Mentoring University Faculty: The Cooperative Mentorship Model

Author Information
Larisa Olesova
Susan Campbell
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
George Mason University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
George Mason University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

This practice offers the use of a mentorship approach to help university faculty enhance their skills to develop high-quality online courses. The use of a mentorship approach is very important, especially, at a time when more and more faculty members need new skills to design, develop, and implement online courses. This mentorship practice is based on the principles of cooperation between an instructional designer and a university faculty member where the instructional designer is a mentor and the university faculty member is a mentee. While literature provides studies of faculty-to faculty collaboration in the development of online courses, it has not identified any studies or conceptual works where mentoring relationships have been applied in relation to instructional designers and university faculty. Thus, this practice can shed light on the existing gap in the literature and in the field of online teaching and learning.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The 2017 survey of Faculty Attitude on Technology conducted by Insider Higher Ed reported a low percentage of partnerships between university faculty and instructional designers for online course development. Experts said it is not a surprise because instructional designers are usually underutilized and their roles are not clear in higher education. This practice suggests the Cooperative Mentorship Model which is built on the principles of cooperation between instructional designers and university faculty. Following Barczyk, Buckenmeyer, & Feldman (2010) and Glazer & Hannafin (2006), this practice 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” (cited by Barczyk et al, 2010, p.11). In our mentorship model, the instructional designer (“mentor”) mentors the university faculty member (“mentee”) who is new to online course design, development, and implementation. Use of the term “cooperative” reflects the structured and planned process used of dividing the four main phases up between mentor and mentee. The four phases include (1) planning, (2) production, (3) implementation, and (4) portfolio assessment. Planning is the phase when the mentor introduces the mentee to the instructional design planning process (i.e., needs analysis and aligning learning outcomes and assessment). Production is the phase when the mentor guides the mentee through the design and development process. In this model, the mentee usually completes the planning and production tasks while the mentor facilitates their completion through coaching, scaffolding, and tutoring. The production phase also includes members of the online course network, such as the Multimedia Specialist, Liaison Librarian, Distance Education Librarian, Registrar’s Office, Assistive Technology Initiative Office, Copyright Resources Office, Media Services Librarian, Blackboard Administrators, and GMU-TV, George Mason’s television station. Implementation is the phase when the mentor coaches the mentee through a real teaching process in a semester-long piloted online course. Portfolio assessment is the final phase when the mentee masters teaching skills after finishing piloting the online course and becomes a mentor himself/herself. By the end of this phase, an assessment specialist usually reviews portfolio materials submitted by the mentee. The portfolio includes a teaching reflection, course materials, and the results of the end-of-semester student evaluations.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Learning effectiveness and faculty satisfaction : Faculty (n=11) who completed the program through the Cooperative Mentorship model were selected and interviewed on learning effectiveness and their satisfaction working with instructional designers as their mentors. The faculty members were selected from different disciplines, such as Communication, Engineering, Linguistics, Biochemistry, Business, Management, and Education. Among the 11 faculty members who were interviewed for this practice, four faculty members were in leadership positions but still teaching online; one was term faculty; two were adjunct faculty; three were tenure-track faculty, and one was a graduate teaching assistant. The faculty shared that their motivation to develop high-quality online courses increased during the mentorship relations because of clear expectations, funding, alignment with departmental goals, and their personal interest. During mentorship relations, the faculty also learned that they need to consider options outside of their current practice in order to produce high-quality courses. The faculty also shared their satisfaction working with instructional designers. They were able to develop several skills including the ability to (1) align resources and instructional strategies with learning outcomes based on the nature of their courses; (2) apply time management methods related to the tasks that needed to be completed, and (3) apply newly acquired skills to the development of online courses. The mentorship provided by instructional designers who guided faculty through the design and development process contributed to faculty satisfaction.
Student satisfaction : Students’ end-of-semester evaluations were analyzed for those 11 faculty members who were interviewed for this practice. The data were compared between fall 2012 when the faculty taught in face-to-face and fall 2017 after they had taught online for at least three years after completing the mentorship partnership with instructional designers. Items such as clarity of course expectations, interaction with the course instructor (feedback), and interaction with peers (online discussions) were compared across two semesters. Taking into account that other factors might have impacted their teaching of online courses, we averaged evaluation scores for all interviewed faculty to check the patterns of improvement. The clarity of course expectations improved on a Likert-scale from 4.3 out of 5.0 to 4.7 out of 5.0 which shows the mentorship probably had an impact and improved teaching practice. Interaction between the students and instructor increased when feedback was received from fall 2012 (4.3 out of 5.0) to fall 2017 (4.5 out of 5.0). This means the mentorship probably helped faculty learn how to provide on-time feedback in online courses. The item on interaction with peers when students participated in online discussions also slightly increased from 4.5 out of 5.0 to 4.7 out of 5.0. This increase may show the mentorship helped faculty members create interactive online discussions that students rated higher than in-class discussions in fall 2012.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access : George Mason University is one of the largest public universities with enrollment of more than 33, 000 students. The institution has six instructional designers (five full-time and one part-time) who work for the Office of Digital Learning. The faculty are usually responsible for the course content, assessment, and course construction in the learning management system (Blackboard). In their work with faculty, instructional designers guide and help them through the instructional design and course development process. All university faculty including tenure track faculty, term faculty, adjunct faculty, and graduate teaching assistants can participate in a variety of initiatives to enhance their online teaching skills. University departments and schools can submit proposals to participate in the development of online programs with financial support from the Office of Digital Learning. Other initiatives include the Online Course Development Institute, a variety of instructor-led workshops, self-paced workshops, and Faculty Conversations monthly meetings. All these initiatives provide instructional design support that any university faculty member can use to enhance online teaching skills.
Scale : In 2010, George Mason University initiated a partnership between the Distance Education Office (now the Office of Digital Learning) and the Instructional Design Group from the Information Technology Unit (now, Information Technology Services). Together, the two units created a formal, structured process for supporting individual online course development. In 2012, the University’s strategic initiative to create online pathways for students to complete the general education requirements in high-demand disciplines led to a call for online program proposals. In 2013, the instructional designers began to work with groups of instructors with the goal of offering entire programs online while still working with instructors on individual courses. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 236 faculty across different disciplines enrolled and completed the initiative by working with their assigned instructional designers. Later, in 2016, a new unit called the Office of Digital Learning was formed by uniting former the Distance Education Office and the group of instructional designers under the same roof. Since 2016, the Office of Digital Learning has been closely working with four online programs to support more than 60 faculty in the design and development of online courses for online programs.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Learning Management System (i.e., Blackboard in this practice)

