Assessment of a University-Based Distance Education Mentoring Program from a Quality Management Perspective

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Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 19, No. 1, February 2011, 5–24.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors describe and evaluate the efficacy of a unique program designed to mentor university faculty in online instruction.

Program Design

The Distance Education Mentoring Program (DEMP) uses a rubric contained in Quality Matters, a faculty centered, peer-review process designed to certify the quality of online courses and their components (Maryland Online, 2006). Faculty members who have completed the Quality Matters certification process and have online teaching experience serve as mentors. The mentors engage with professors who are newer or less experienced in online education (protégés).

The authors proposed two hypotheses related to the DEMP:
H-1: Protégés’ perceptions of teaching improvement will be positively affected by the tools (level 3), principles (level 2), and fundamental elements (level 1) of the Pyramid Model that are incorporated into the DEMP.
H-2: Protégés will rate the psychosocial contributions of the DEMP higher than the career support contributions of the program.

Respondents
In this study, the authors focused on the protégés of the DEMP, all of whom are on the instructional staff at Purdue University Calumet holding academic ranks from instructor to full professor. Thirty-four individuals who completed the program between 2006 and 2009 and answered the anonymous questionnaire.

Discussion

The data show that the use of a process orientation in the program to foster quality improvement in an effort to achieve customer satisfaction results in protégés’ believing that their teaching improved.
These findings support hypothesis 1, which states that protégés’ perceptions of teaching improvement are affected by the quality elements incorporated into the design of the DEMP. The regression model, based on elements of QM, explains 83% of the variance in protégés’ perceptions of teaching improvement resulting from the DEMP.

In protégés’ view, the program had excellent mechanisms for communication and focused on continuous improvement. It also satisfied the quality needs of students, empowered participants, provided overall satisfaction to protégés, and measured the quality of work outcomes against objective standards.

Furthermore, the results associated with hypothesis 2 indicate that mentors in the DEMP provided protégés with more psychosocial support than career development support. Protégés reported that mentors established good rapport, engendered trust, shared information openly, devoted time to clarifying expectations, and exhibited strong interpersonal skills.
The data suggest that university faculty members need mentors who have the soft skills associated with psychosocial support more than technical expertise.

Implications for Professional Practice

The results of this study indicate that the DEMP is effective.

This has implications for those involved in university level programs designed to assist professors in the development of high-quality distance education courses.

First, knowing that a program such as the DEMP has bottomline benefits provides university decision makers with the information necessary to continue funding, and in the process, build quality faculty and online courses. Such benefits give an institution a distinct competitive advantage.

A second implication relates to the quality factors deemed most important to performance, the perceptions of teaching improvement.
The Findings suggest that the DEMP and similar faculty development programs should continue to emphasize those elements of quality.

A third implication relates to the importance of focusing on the process of mentoring, which consists of both psychosocial and career development functions.
When designing mentoring programs for professors and knowledge-based professionals, administrators should emphasize the psychosocial over the career development functions.

Reference
Maryland Online (2006). Quality Matters: Inter-institutional quality assurance in online learning. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from http://www.qualitymatters.org

Updated: May. 29, 2012
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