Editor’s Note: This is an interesting experiment in teacher-student communication and eMentoring. Results from this preliminary study are an impetus for further research.
eMentoring - Connecting Teacher Candidates
Of the five sections of the class that participated in the study, three sections, taught by the same professor, had been assigned to one school, while the other two sections, taught by two different professors, were assigned to a different school. Both schools were located in Philadelphia. The number and percent of students responding to the survey is provided in Table 1, broken down by professor. Response rates were not equal across all professors. In the case of Professor C, the low response rate was due to the fact that filling out the survey was given as an out-of-class assignment, while Professors A and B required students to complete the survey in class.
The majority of the teacher candidates, 85%, were female. Of the total teacher candidates, 56% were sophomores and 29% were juniors. There were a smaller number of freshmen or seniors, 8% and 7% respectively. Fifty-six percent of the candidates indicated that they were either solely elementary education majors, or were dual majors, combining elementary education, early childhood or special education. Thirty-one percent indicated they were secondary education majors. Other majors included early childhood or special education, with three teacher candidates indicating they were liberal arts majors or undeclared. Seventy percent of the teacher candidates came from a suburban school district, with only 7% coming from an urban school district and 21% coming from a rural district. The large majority reported that they were Caucasian, non-Hispanic, 95.3%. Of the remaining four candidates, three indicated that they were a mix of White/non-Hispanic and either Hispanic or Indian. One responded she was African-American.
In developing the survey, it was decided that it was important to provide teacher candidates with preset, rather than open-ended responses, to ensure uniformity of responses that would aid in our analyses. Responses from a previous semester were used to generate this response set. In this previous survey, teacher candidates had been asked the following open-ended questions: “How did participation in eMentoring change your perceptions of teaching in an urban setting?” and “How did participation in eMentoring help you to prepare to be a teacher?” The responses to this survey were sorted into categories and each category was then consolidated into one response, which was used on the final survey. A list of the response options is provided in Tables 1 and 3. Candidates were also provided with an “Other” category for those who wished to write their own responses. For the question pertaining to perception of the impact of eMentoring participation on teaching in an urban setting, candidates were required to choose only one response, while for the question dealing with the effect on helping them prepare to be a teacher, candidates were allowed to choose multiple responses.
The response options for two other questions were rating scales; a five-point rating scale was used for the attitude toward the Philadelphia School District, and a seven-point scale was used for the likelihood of considering working in the Philadelphia School District. The possible responses to these questions are provided in Tables 2 and 4. The response to the questions about whether eMentoring made the candidates aware of the impact of technology in the classroom were dichotomous, with either a “Yes,” or “No” response.
Once the survey was administered, percentages were calculated for the responses. The percentages are provided in the subsequent sections.
Possible responses regarding the effect of participation in eMentoring upon candidates’ views of teaching in an urban setting are provided in Table 2, along with the frequency that each response was chosen. Candidates could choose only one answer.
I realize I could enjoy teaching in an urban setting and make an impact.
It made me aware that teaching in an urban setting would challenge me as a teacher, but ultimately make me a better teacher.
My perceptions didn’t change because I had limited interactions with my student.
I am more aware of the difficulties of teaching in an urban setting.
I understand the unique challenges of teaching in an urban setting.
My perceptions didn’t change because I was already familiar with the issues related to teaching in an urban setting.
I feel a greater sense of responsibility for students in urban settings.
I now realize that urban schools are similar to all other schools.
I realize that teaching in an urban setting is safer than I thought.
The most frequent response was that the teacher candidate realized that he or she could enjoy teaching in an urban setting and that he/she could actually make an impact. Over one fifth of the teacher candidates chose this response after participating in the eMentoring program.
As stated previously, teacher candidates were only instructed to choose only one option on this portion of the questionnaire. It is likely that, if given the opportunity, candidates might have chosen more than one option. For example, the nineteen candidates who indicated that they realized they could enjoy teaching in an urban setting and make an impact may also have felt a greater sense of responsibility as well.