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

There are actually no costs associated with the distribution of this practice. Costs in terms of instructional designers’ time and resources mentoring faculty can be in consideration. Other costs may depend on the institutional infrastructure and instructional design initiatives.

References, supporting documents: 

Barczyk, C., Buckenmeyer, J., Feldman, L., & Hixon, E. (2011). Assessment of a university-based distance education mentoring program from a quality management perspective. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 19(1), 5-24.
Blessinger, P., Cozza, B., & Cox, M.D. (2015). Principles of effective faculty learning communities in higher education: A qualitative analysis of faculty participation, Learning Communities Journal, 7, 117-152.
Buckenmeyer, J., Hixon, E., Barczyk, C., & Feldman, L. 2013). Does participation in a faculty distance education program comprehensively improve teaching methods? International Journal on e-Learning, 12(2), 139-152.
Dimeo, J. (2017, November 1). Why instructional designers are underutilized. Retrieved from
Glazer, E.M., & Hannafin, M.J. (2006). The collaborative apprenticeship model: Situated professional development within school settings. Teaching and Teacher Education, 22, 179-193.
Richardson, J., Ashby, I., Alshammari, A., Cheng, Z., Johnson, B., & Lee, D. (2017, November 6-11). Faculty and instructional designers on building successful collaborative relationships. Association for Educational Communications and Technology International Convention, Jacksonville, FL.
Vaill, A.L., & Testori, P.A. (2012). Orientation, mentoring and ongoing support: A three-tiered approach to online faculty development. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2), 111-119.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Larisa Olesova
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Susan Campbell
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