the discussion with the program researchers during the workshop was intended to provide the basis for further contact and support after the minicourse.

During the assessment phase, regular follow-up activities gave mentors and protégés a chance to build up a digital portfolio. We found benefit in gathering two types of data. Firstly, we collected quantitative-like type of data: questionnaires and scales. Collecting such data provided empirical evidence to quantify the benefits of UTPD and e-mentoring, and secondly, we also collected self-reflective narrative statements that described the activities, classroom experiences, and accomplishments of the protégés within each capacity. For reasons of practicality, a page limit on their length was a requirement. Personal portfolios served to elucidate the learning, mentoring beliefs and professional roles of the faculty. These data allowed us to conduct content analysis of the within-pair mentoring conferences.

The digital portfolio encouraged discussion between mentors and protégés about what areas of their teaching disciplines required further development. Moreover, protégés? activities were assessed by the subjective judgement of mentors. Participants were reassured that the training process was unrelated to any form of personal and summative evaluation. Nevertheless, criteria were established against which colleague?s teaching was reviewed. Measures of activity structures were personally created by the mentors and included a four-point scale. We articulated not only the strength of the file activities and the use of interactivity but also the way in which participants should see teaching and mentoring as competently substantive.

Measures and Data Analyses

Fifteen variables were considered as independent, and were organized into three areas: Sociodemographic, Academic and Career development variables. Three different measurements were used to judge faculty?s prior experience, and to rate curriculum and teaching capacities and learning.

Results

The purpose of this study was to measure the impact of university teachers? participation in a short-term online capacity program. The academic development unit web site UTPD includes a range of online courses containing a database of innovations, and a quality review of teaching and learning, like other on-line academic staff development sites.
Our data strongly support the important involvement of participants. This study confirms previous findings in the university and mentor literature on capacity learning being an important factor to consider in the efforts to initiate and sustain university teaching changes as a natural part of university teacher development. It is also important for those who are facilitating University professional development to be aware of the various curriculum and teaching capacities that interconnect within an online program.

In this article, we have tried to carefully document the processes we used to assess online capacity learning and mentor skills. The key instrument design that we faced as program evaluators were similar to those written by other researchers: assessment capacities for the measurement of learning gains need to be aligned with the online program goals.
Essentially, six findings are noteworthy concerning assessment of the UTPD online faculty development program.
Firstly, while hypothesis 1 was accepted, hypotheses 2 and 3 only were partially accepted.

Secondly, there is still a need for constant renewal of program design and pedagogical content; which should include: Who should be recruited as a mentor? What are the boundaries of the communication and interaction mentor-protégé? What are the core capacities of mentoring? This suggests that online mentor education is a complex program involving capacities, processes and practice approaches.

Thirdly, participants showed a greater increase in knowledge capacities at the outset of the study (they were involved in 2,737 activities). Besides, they were asked to notice their own interactions while using Moodle, and to comment on the suitability of the capacities for their own practices.

Fourthly, scientific fields? participants had a clear and different prior pedagogical knowledge. Also, they gave a different evaluation of the quality of each capacity structure.

Fifthly, the mentor-protégé relationship was a short, but special type of shared experience. Acting as a mentor, participants were actively invested in shaping the protégé?s worldview and in developing the protégé?s program capacities.

Sixthly, collaborative teaching discourse between peers provides evidence of how dyadic models (mentor-protégé) may be facilitated using online platforms leading to distributed learning.

Seventhly, formative evaluation approaches were implemented in order to obtain regular feedback from the participants regarding their satisfaction with the capacity program.

Finally, results of the current study are restricted to University mentoring training interactions. All of the present study?s participants were enrolled in the online course which suggests that they valued technology, teaching and personal and professional development.

References
Bierema, L. L. & Merriam, S. B. (2002). E-mentoring: Using Computer Mediated Communication to Enhance the Mentoring Process. Innovative Higher Education, 26 (3), 211-227.
Goldenberg, E. N. (2001). Teaching Key Competencies in Liberal Arts Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 85, 15-23.
Ponce, A. N., Williams, M. K. and Allen, G. J. (2005). Toward promoting generative cultures of intentional mentoring within academic settings, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61 (9), 1159-1163.
Single, P. B. and Single, R. M. (2005) E-mentoring for social equity: review of research to inform program development, Mentoring and Tutoring, 13 (2), pp. 301-320.
Villar, L. M. (2004). Programa para la Mejora de la Docencia Universitaria. (Madrid, Pearson / Prentice Hall).
Villar, L. M. and Alegre, O. M. (2004). Manual para la excelencia en la enseñanza superior. (Madrid, McGraw-Hill).

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