The teacher candidates’ views regarding their perceptions of the Philadelphia School District after participating in the eMentoring project are provided in Table 3. Teacher candidates were asked whether participation in eMentoring had caused their perception of the Philadelphia School District to improve a lot, improve a little, stay the same, worsen a little, or worsen a lot.
Improved a lot
Improved a little
Stayed the same
Worsened a little
Worsened a lot
Of the 86 who responded, 57% indicated that their perceptions of the Philadelphia School District had improved, with 16, or 18.6%, indicating that it had improved a lot. Only one candidate indicated that his or her perceptions had worsened, and only a little. The perceptions of 36 candidates stayed the same.
Teacher candidates were asked whether participation in eMentoring made them aware of the impact technology can have in the classroom. Of the 86 candidates, 57, or 66.3%, indicated that eMentoring made them aware of the impact technology can have.
Possible responses to the question pertaining to the impact of participation in eMentoring in helping one prepare to be a teacher are provided in Table 4, along with the percentages of those who answered “yes” to each of the questions. Candidates could choose more than one answer.
At least 50% of the teacher candidates indicated that participation in eMentoring made them aware of the diversity of students that existed, helped them feel good about their decision to be a teacher, made them aware of students and their interests, behaviors, knowledge and abilities, gave them a sense that they could have a positive impact on students, made them aware of what students are learning in school, and helped them learn how to interact with students who are different than they are.
It has made me aware of the diversity of students.
It made me feel good about my decision to be a teacher.
It has made me aware of students’ interests, behaviors, knowledge and abilities.
It showed me that I am able to have a positive impact on students.
It made me aware of what students are learning in schools.
It helped me learn to interact with students who are different than I am
It helped me learn how to communicate with students at their level.
It gave me confidence in my abilities as a prospective teacher.
It let me experience and understand urban education and its challenges.
It helped me to better understand what it is like to be a teacher.
It made me aware of the special needs of students in urban settings.
It helped me improve my teaching skills.
It did not help me because my student didn’t respond or responded very little.
It made me question my decision to be a teacher.
It did not help me because I’ve already participated in an e-Mentoring program.
Teacher candidates were asked whether, as a result of participation in eMentoring, their likelihood to consider working in the Philadelphia School District had changed. The responses are provided in Table 5.
Much more likely
Somewhat more likely
A little more likely
As likely as before
A little less likely
Somewhat less likely
A lot less likely
Over fifty percent of the respondents indicated that it made them more likely to consider working in the Philadelphia School District. Ten candidates, or 11.6%, indicated that it made them much more likely to consider working in Philadelphia. Only five or 5.8% were less likely to consider working in Philadelphia.
To address the question of whether teacher candidates from different demographic groups benefited differentially from eMentoring, a frequency count was conducted to assess differences in frequencies between groups. If sufficient variability were present, a formal chi-square analysis would be conducted.
For the demographic variables race, gender, and level of education, it was not possible to conduct a chi-square analysis due to insufficient variability; the sample was very homogenous. Type of District showed some variability as there were a significant number of students from both suburban and rural districts in the sample. However, due to the fact that there were only six students from urban districts, it was not possible to conduct a chi-square analysis to test for differences in frequencies, as chi-square requires at least five cases in each cell. Although no formal analysis was possible, the data suggests that there may be differences between responses by district. More data would need to be collected to confirm these results.
There were two variables where differences were suggestive. The distribution of responses to the statement, It made me aware of the diversity of students, are provided in Table 6 broken down by district. It would appear that those teacher candidates coming from suburban or rural districts are more likely to become aware of the diversity of students through eMentoring than those coming from an urban district. This would be expected since candidates from urban districts are more likely to have already been exposed to the types of students encountered in this eMentoring experience than those in the other districts. However, although this is a logical conclusion, it should again be stressed that these results are based upon only six students from urban districts. More data is needed.
