Exploring online mentoring with preservice teachers in a pandemic and the need to deliver quality education

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May 24, 2021

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education Vol. 10 No. 2, 2021 pp. 203-215

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study took place at a highly competitive foundation university whose administration took the initiative and shifted the school experience course, an important, observation-based course of the practicum period in the teacher education program, to the online platform.
Preservice teachers (PTs) were appointed to K-12 schools where online education was conducted.
PTs were assigned to different classes and made online observations in their mentors’ classes.
It was the first time that the collaborating teachers had to assume the role of online mentoring, though they were experienced with the expectations of face-to-face mentoring.
This paper presents PTs’ online mentoring experiences along with their expectations from online mentors and university supervisors (USs).
During the pandemic, the foundation university of the present study took a quick step and announced that the PTs would participate in the online classes in the practicum schools as soon as the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) announced the start of the distance education at the K-12 levels.
PTs were given the opportunity of observing online teaching and learning two hours a week.
Although they would spend a full day at schools in face-to-face education, one hour of online observation was still meaningful as an urgent action taken to prevent a learning crisis. Thus, the present study attempted to explore mentoring experience on online education from the PTs’ perspectives.

Design and methodology
The study was conducted in 2020 in the Spring semester at the English as a Foreign Language Teacher Education program of a highly competitive foundation university in Istanbul. Thirty-five PTs who were enrolled in the school experience course participated on a voluntary basis.
They were assigned to the practicum sites in Istanbul by their university supervisor (US) before the pandemic.
These sites were private K-12 schools run by the same foundation of the university.
The PTs were interviewed before and after they completed school experience on distance education.
First, the USs, who are also the authors, conducted informal focus group interviews with the PTs right after the three-week education break.
The PTs expressed high levels of anxiety and panic, as anticipated, about the lack of school experience and mentoring.
With the quick response by their university supporting education continuity, the PTs were able to start online observations almost at the same time the practicum schools started distance education.
This was a unique case in that due to the pandemic mentoring programs and courses were canceled at state universities and state practicum schools but not at this foundation university, the setting that the present study took place.
Then, after the eight-week online observation period, the USs conducted 30-minute focus group interviews with the PTs in groups of five to explore their overall opinions about online mentoring.
In focus group interviews, the PTs were first asked to describe the online observation process in detail.
They were encouraged to describe their relationship with their online mentors and to exemplify this relationship with concrete incidents where appropriate and necessary, commenting on the positive and negative aspects of the online mentoring.
In the interviews, PTs felt free to talk about their feelings and thoughts about the online observation experience and the mentoring process.
Data were analyzed using pattern coding as suggested by Miles et al. (2013).

Findings and discussion
Findings revealed that the PTs believed that the mentors partially fulfilled their mentoring functions similar to the findings of Erol and Ozdemir (2018).
The mentors were not able to follow the steps of face-to-face mentoring, let alone online mentoring.
They were not able to regard online mentoring as their priority.
There could be several reasons for this:
One major reason might be that the mentors themselves could have felt unguided and disconnected because of the emergency online education.
Not surprisingly, they were trying to cope with their own teaching due to the crisis so some might have seen PTs as a waste of time or extra errands to run once a week.
The second reason could be the inadequacy of the mentorship training program.
In-service teachers who have certificates to be mentors so far were trained for face-to-face mentoring.
The training provides guidance to mentors on the amount and quality of feedback and the importance of working collaboratively, but it does not include anything about online mentoring. Although a good attempt, the training was proven to be insufficient in online education.
The third and the final reason could be that the mentors might have seen distance or online education as an obstacle for giving effective mentoring.
Thus, this research supports and extends the small amount of existing research by suggesting that the existing face-to-face mentorship training program should be revisited.
The expectations listed by the PTs reinforced the necessity of the mentorship training and paved the way for this back-up plan.
Continued virulence of the coronavirus shows that there is an urgent need to restructure mentoring; that is, turning it to an online version.
Mentors need to be equipped with knowledge and skills to provide online mentoring.
Faculty members, researchers and in-service teacher trainers could provide such training.
Although faculty already provides guidance to mentors from time to time, more guidance is required.
Some suggestions to be integrated in the mentorship training program to improve quality online education could be as follows.
To begin with, the program should include aspects to overcome online mentoring challenges such as likelihood of miscommunication, slower development of interpersonal relationships, incompetency in technical skills or coldness of the medium.
These challenges can be greatly reduced with proper training to mentors (Ensher et al., 2003).
Providing ongoing online support to PTs, instead of a one-shot model, is a prerequisite for a positive online mentoring relationship.
Misunderstandings, frustrations or feelings of neglect can be overcome by more contact with PTs.
Transfer of knowledge and learning can be improved and reinforced by online interactions.
Following the social constructivist paradigm, PTs can be given a chance for self-inquiry (Leshen, 2012).
In today’s world, the internet is neither an obstacle nor a cold medium but a convenient one beyond time and space boundaries.
These points could be underlined and practiced in the training.
In the program, mentors could be encouraged to use multiple online communication contexts (Baranik et al., 2017) to develop a rapport with PTs, to increase their comfort level and to enhance their professional identity and ownership.
Findings also indicated that USs as academic teaching staff should include more samples of online teaching in their theory-based courses, such as watching and examining video recordings of authentic online classes.
Reports shared during the pandemic revealed that teachers all over the world had problems with technology integration and student engagement in online classes.
Although PTs take several technology-related courses in the four-year teacher education programs and they learn about computer-assisted language learning (CALL), synchronous language classes conducted through digital platforms such as Zoom are relatively new.
The crisis has shown that technology integration, effective material preparation and material manipulation for online courses should be part of any course in the existing teacher education program.
The PTs’ online observation and mentoring experience was good in that they received sufficient contextual and technological support from their mentors.
What did not go well for the PTs in online mentoring was the amount of professional support provided.
It was limited due to the lack of micro-teaching opportunities and the confusion that the mentors themselves were trying to handle because of the pandemic.
Predominantly, the PTs had some expectations from both their online mentors and their USs.
The PTs expected their mentors to spend more time with, and energy on, them.
Also, they expected their USs to control the coordination at the practicum schools and demonstrate more online class samples in their theory-based lectures at the university.

References
Baranik, L.E., Wright, N.A. and Reburn, K.L. (2017), “Mentoring relationships in online classes”, The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 34, pp. 65-71.
Ensher, E.A., Heun, C. and Blanchard, A.L. (2003), “Online mentoring and computer-mediated communication: new directions in research”, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Vol. 63, pp. 264-288.
Erol, Y. and Ozdemir, T. (2018), “Investigation of school-based mentoring and self-efficacy beliefs of pre-service teachers”, Abant Izzet Baysal University Journal of Faculty of Education _ , Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 874-894
Leshem, S. (2012), “The many faces of mentor-mentee relationships in a pre-service teacher education programme”, Creative Education, Vol. 3 No. 4, pp. 413-421.
Miles, M.B., Huberman, A.M. and Saldana, J. (2013), Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook, 3rd ed., Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California, CA. 

Updated: Sep. 03, 2021
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