College begins online mentoring

All teachers in New Jersey are required to have a mentor during their first year in the classroom. Some elementary education majors at the College are already working with mentors, but not in the traditional face-to-face manner. Instead, they interact with them through the Internet.

Online mentoring, or e-mentoring, uses the Internet to connect a student to his or her mentor. It was introduced to the College to test a new method of mentoring. The mentors themselves are teachers experienced in the field who share their expertise with students.

“I received a grant from the New Jersey and the United States departments of education to study online mentoring and to design a research study, the results of which will inform state policy,” Sharon Sherman, elementary and early childhood education professor, said. “Officials at the New Jersey Department of Education wanted to see if online mentoring would be an effective means of delivering mentoring to novice teachers.”

The online mentoring program allows students to submit lesson plans to well-known local experts in math and science teaching for feedback.

“The mentors are good teachers and content experts in either math or science,” Kenneth Maskell, project manager of the New Jersey statewide system initiative regional center, said. He said that since there was a shortage of math and science teachers on a national as well as state-wide level, these subjects were the focus of the grant.

The grant requires students to use TaskStream, a Web-based program, to submit their lesson plans.

Through TaskStream, students can formulate every aspect of their lesson plans step by step. They can also attach files such as grading rubrics or worksheets to the plans before sending them to the mentors.

Although students in the program are evaluated by their math and science lesson plans, TaskStream allows students to submit any kind of lesson plan.

“All students participating in the study, whether they have a mentor or not, can use TaskStream,” Maskell said. “The difference will be that some students won’t have the online mentor to get feedback from.”

Not all elementary education students are participating in this program. The department randomly selected classes.

“We worked with professors and students to randomly assign them to treatment and control groups,” Sherman said. “The treatment groups are paired with experts in science or mathematics. The control groups submit lesson plans without the input of these experts.”

The program’s success will be evaluated by comparing the lesson plans of the students in the e-mentoring program with those of the non-participating students.

“We will collect approximately 700 lesson plans from both the treatment and control groups,” Sherman said. “And using a reliable and valid instrument, a team of researchers, (we) will assess the lesson plans to determine whether there are differences between the mentored and the non-mentored groups.”

If the program is a success, the study will have implications for state policy and will be adopted by the state board as an option, Sherman said.

Although it is still early in the semester, there is already a difference in the students’ attitudes and lesson plans.

“There is a great deal of enthusiasm,” Carroll said. “They use the resource when they have questions, and they feel more competent. The lesson plans I’m getting are better (than in years past). They are well-formatted and very thorough.”

Maskell, who trained students in the use of TaskStream, had a similar reaction.

“By the end of the first day (of training), 20 percent of students had already done something through TaskStream,” Maskell said.

As well as being less costly and quicker than face-to-face mentoring, e-mentoring has the advantage of being more relevant to this generation.

“This is the e-generation,” Sherman said. “Educators need to connect with students in the ways that they learn and the ways that they live. E-mentoring makes a lot of sense because college students are technologically savvy and it is an important part of their lives. We need to be aware of our students’ lives and connect with them.”