Experience did not make them more aware of the diversity of students
Experience did make them more aware of the diversity of students
A similar relationship was found between district and the variable: It helped me learn to interact with students who are different than I am. The breakdown is provided in Table 7.
The effect of district seemed to increase going from urban to rural districts. Whereas the vast major of those who came out of an urban setting did not benefit in learning to interact with students who are different than they are, the vast majority of candidates from a rural school district did. Candidates from suburban districts fell in between. Again, these results are just suggestive need to be interpreted cautiously in light of the small number of students from urban districts. More data would need to be collected to verify this conclusion.
Type of District
Experience did not help them
Experience helped them
A number of teacher candidates appeared to benefit greatly from this eMentoring experience. Sixteen candidates indicated that their perceptions of the Philadelphia School District improved a lot, including 10 candidates who indicated that they were much more likely to consider working at the Philadelphia School District. To better understand who the candidates were who benefited most from the eMentoring experience, their profiles are described below. Because of the small numbers, this analysis was done informally, making any conclusions tentative.
For the most part these groups were similar to the sample as a whole. However, they differed in two distinct ways: 1) there were no freshmen and 2) there were no candidates from urban settings in either group. The lack of candidates from urban backgrounds could be explained by the fact that these candidates had already been exposed to an urban setting, as mentioned previously. That there were no freshmen in these groups might be explained by the fact that freshmen might not be ready for an experience such as eMentoring since they are just beginning to develop as teachers. This conclusion is suggestive, but not definitive, since it is only based upon seven teacher candidates. More research is needed.
The results of the analysis must be interpreted cautiously as the method that is being used is self-report. Assuming that the self-report is accurate, the data do seem to provide evidence to support the conclusion that participation in this project resulted in a more favorable attitude toward teaching in an urban setting, an improvement of perceptions of the Philadelphia School District and an increased interest in teaching there, a greater awareness of the impact technology can make in the classroom, an increased sensitivity and awareness of the diversity of students, as well as in an increased awareness of the needs of students and what they are learning. The eMentoring program seemed to benefit teacher candidates by providing them with an opportunity to interact with students who are different than they are. It appeared to help our teacher candidates learn to interact with students in general, and assisted in either reinforcing or questioning candidates’ decisions to become a teacher or helped them question that decision.
Overall the eMentoring program was considered a positive experience. However, teacher candidates from an urban district seemed less likely to benefit from participation than those from suburban or rural districts. It was also suggested that freshmen are less likely to benefit than teacher candidates from other levels.
These conclusions must be tempered by the limitations of the study. For one thing, not all teacher candidates responded to the survey. For example, only about one-half of the candidates in Professor C’s class completed the survey. Those who decided not to respond may have had a different attitude toward eMentoring. This could have potentially altered the outcome of this study. As mentioned above, the self-report nature of the study might have affected the results. There is the potential that students recognized the purpose of the study and responded positively on the follow-up survey as a way of fulfilling the researchers’ expectations. Since one of the researchers was their professor, perhaps they might have thought that by giving a positive response it would somehow help their grade, even though the survey was anonymous. And finally, the limited numbers of participants should be noted, particularly when trying to make conclusions about the effect of the type of district the student was from. A subsequent study that looked more closely at this variable is needed.
A significant number of the teacher candidates went to the school during the program and met the students. It is not clear at this point what effect actually interacting with the students in person versus interacting with the students online had upon the results of the study. Clearly, however, many teacher candidates viewed the use of technology as valuable. In future research, it would be important to try to determine whether the visitation of the school had a significant impact as opposed to not visiting the school.
The study suggests that the mentoring of students from a different background helps to begin to break down stereotypes that teacher candidates have acquired, helping them understand the students they are mentoring. Teaching candidates begin to see that it might be possible to teach and make an impact in an urban setting.
It should be noted that eMentoring can be valuable for all candidates, including those raised in an urban setting. It gives candidates experience as a mentor-teacher and makes them aware of what students are like and how to talk to them. Because of this interaction, candidates may be emboldened in their decision to be a teacher, or to call that decision into question.
