Sincronía Winter 2008


1 Elizabeth Margarita Hernández L., Universidad de Guadalajara México (MEXICO)
2 Enriqueta Margarita Villa Olvera, University of Guadalajara (MEXICO),


Resumen: La literatura sobre el uso de estudiantes como mentores ha demostrado que ésta relación puede ser motivadora pero en ocasiones compleja.  Este documento describe la implementación de nuestro modelo  utilizando a los estudiantes como mentores.  Este modelo fue aplicado en uno de los módulos de la Licenciatura Modular Semi-escolarizada en Docencia de Inglés como Lengua Extranjera (LIMSEDILE).  Además expone los resultados de ésta  interacción  en línea durante este periodo de ensayo. Finalmente comparte las implicaciones futuras para implementar el modelo de mentor en la curricula modular del programa.

Abstract.  Research on peer-mentoring has shown that the peer-mentor relationship  can be rewarding  but complex at times. This paper discusses the implementation of our peer-mentoring model project which was applied in one of the modules of  the Distance B.A. in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (LIMSEDILE).   It also puts forth  the results of  the mentor-mentee e-mail interaction during this trial period.  Finally, it shares future implications for the implementation of a mentorship in the modular curriculum.

1 Introduction

There has been much research and literature on the positive aspects of participating in mentoring programs—school based is one example of such programs.  The Distance B.A. in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (LIMSEDILE) doesn’t have a structured mentoring program.  We feel that because of its very nature it is of great urgency that one be developed and implemented in order to foster a better performance academically, deter attrition rate and achieve a more positive attitude towards themselves and the program.  This mentoring system will be entirely e-mail based which according to  Dappen [3]  only 1% of such programs are e-mail based.

The broad aim of the research is to establish the feasibility of adopting peer mentoring in the LIMSEDILE program by first implementing this model in one of the program’s modules within a specific time framework.  The specific objectives were to demonstrate more positive attitudes from the participants and, thus, higher levels of performance in their academic work.

1.1  Defining  peer-mentoring

There is a wide range of definitions of Mentorship in the literature.  This paper will take peer-mentoring as a dynamic and two-way relationship that can be beneficial for both the mentor and peer. [1]   The mentor in this particular case is not to mean teacher or holder of knowledge but a student-colleague who has had more exposure to the distance program is better able to have empathy, give support (emotional and academic), provide guidance and be accessible.

2 Establishing Peer-Mentoring

As background information, it is worthwhile to mention that the above program consists of self-contained modules and a “practicum” component. The program is open to practicing teachers with a three-year teaching experience as a minimum from anywhere in the country.  The program is basically text-based with its corresponding readings and task assignments which are sent to the student-teachers. At this time, a tutor is assigned to them on behalf of the program coordinator; he or she will be in charge of advising, giving feedback and supporting the learners’ concerns within that module.

The means of interaction is mostly asynchronous. Learners and tutors are in touch by e-mail. Assessments´ delays, information lingering on time and a decrease on the students’ motivation and performance are situations to be believed a consequence of having e-mailing as the sole form of interaction within this program. Therefore, an interest on heightening the interactivity of the program by applying a mentor-student pairing model to augment students’ academic performance and motivation arose.

This mentoring system is a pilot project intended to be applied to one module in specific, involving the students in it and having as an aim the assistance of the learners from the advanced tasks to the tutees from the basic ones.   Our aim is to help counteract the problem of high attrition rate at LIMSEDILE . We look at mentoring as a means of retention and an enhancement strategy for supporting undergraduate distance education.

Peer mentoring is an interactive and dynamic process that involves participants in giving guidance, support and providing feedback to peers to enable them to improve academic performance. The increase in interaction can also help boost their motivation to continue their educational goals.  This type of learning with the guidance of the tutor/facilitator and peers increases the learners’ development through the zone of proximal development to actual development [7].

As a basic framework for this project, we take from the work of Mecca [6]  in which he reported that mentoring can increase the likelihood of students staying in school.  Mentoring students may help maintain better attendance, perform higher academically, posses higher self-confidence, express feelings and experience improved relationships with peers [2].   Although these works help frame our project, we have a different school setting as the ones referred by the authors.  Theirs is a traditional school-based program which cater to teens.  On the other hand, ours is a distance adult program.

3       Methodology

Our methodological framework is based on Action Research.  This study also relies on a variety of sources of data such as e-mail contributions, questionnaires, discussions with the module’s tutor and evaluation survey. This information is processed in a qualitative form.

In order to carry out the implementation of the mentoring-pairing system we first developed and designed the program and scheduled dates to begin and end the trial period.

Then, we briefed the mentors as to their role and familiarized them with both the overall goals of the mentoring program and the techniques of mentoring.  Thus, conforming to the literature which puts forth that training is vital if we want the mentoring-program to be successful because the mentoring role does not come naturally [4].  If the student is to be a mentor, they must be well-prepared to perform this task. 

