The impact of the cooperative mentorship model on faculty preparedness to develop quality online courses in Higher Education

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This qualitative study examined the faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of working cooperatively with instructional designers. In addition, this study explored the factors impacting the design and development of high-quality online courses.

Presenters

Larisa A. Olesova, Ph.D., is Senior Instructional Designer and Adjunct Faculty at George Mason University. Her research focuses on distance education, specifically asynchronous online learning environments.

Additional Authors

Susan Campbell offers instructional design, technology, and professional development consultations as part of the Instructional Design team within Mason’s Division of Instructional Technology. For over 30 years she has served in various roles including instructional designer, instructional technologist, technical writer, and trainer.

Extended Abstract

Research Problem

University faculty increasingly need new skills and knowledge to design, develop, and implement high-quality online instruction as online programs and courses become more popular in higher education. Working cooperatively with instructional designers could satisfy their needs. Moreover, cooperation based on the principles of the Cooperative Mentorship Model developed by instructional designers at Mason can lead to the development of online courses of greater quality.

The model is based on the principles of mentorship where the instructional designer (“mentor”) mentors the university faculty (“mentee”) who is new to asynchronous online course design, development, and teaching. Use of the term “cooperative” reflects the structured and planned process used of dividing the four main phases up between mentor and mentee. The model phases include planning, producing, and teaching an online course. The fourth phase “assessment” involves faculty creating a portfolio, receiving feedback, re-designing as needed, and assessing their own ability to independently produce an online course in the future.

 

Literature Review

 

Following the work of Barczyk, Buckenmeyer, Feldman, and Hixon (2011), this study defines mentorship as “a deliberate pairing of a more skilled or experienced person with a lesser skilled or experienced one, with the agreed-upon goal of having the lesser skilled person grow and develop specific competencies” (p.9). Previous studies have examined the effectiveness of mentoring in higher education (Buckenmeyer, Hixon, Barczyk, & Feldman, 2013; Vaill & Testori, 2012). The studies found that mentorship provided a positive experience through faculty-to-faculty instruction. Faculty members were satisfied with the mentoring approach because it assisted with course design and increased their preparedness to teach online (Vaill & Testori, 2012). While literature provides studies of faculty-to-faculty mentoring in the development and teaching of online courses, it has not identified any studies or conceptual works on instructional designer-to-faculty mentoring. This study is an attempt to fill this gap by providing evidence on the effectiveness of instructional designers mentoring faculty members to develop and teach online courses based on the principles of the Cooperative Mentorship Model.

 

 

 

Methodology

The research questions are the following: (1) what are the faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of working cooperatively with instructional designers? and (2) what factors impacted the design and development of high-quality online courses? A phenomenological approach was considered as the most appropriate to understand a phenomenon by describing faculty members’ perceptions on their experiences working cooperatively with mentors.   Phenomenology explores both individual and shared meanings to determine the differences and similarities of the perceptions.

In this study, the two faculty members completed all phases of the mentorship model to develop and teach an online course as part of a grant from the Office of Distance Education at George Mason University. One faculty member, Don, was from Bioinformatics with previous experience teaching traditional courses and online synchronous courses. The other faculty member, Bob, was from Communication without previous experience developing and teaching an online course. However, he had extensive experience teaching in the traditional classroom. Both faculty members were male and approximately the same age (mid-40s). Before working with instructional designers both faculty members used the Blackboard Learning Management System as a repository for their instructional resources. They didn’t use Blackboard as an online platform for students’ engagement and interaction.

A set of 10 questions were developed for semi-structured interviews. The researchers of this study were the instructional designers who worked with the two interviewed faculty.   The questions were created based on the phases of the model to reveal the faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of working cooperatively with a mentor. The questions were also created to reveal factors impacting the design and development of high-quality online courses.  The questions asked about faculty expectations before they began to work with their mentors;  how designing and developing planning materials impacted their vision of their future online courses; how the mentorship helped them decide on the approach to use for the activities and assignments; and how the mentorship impacted their technology skills. Other questions focused   on organizational issues including meeting arrangements, availability of the resources, and the average time they spent on the course design and development. Finally, the questions asked whether they were confident in terms of independently developing another online course.

