Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 1, No. 2 (2004)

DE Mentor: The challenge of supporting distance learners

Phillipa Sturgess, Central Queensland University, Australia
Mark Kennedy, Central Queensland University, Australia

Abstract

Peer mentoring programs have been used successfully in many institutions to improve the academic outcomes of first year and other at risk students. Central Queensland University (CQU) has extended this concept to address the challenge presented by its large cohort of distance education students. The DE Mentor program provides peer mentor support to distance education students enrolled with CQU. A crucial element in the success of such a program is the support given to the students who volunteer to act as mentors. While giving information and moral support to other students, the mentors also require information, advice and support in their new role. The mentors' geographical isolation from the university community introduces further challenges in providing appropriate support. This paper discusses strategies employed to enhance the support available to the mentors from the program coordinator and from other mentors. A range of communications options has been developed, including the use of a website incorporating chat rooms, discussion lists and participants' home pages. These encourage communications among mentors as well as with the coordinator. Information booklets have been developed for both mentors and mentees to help them understand the mentorís role, and to suggest strategies for maximising the mentor experience for all participants. Student evaluation of the program and of these developments is also discussed.

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