Western Governors University (WGU) provides every online student his or her own mentor. Maintaining phone contact at least every other week, the mentor guides his or her panel of students through the entire WGU experience. Mentors have significant impact on students' retention, academic performance, and satisfaction.
In the fall of 2010, Mentoring department leaders asked the question: "What makes our top performing mentors so successful in advancing student academic progress, retention, and student satisfaction?" A pilot study was developed and conducted in the spring of 2010 on approximately the top 10% of mentors determined by departmental key performance indicators.
This study explored the best practices in mentoring online students. Selected mentors completed an extensive survey, which includes both multiple choice questions a well as open ended questions. These mentors shared the practices that made them effective in keeping online students engaged, satisfied, and successful. Participants were kept anonymous to both departmental leaders and peers in order to encourage complete honesty in their descriptions of practice.
Subsequent to the 2010 pilot study, the fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012 surveys have improved upon that initial pilot study and used consistent questions and participant selection criteria. Study questions addressed demographic information, logistics and tools for working with online students, training that has been most valuable to mentors, skills and experiences that are most useful for mentors, and best practices for working with online students.
The findings from each survey have resulted in consistent data regarding key practices in advising and supporting online students:
• Demographics: The top performing mentors come from a variety of backgrounds. Participants were representative of every age group, educational background, and level of previous work-experience.
• Logistics and tools: Effective mentors use a variety of technology to maintain strong connections with their assigned students. Active use of the telephone and email is the most common; however, mentors also use social networking, instant messaging, screen sharing software, and video conferencing. In addition, mentors work non-standard hours from home offices to facilitate better contact for working and non-traditional students. The majority of survey respondents indicated they worked at least nine hours a week outside of standard business hours to accommodate their online students.
• Training Practices: WGU provides weekly training sessions on WGU processes and departments. They also offer mentors bi-annual internal conference trainings. Mentors focus most of their training on internal development opportunities, rather than pursuing external training and personal development.
• Valuable skills and experiences: These mentors felt the most important skills they brought to this role included interpersonal skills, organization and time management skills, written and oral communication skills, and ability to coach and motivate students. These mentors felt they started with these skills before becoming mentors, but that they had opportunities to hone and practice these skills as they worked with students.
• Best practices: Ninety-five percent of respondents set a standing, reoccurring appointment with each student. The majority of these appointments are scheduled for half an hour. During those appointments, mentors call the students and set short-term and long-term academic goal, commit students to completing course work, praise students' accomplishments, build a personal relationship with the student, help students navigate any WGU departments, and provide guidance in meeting requirements for any courses in the current term.
The results of the survey are published in total to the entire mentoring staff and leadership (participant names removed). The information gained as a result of these surveys guides training efforts, student success programs, hiring practice, and departmental expectations.
The success of these surveys has also resulted in the development of an accompanying study of the practices of top performing Course Mentors. Course Mentors are curriculum support experts for WGU students, and mentor them through specific course content as needed or required. Course Mentoring, unlike its "student" Mentoring counterpart, is in the early stages of best practice identification. It is anticipated that the results of this survey will provide valuable information for increasing the effectiveness of mentor training and student support.
In the presentation
, I will share the WGU mentoring model, invite audience questions and discussion regarding that model, describe key practices of effectiveness within the mentoring model, and provide an audience handout summarizing some key practices.
This presentation will introduce a model of support for online learners, as well as describe the lessons that Western Governor's University has learned from its top performing student and course mentors.