How did 8.02 create an online mentoring program?
Written by Melissa Cao
The shift to online learning this past spring presented many challenges to students. Of particular concern are our most vulnerable students, as research has shown that they are often most negatively impacted in online learning. In 8.02, a General Institute Requirement (GIR) physics class that all students must take to graduate, a one-on-one mentoring program was introduced to improve self-efficacy and STEM identity of students who were struggling to pass the class after the first exam. Professor Ed Bertschinger delivered a webinar on Tuesday, July 7 about the 8.02 mentoring program, talking more about the implementation of the program and its promising results.
What is mentoring and how does it help?
Belonging, self-efficacy, and STEM identity are important psychological factors in learning, and mentorship helps with these aspects. Mentoring is not tutoring, though it can include tutoring; rather, mentoring is a professional working alliance where individuals work together over time to support the personal and professional development of the mentee. Effective mentorship includes psychological/emotional support, role modeling, and skill development; mentees benefit most from engaging with a mentor who shares values and has deep-level similarity with them. It is only after emotional support and role modeling are established that skill development can truly blossom in a mentoring relationship. If you are interested in learning more about mentoring in STEM, check out the National Academies report “The Science of Effective Mentoring in STEMM.
Results from the 8.02 mentoring program
Among the students who had <70% in 8.02 before remote learning, those who opted into the mentoring program improved their final scores by an average of 8.6 points compared to those who did not. This “mentoring boost” resulted in only two students failing in the group that initially scored <70% and opted for mentoring, compared to 12 students failing in the group that also initially scored <70% and did not opt for mentoring. It is important to note though that this was not a randomized, controlled study because participants opted into the mentoring program themselves, and there were also confounding factors such as motivation and effort.
However, it does appear that the mentoring program improved mentees’ academic performance along with their self-efficacy and STEM identity. There was also high satisfaction among both mentors and mentees. Mentees reported that they appreciated the psychosocial support their mentors provided, and the program made students feel like 8.02 was doable and even exciting as they worked through problems with their mentor. Students also reported having a more positive attitude towards physics, which all align with the program’s original goals.
Implementing the mentoring program
The 3 key steps taken to implement the 8.02 mentoring program involved mentor training, community of practice, and assessment.
The 8.02 mentoring program had 23 mentors (with additional mentors held in reserve) and 88 mentees who attended at least 3 sessions. For mentor training, mentors went through a practice workshop where they watched 4 brief mentor/mentee skits and discussed them with each other, and then roleplayed in groups as the mentor, mentee, and observer to provide different perspectives. Mentors also looked at sample mentoring compacts, which are agreements between mentors and mentees to set expectations and goals for their relationship.
For the community of practice, mentors had weekly 60-minute meetings online to share experiences and learn from each other. This provided equal footing for all mentors regardless of whether they were faculty, staff, or students. This even had the added benefit of boosting undergraduate TAs’ sense of STEM identity and community, as they were able to work on a professional level with physics faculty and staff.
For assessment, the program was designed to allow for both qualitative and quantitative feedback. In terms of quantitative feedback, mentees’ assignment scores were available to the mentoring program coordinator. In terms of qualitative feedback, mentees were asked to fill out a variety of surveys and mentors participated in interviews. All 8.02 students also received a post-semester survey along with the course evaluations.
The 8.02 mentoring program met goals of improving mentee performance as well as their self-efficacy and STEM identity. The program also established a community of practice for mentors, and both mentors and mentees reported high satisfaction with the program. The accountability created by having weekly scheduled meetings was good for mentees, and a lot of the learning gain may have come from increased conceptual understanding rather than the development of general problem solving skills. Additionally, 1:1 mentoring was more effective than group mentoring because the 1:1 relationship allowed students to be more vulnerable in sharing their challenges.
The 8.02 mentoring program is adaptable to other settings. The success of the program provides hope for the implementation of a similar program in a different context to help more students. A planning guide and training materials are currently available with an evaluation report coming soon.