Based upon the reactions of the teacher candidates, it can be concluded that an eMentoring experience has the potential to be a powerful virtual experience. This way of mentoring may have some advantages over an actual mentoring program. By using an electronic medium, teacher candidates can be exposed to a different culture in a way that is not threatening to them. Whereas they may be less willing to volunteer to physically mentor someone in an urban setting, they may be willing to do so from a computer, which allows them to remain in a familiar setting. While they may not have time to drive into Philadelphia to tutor, teacher candidates may find a few minutes to interact with a student on the computer, responding to the students on their schedule.
One important consideration in any eMentoring program is to assure that both mentors and those being mentored are actually interacting with one another. Mentors can only benefit from the experience if those who they are mentoring respond, and vice versa. Those in charge of an eMentoring program must ensure that all candidates and K-12 students are on task to guarantee the success of the program. However, even those with the best intentions may find that it is not possible to force candidates and students to interact.
The question that was used in the survey regarding working in the Philadelphia School District was phrased as asking whether participation in this eMentoring program increased the likelihood of candidates’ considering working in the district. However, even if a candidate were to respond positively to this question, there is no guarantee that this change will actually translate into employment in the Philadelphia School District. Attitudes were being measured, not behavior. Whether the attitude is translated into actual employment is not addressed in this study.
This school-university partnership is providing an opportunity for our teacher candidates to visit urban classrooms, work one-on-one with a K-12 student, and see for themselves the relevance and potential of technology integration. eMentoring enabled us to overcome the time and place constraints that can hamper traditional field placements. Physical proximity and class schedules are often used as the criteria for selecting field placements. This can have a very limiting effect on the kind of field experiences teacher education programs can provide.
Providing teacher candidates with an initial urban field experience through electronic mentoring has been a relative success. It would be very beneficial to expand such a program so that all West Chester University teacher candidates can experience this. Ultimately our goal is to prepare quality teachers ready to teach ALL students. This article provides some evidence for the benefits of eMentoring, although more research needs to be done. Other teacher preparation programs may be encouraged by the possibilities of eMentoring, and may wish to take a closer look at developing such a program. eMentoring allowed us to provide a valuable authentic urban experience for our teacher candidates, while supporting the development of traditionally disadvantaged K-12 urban classrooms.
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The authors would like to express our appreciation to The School District of Philadelphia for its support, without which this eMentoring program could not have happened. In particular, we wish to thank Diane Maguire, educational technologist for the southwest region of the School District of Philadelphia, Anibal Soler, the principal of Patterson Elementary School, Veronica Alston, principal of Turner Middle School, Maury Hutlemyer and Carrie Duarte, lead teachers at Patterson Elementary School, and all the classroom teachers who have participated in this eMentoring project. We also want to thank IBM for their continued financial and logistic support. Specifically, we acknowledge Diane Melley and Trap Jervay for their help in maintaining the MentorPlace interface. Finally, we wish to thank Dr. Marlene Goss for initiating and supervising this eMentoring program over the last three years, as well as Dr. John Kinslow for his participation in this eMentoring program.
Dr. Chris Penny is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. A graduate of Penn State University with a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction, Dr Penny is a 2008 Google Certified Teacher and 2007 Apple Distinguished Educator. His efforts in teaching and research have the focus of technology integration into K-12 schools and teacher education.
Dr. David Bolton has his Ph.D. in Research and Testing from Florida State University and his master's degree in Research and Statistical Methodology from Andrews University. Before coming to West Chester University. David worked with the state of Florida as a psychometrician developing licensure examinations. He teaches Evaluation and Measurement, Introduction to Educational Technology Integration, Research Methods, and Assessment for Counselors. He is the co-founder, with Dr.Randall Rieger, of the West Chester Statistics Institute, providing research and statistics help to WCU facultiy and staff, as well as to outside organizations. His area of expertise is instrument development and research design. A primary area of research interest is assessing attitudes toward and use of educational technology in education.