Yesterday I went to a forum about mentoring, organised by the uni’s retention people (their proper name is Student Transition and Retention Team, or START – well done, whoever came up with that acronym :p). I was there to talk about Computing’s mentoring scheme, but also to pick up whatever tips I could. Here are some of the things I picked out as important, mixed in with some ideas for improvements, stream-of-consciousness style, in no particular order:
- Outreach, orientation and mentoring are all things that help retention – outreach lets the kids know what we’re actually about, so that when they come to uni they’ve made a more informed choice to be there, in that course; a good orientation program helps you to set your students up for success, by telling and showing them the things they need to know, and by helping them get to know some people (peers and staff); and mentoring is where you deal with individual problems/difficulties as they come up, and stopping your students from falling through the cracks in the system. It all seems to be about making sure that the students have the information that they need, about courses, expectations, where to go and what to do, and what to do when problems come up.
- Following on from that, mentoring, or at least contact with mentors, should start at orientation. And not just standing the mentors up the front of the intro lecture while you talk about the mentoring scheme, but actual interaction between students and mentors.
- While interaction between mentors and mentees should definitely include face-to-face interaction, some form of electronic communication, probably in the form of a forum, would be beneficial for reaching/enabling students who are uncomfortable with “real life” communication. We need to try to develop our students’ communication skills, but still keeping a safer/easier communication method available for them to use in the mean time. This forum (or whatever), should have a mechanism for posting both private messages to the mentor, and public messages for other students.
- A sense of community and belonging is very important for retention and morale. Research has been done that shows the importance of having friends for staying at uni. We should probably look into having more department events of various sorts. Some sort of first-year thing about halfway through first semester would be good – a bit of group mentoring activity stuff, followed by a barbeque, maybe? And other events too.
Of course, how much of this is actually likely to happen? Particularly with our current money situation, and the staff all worn down by years of nasty politics and bean-counting, and me with, you know, units to pass… But I’m gonna see what I can do. The forum should be do-able, at least in part, and tying orientation and mentoring closer together should be pretty easy… So yeah… But next week, after my essay and my annotated bibliography are done :p