Two interviews were reviewed and coded. To remain unbiased, the researchers interviewed each other's mentees. First, based on the codes created, the emerging themes were developed. Second, because the primary interest was in the mentees’ perceptions of the effectiveness of working cooperatively with their mentors, the portions of the interviews concerning these issues were isolated.  Data files were created for each mentee and interviews were copied and pasted into relevant cells regarding elements of relevance to the research questions. The themes were continually revised until they captured all portions of the data set. Next, the emerging themes were examined for each of the two mentees and compared to finalize themes. This study used an interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) which is applicable for the analysis of relatively small sample sizes (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). IPA helped examine the convergence and divergence within the sample in some detail (Smith et al., 2009). The two cases were explored and the researchers found the two faculty members represented a homogeneous group based on the criteria they identified.

 

Results

The results indicated that the mentees had positive perceptions about the effectiveness of cooperative mentorship. They improved not only their skills to develop online courses but they also improved their teaching strategies. The following themes have emerged to answer the first question: (1) relevancy refers to the mentees’ ability to align resources and instructional strategies with learning outcomes based on the nature of their courses. For example, in this study, Don selected a relevant instructional strategy (synchronous online discussions) based on his need to increase the speed of communication in his course. However, based on the nature of the course in Communication, Bob was more interested in effective delivery of his instructional materials (e.g., video interviews with experts to help students write effective critical reviews); (2) efficiency refers to the best use of time related to the tasks that need to be completed. The two mentees had different perspectives related to efficiency. Don discussed efficiency from the standpoint of how the mentor helped him streamline development of his technology skills while Bob talked about efficient use of instructional resources; and (3) competence refers to the mentees’ ability to apply newly acquired skills to the development of online courses. For Don, competence referred to his ability to apply instructional design strategies to increase students’ interaction. For Bob, competence meant being able to select and apply appropriate tools to increase students’ engagement.

The following themes have emerged to answer the second question: (1) motivation refers to the reason for participating in and completing the mentorship (e.g., expectations, funding, departmental goals, and personal interest). For example, the two faculty members had different expectations. While Don “underestimated” the differences between classroom instruction and an online course, Bob had realistic expectations about the differences and the time involved; (2) open-mindedness refers to the mentees’ willingness to consider options outside of their current practice. Don and Bob were similar in their willingness  to consider new instructional approaches. However, their open-mindedness was demonstrated in two different ways. Don adjusted instructional approaches in his course while Bob started from scratch; and (3) working relations can be described as the building of trust between the mentor and mentee. Don and Bob built effective working relations with their mentors as indicated by the following comments about their mentors: “extremely accomodating,” “pleasure to work with,” and “tremendous positive impact.”

Discussion

The results revealed that the Cooperative Mentorship Model is an effective mentoring approach where the instructional designer mentors the university faculty who is new to asynchronous online course design, development, and teaching. The model promotes faculty professional development and encourages instructional designers to serve as models and coaches of strategies and ideas aimed at improving online instruction.   

The study indicated that motivated mentees are more likely to build strong working relations with their mentors. Similarly to Glazer & Hannafin (2006), this study found that open-mindedness is a valued factor to develop a high quality online course. The results also revealed that the mentors provided accommodations for their mentees, which facilitated the formation of mentees’ competence. These findings support previous research where mentors provided professional development and psychological support to establish good rapport and trust with their mentees (Barczyk et al., 2011).

Similar to the study conducted by Buckenmeyer et al. (2013), this study also revealed the quality factors deemed most important to performance. In this study, the mentees were competent in their abilities to select relevant instructional strategies and tools to teach an online course. Also the interview data indicate that participation in the mentorship positively impacted the way they designed, developed, and taught their courses (Buckenmeyer et al., 2013). Overall, the mentees reported high satisfaction working cooperatively with their mentors, felt their teaching improved, and were able to apply what they learned during mentoring to their teaching more broadly (Buckenmeyer et al., 2013).