Evidence of Analytical and Integrative Thinking

Spring Semester, 2005

EDCI 797e - Online Teaching 

The Teacher As On-line Learner

During this semester, we replicated the experience of the on-line student by becoming on-line learners ourselves. Our primary method of learning took place on-line course as part of the Online Academy for Teachers (TOAT). We logged into the GMU website that contained the course content and executed modules dealing with the nature of on-line teaching and learning. Those in our cohort that were part of the development team when creating the TOAT modules acted as mentors for us. We became the on-line learners, which meant would have to put into practice the actual content that we were studying: self-regulation, negotiation, enabling, and execution of our learning plan with our mentors. 

The mentor generally assists the on-line student in developing the personal skills to become a successful learner in the electronic environment. My mentor had to help me through the issue of time budgeting and prioritizing all of my life's activities and my work on-line. I had to consider a variety of aspects of my life that were non-academic in nature but that nevertheless impinged on my ability to carry out my on-line learning responsibilities. First, I am a single dad of three young children, ages 7, 10, and 11. During the times they are with me, they must be my priority. 

The major difference between my experience and that of a secondary education student in the Virtual High School is that I have a full-time job as a social studies teacher, which includes grading papers and student projects, calling parents, and preparing lessons, quizzes, and tests. I am also the department chair, which leads to a number of additional responsibilities such as meetings and curricular work. I also write for US News and World Report three lesson plans every month on a previously scheduled weekend. The job helps pay the bills and has a certain amount of prestige, so I always want to do a good job for them. A secondary education student who is not in the traditional classroom has more available time to accomplish the learning tasks.

Moreover, we were committed to developing on-line modules for the VHS program, and we had to include reflections in our regular GMU on-line portfolio. So finding the time necessary to do the on-line modules was not easy, even though I gave it high priority to have all the material completed by the next class. I had to share all of these things with my mentor, who was sympathetic, and she helped me figure out what was needed and at what date without causing me too much stress.

The Mentor as Learning and Teaching Model

As we learned about mentoring on-line, our mentors had to model and demonstrate what it means to be the mentor of an on-line learner.  Through each module, my mentor had to ask these questions about me and my personal situation. We already had a classroom acquaintance, but she had to establish a rapport with me that allowed me to feel comfortable, understood, and supported. My mentor showed a high degree of professionalism and empathy as we negotiated my work schedule.

As we moved through the modules together in the on-line learning process, my mentor modeled the process of mentoring:

Real Life Mentoring 

Assessment: Which phase applies?

Questions to ask

Act, Clarify, Question, Respond Is there some sort of danger in what George is saying to me in his messages and his schedule?
Preparing, Negotiating, Enabling, Closing What steps can we take together to help George achieve his goals?
What is the real issue?  Does it deal with relationships, organization, self-regulation, or content learning and conceptual understanding?
Responding: What Does The Student Need to Hear?  
Building Relationships  How do I build trust, listen online, question, challenge, and provide empathic responses?
Managing, Organizing, Self-regulating Self-regulation, self-efficacy, time management, text comprehension, summarizing, note-taking.
Content learning and conceptual understanding Language of thinking, thinking dispositions, mental management, strategies to success, higher order thinking, learning for transfer.
Targeting: What can be done to insure learning?  
Learning Success Make connections to previous knowledge, life experience, subject matter, learning goals, learning plans.

Based on: The ART of Mentoring: George Mason University, http://itdev.gmu.edu/vhs/toat/courses/course4purp/ART.htm, 2005

The book Mentor also provided some understanding of what it means to guide someone through a challenging life-activity such as attending high school or college. The book centered on how to help adults reach their life goals while working through the major developmental issues that adults face. Raising children, marriage, divorce, and career change are all part of the fabric of life, which Laurent Daloz discusses in the work. The theme of the text is predicated on the idea that a mentor can be most effective when he or she understands where the person being mentored (heretofore known as "mentee"). 

Adults move through developmental stages in the same way that adolescents do. The personal issues that are generated by these stages have an impact on the ability of the student to achieve academic success. Dating, marriage, divorce, raising children, financial considerations, and where a person is on their spiritual life-journey all have an effect on how the mentor should interact with that person as a student and learner.

Life experiences are also an important tool by which the mentor can make learning more real and immediate for the learner. Our challenge activities must be designed so that the students understands the relevance in accomplishing a certain task or gaining a specific schema of knowledge. The mentor can bring those life experiences to bear, so that the student can relate to the existing knowledge, thereby incorporating and integrating the new knowledge through what was already present. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget discusses this process in what he called accommodation and assimilation. It is the mentor that assists the learner in this process as they engage in an electronic dialogue.

Online teaching and traditional teaching have similar components, but because of the lack of proximity and the asynchronous nature of the teacher-student interaction, the mentor can take on much of the same role as a counselor. The qualities of trust, confidentiality, and positive confrontation all assist the learner to develop the sense of self-discipline and self-regulation needed to be a successful online learner.