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eLearn Magazine: A Recap of the 18th Annual Sloan Consortium Conference on Online Learning


New Issue of JALN released, featuring 2011 Best in Track Award Winners.


Creating an Institutional Culture that Embraces Accessibility and Supports Online Student Success  - By Kristen Betts, Director of Online and Blended Learning, Armstrong Atlantic State University. Kristen Betts will be presenting “From Compliance to Culture: Building an Effective Infrastructure to Support Accessibility and Online Student Success” on October 11, 2012.


Online and On the Move - By Emily Boles, Senior Instructional Developer, University of Illinois, Springfield. Ray Schroeder will be presenting "Online and On the Move: Mobile Online Learning" on October 10, 2012.

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Today's Campus Highlights Sloan-C Annual Conference in Nov-Dec Issue

Missed the event? Purchase the full set of recordings now – 65+ sessions for just $119!

Download the Proceedings

View the pictures of the conference

Watch the keynote and plenary recordings:

Keynote Address: Democratizing Higher Education
Sebastian Thrun, VP & Fellow Google

Plenary Panel: Evolution or Revolution? What's Happening with Traditional Online Learning?
Jeff Young (The Chronicle of Higher Education, US) - Panel Moderator
Jose Cruz (The Education Trust, US)
Alan Drimmer (University of Phoenix, US)
Jack Wilson (University of Massachusetts, US)

Plenary Address: Citizen Science - Authentic Participation in Research
Arfon Smith (Citizen Science-Adler Planetarium, US)

Press Release: October 9, 2012
Sonic Foundry Partners with the Sloan Consortium to Webcast International Conference on Online Learning

Best in Track Awards Winners Announced. Read the Press Release.

Call for Presentations for the 2013 conference will open in February 2013.

Check out last year's conference.


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Save the Dates

22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Best Practices in Mentoring Online Students

Rebecca Johnston (Western Governors University, US)
Mitsu Phillips (Western Governors University, US)
Session Information
October 10, 2012 - 12:45pm
Student Services and Learner Support
Areas of Special Interest: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Extended Information Session
Asia 5
Session Duration: 
80 Minutes
Virtual Session
Best in Track

Western Governors University is utilizing the results of an internal survey to demonstrate best practices in mentoring online students to achieve academic success and satisfaction.

Extended Abstract

Western Governors University (WGU) provides every online student his or her own mentor. Maintaining phone contact at least every other week, the mentor guides his or her panel of students through the entire WGU experience. Mentors have significant impact on students' retention, academic performance, and satisfaction.

In the fall of 2010, Mentoring department leaders asked the question: "What makes our top performing mentors so successful in advancing student academic progress, retention, and student satisfaction?" A pilot study was developed and conducted in the spring of 2010 on approximately the top 10% of mentors determined by departmental key performance indicators.

This study explored the best practices in mentoring online students. Selected mentors completed an extensive survey, which includes both multiple choice questions a well as open ended questions. These mentors shared the practices that made them effective in keeping online students engaged, satisfied, and successful. Participants were kept anonymous to both departmental leaders and peers in order to encourage complete honesty in their descriptions of practice.

Subsequent to the 2010 pilot study, the fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012 surveys have improved upon that initial pilot study and used consistent questions and participant selection criteria. Study questions addressed demographic information, logistics and tools for working with online students, training that has been most valuable to mentors, skills and experiences that are most useful for mentors, and best practices for working with online students.

The findings from each survey have resulted in consistent data regarding key practices in advising and supporting online students:

• Demographics: The top performing mentors come from a variety of backgrounds. Participants were representative of every age group, educational background, and level of previous work-experience.
• Logistics and tools: Effective mentors use a variety of technology to maintain strong connections with their assigned students. Active use of the telephone and email is the most common; however, mentors also use social networking, instant messaging, screen sharing software, and video conferencing. In addition, mentors work non-standard hours from home offices to facilitate better contact for working and non-traditional students. The majority of survey respondents indicated they worked at least nine hours a week outside of standard business hours to accommodate their online students.
• Training Practices: WGU provides weekly training sessions on WGU processes and departments. They also offer mentors bi-annual internal conference trainings. Mentors focus most of their training on internal development opportunities, rather than pursuing external training and personal development.
• Valuable skills and experiences: These mentors felt the most important skills they brought to this role included interpersonal skills, organization and time management skills, written and oral communication skills, and ability to coach and motivate students. These mentors felt they started with these skills before becoming mentors, but that they had opportunities to hone and practice these skills as they worked with students.
• Best practices: Ninety-five percent of respondents set a standing, reoccurring appointment with each student. The majority of these appointments are scheduled for half an hour. During those appointments, mentors call the students and set short-term and long-term academic goal, commit students to completing course work, praise students' accomplishments, build a personal relationship with the student, help students navigate any WGU departments, and provide guidance in meeting requirements for any courses in the current term.

The results of the survey are published in total to the entire mentoring staff and leadership (participant names removed). The information gained as a result of these surveys guides training efforts, student success programs, hiring practice, and departmental expectations.

The success of these surveys has also resulted in the development of an accompanying study of the practices of top performing Course Mentors. Course Mentors are curriculum support experts for WGU students, and mentor them through specific course content as needed or required. Course Mentoring, unlike its "student" Mentoring counterpart, is in the early stages of best practice identification. It is anticipated that the results of this survey will provide valuable information for increasing the effectiveness of mentor training and student support.
In the presentation
, I will share the WGU mentoring model, invite audience questions and discussion regarding that model, describe key practices of effectiveness within the mentoring model, and provide an audience handout summarizing some key practices.

This presentation will introduce a model of support for online learners, as well as describe the lessons that Western Governor's University has learned from its top performing student and course mentors.

Lead Presenter

Rebecca Johnston has a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric from Texas Tech University. Her research interests include intersections of culture and technology, particularly as they relate to online education. She worked in the computer industry for IBM and then Iomega before coming to higher education. She currently works at Western Governors University where she coordinates mentoring projects and research efforts to understand and improve the online student experience.