The Graduate Manifesto of George Cassutto

The Teacher As On-line Learner

Towards the latter phases of our Virtual High School experience, we experienced what the on-line student would experience by becoming on-line learners ourselves. Teachers in the Virtual High School program took on 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 replicated the on-line learning experience as we engaged in self-regulation, negotiation, enabling, and execution of our learning plan with our mentors. 

At first, the process of establishing my own personal learning schedule with my mentor was one of the hardest things to do. 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. 

During the school year, they spend two nights with me for dinner and every other weekend is also spent at my house. I had some flexibility because their mom is their custodial parent during the school year, which allowed me to have a number of weekday evenings free to do the TOAT work I needed to do. Next, 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. 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.

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.

In terms of getting motivated to do the work of the TOAT modules, I must admit that it was not easy. After working on the VHS modules on Tuesday night and coming home pretty late on those nights when we had class, I just did not feel like doing any more computing after commuting the hour from Fairfax to Brunswick. So a day or two had to go by before I could get motivated enough to get to work. In that time, though, I tried to stay active by reading the assigned textbook sections and reviewing the on-line activities being called for in the module. As the week progressed, I was able to execute the required assignments, and my mentor was generally pleased with the level of understanding I had demonstrated through the material I had sent to her. 

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

Experiential Examples
including quotations from  email)

Act, Clarify, Question, Respond Is there some sort of danger in what George is saying to me in his messages and his schedule? Personal issue: Time to complete assignments
Preparing, Negotiating, Enabling, Closing What steps can we take together to help George achieve his goals? Mentor allowed for flexible deadlines, allowed less essential elements of the assignment to be omitted.
What is the real issue?  Does it deal with relationships, organization, self-regulation, or content learning and conceptual understanding? Self-regulation: time budgeting, discipline, prioritizing
Responding: What Does The Student Need to Hear?    
Building Relationships  How do I build trust, listen online, question, challenge, and provide empathic responses? Trust/empathy: "You are all doing really well staying on top of everything.  Way to go!" 

"I am not sure if this helps- but this is not one of the modules that should be a huge time-sucker.... it's kinda traditional grad school stuff....  read for content understanding....  don't make it harder on yourself you big silly!   :)"      

Managing, Organizing, Self-regulating Self-regulation, self-efficacy, time management, text comprehension, summarizing, note-taking. Time budgeting: "The module for the VHS course HAS to get done, since it was expected/promised for delivery by August. "
Content learning and conceptual understanding Language of thinking, thinking dispositions, mental management, strategies to success, higher order thinking, learning for transfer. Strategies to success: You have put everything together nicely- and actually this process has the 3 sections to it, but I wouldn't say that they are discrete.  The mentor will use the responding skills to check-out if there is any danger or if it was just a misperception.  You will read more about this is the attending behavior module which is next.  Finally, the assessment and responding are all crafted so that the learning opportunities are maximized. 

Very nice job!!
Targeting: What can be done to insure learning?    
Learning Success Make connections to previous knowledge, life experience, subject matter, learning goals, learning plans. Learning goals: Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I told Priscilla that you were all either completely done or close enough so that she could give you the credit by the time the grades closed.  You are all in good shape and so the only work that is really left is on me.

Based on: The ART of Mentoring: George Mason University,, 2005



The process of mentoring worked well for us. She was able to see that I had the teaching skills needed to be an effective mentor (if I ever were to arrive at that position in my career). She was able to recognize and give feedback in the area of my own cognitive understanding of the material at hand, in this case, the process of on-line teaching and mentoring. Finally, my mentor had the opportunity to provide correction and redirection in the event I had gone off the mark in  my understanding of the on-line module.

 The Impact of On-line Learning on Traditional Teaching