Trade-Offs Between Perceptions of Success and Planned Outcomes in an Online Mentoring Program

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 19, No. 1, February 2011, 45–63.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors examined the relationship between mentees’ perceptions of success with the mentoring relationship, and their achievement of the intended outcomes of the program.

To examine the complexity of the relationship that can exist between students' satisfaction and students' learning, the authors report data from their own work with high school social studies students.

The authors argue that to do the best job possible for program participants, researchers must focus their attention on understanding the nature of the trade-offs in particular mentoring programs.
Next, the authors provide an analysis specifically aimed at understanding the design trade-offs at issue in a mentoring program at the early stages of its design and refinement.

Program Design

Tracking Canada’s Past was an experimental program designed and delivered between 2001 and 2004.
The chief design goal for Tracking Canada’s Past was to enhance students’ understanding of history as a way of knowing.
In Tracking Canada’s Past, the authors aimed to help 10th grade students develop more sophisticated ideas about the nature of historical knowledge and its origins (O’Neill et al., 2003).
Participating students worked with the guidance of volunteer mentors who participated online, via a secure forum.
Students were asked to write a research paper exploring how the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada’s first national railway, shaped a particular aspect of life in their community.
The students used whatever source material they could locate, either online or in local libraries and archives.

Student Participants
Data were collected from 72 students. Of these, 44 were female and 28 were male.
Fifty-three of the students were interested in attending university after graduation, 8 planned to attend vocational school, and the remaining 11 participants intended to work full time or had other plans.
Seventeen volunteer mentors were recruited from history museums and graduate programs in history to support the program.

Data Analysis
For this study, the authors pursued an explanatory sequential mixed-methods approach )Creswell, 2003) conducted in three phases.
The first phase focused on quantitative data from participant surveys and server logs of online activity.
The second phase of analysis examined data from a pre-post learning.
The third phase involved an analysis of data from participant interviews and focus groups.


Design Trade-Off 1: Priming Research Versus Priming Relationships
The first trade-off the authors discuss relates to the tension between the mentees’ need for work efficiency and their mentors’ mandate to make them exert the mental effort that might result in conceptual change.

Design Trade-Off 2: Assignments as Scaffolds Versus Assignments as Hurdles
The second trade-off relates to the tension the authors elaborated between mentees’ desires for specific, actionable and the difficulty of producing adequate visibility to make such advice possible.

Conclusion and Implications

Phases 1 and 2 of the study showed that in the case of Tracking Canada’s Past, the mentoring functions that correlated significantly with mentees’ perceptions of success were different from those that correlated with the learning gains targeted by the program.

Phase 3 identified two tensions in participants’ experiences and showed that the mentors and mentees were sometimes conscious of the design challenges inherent in the program.

The authors suggest that mentoring researchers might develop a body of research findings about which features of program designs tend to satisfy mentees in a particular setting, which features lead to the achievement of planned outcomes, and what the relationship is between satisfaction and planned outcomes.

O’Neill, K., Sohbat, E., Martin, A., Asgari, M., Lort, M., & Sha, L. (2003, April).
Sharing accountability through sharing our accounts: Piloting an on-line community for high school history learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Updated: Jun. 18, 2012