Mentors in this project were prompted  to promote the development of desired skills such as demonstrating or modeling by example, questioning, supporting and providing re-assurance and encouragement.


After, we paired the students in accordance to the task number they were in the module. Students who were doing work on tasks 6, 5 or 4 were appointed to act as mentors.  The  students who were working on task 3 or below were assigned to be the mentees. From this arrangement, six pairings resulted (12 students).  At this time, the course tutor addressed both mentors and mentees in order to prompt them to meet each other via e-mail. A special e-mail address was set-up in order for the participants to send a copy to this address of every interaction between them.  


During the interactivity period of ten weeks, the main job of the course tutor was to observe and read their e-mail messages.  Another, subordinate function was to discreetly and sparingly intervene by prompting mentors to follow-up on their mentees which was done only on two occasions when the tutor noticed there had been no response from the mentee.




    4    Results and Discussion

  The data collected was chiefly taken from the interaction done through e-mail from 10 of the participants during the ten-week pilot session.  Two mentees never contacted their assigned mentor.  One had ‘disappeared’ from the program and the other was erroneously assigned to the module. In the first phase, all interactivity data was coded and analyzed in accordance to categories surged from the interaction between the participants, counting them and associating them to each descriptor.  ( table 1).

Table 1.  Interaction: All Participants

Student to Student Mentorship

·1 Socializing                     

·2 Encouraging and expressing Empathy                               

·3 Requesting  Information

·4 Responding to Request

·5 Expressing Concern

Mentor-Tutor Interaction

·1 Acknowledgement of objectives

·2 Tutor Intervention prompting interaction

       The contributions made laid heavily on the socializing aspect of the interaction which was the most employed by the participants with 21 contributions, followed by expressing empathy and encouraging their mentees with 10; then the contributions in the formative academic sphere which accounted for 8 instances in which the mentee expressed a request and the mentor in turn supplied the information.  The mentor-tutor interaction, on the other hand, experienced low contributions primarily because this was the intention of the tutor.   During the pilot period, the mentors contacted the tutor three times for the purpose of acknowledging the project’s objectives. And the course-tutor intervened twice to prompt mentors to contact their mentees.

  In the second phase of the study, an evaluation survey-questionnaire was sent to everyone        who participated to extract information on the value of having participated in the mentorship. From the 10 questionnaires sent, only seven responded: 5 mentors and 2 mentees.   

       The student mentors demonstrated enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence. These features emerged from statements like “I felt important. I thought:’ If I will be a mentor, surely my assignments are not too bad”.  And, “I was delighted and honored to have been chosen for this program”.  Another emergent feature was that of social skills with statements like “My mentee and I were able to get to know each other on a more personal basis too”. And embedded in the social aspect is motivation: “This gives you the opportunity to reach out and talk to that person that can make you feel motivated and keep you going”.

       However, mentees opinion leaned more on the academic value that the mentorship could provide them as statements like “I contacted my mentor once to get the right structure of the assignment”. And, “I consider that having a mentor who has been doing the tasks that I am going to do in the future is encouraging…..second because you feel more confident clarifying information with a classmate.”

       At this stage, we were interested in discovering the fundamental perspective of the mentors’and mentee’s emotional experience.  Both mentors and mentees claimed that their motivation increased because of their involvement in this project. Two of the mentors said they believed “LIMSEDILE created this project to stimulate commitment to the program of distance education.”  In general, the participants portrayed a positive attitude towards the idea of mentorship, however, we must not discard the negative remarks when one reads, “I don’t write to my mentee as much as I should” ; and,  “I felt worried because it was the busiest time at my work and home making it difficult for me to write to my mentee.”  

       Upon closer examination of the responses participants provided to the open ended question regarding their feelings and reactions to their participation in this project, some of them reported that they felt pressured for time because of other commitments, yet, the same respondents were also willing to improve and help others.  Thus, students perceive the benefit they might be able to give and receive. They seem to have mixed feelings about mentorship. They might be unsure to commit due to insufficient clarity of instructions and of the amount of time that might be expected to commit to the mentorship program. It is tempting to offer over-simplified explanations for these findings.   We should bear in mind that views change depending on the individual and the circumstances.

5  Conclusion and future implications

       Evidence  from this study confirms what previous literature states about the benefits of integrating peer mentoring in institutional educational programs.  It enhances self-esteem and social skills. The interactivity between the pairing promotes connectedness and motivation.  The vast body of research has mostly looked at traditional face to face educational institutions to draw on these conclusions, and only a small percent of research has been undertaken on the benefit of mentoring for this modality. 

       Moreover, an outcome indirectly derived from this experience has been the active involvement within the module from the ten participants.  Three have completed this module and the others are working on their tasks.  However, their participation does not necessarily reflect higher academic performance.  It does not necessarily go hand in hand.  This is in itself another research question we could embark on.

We hope to make the mentoring process a key instructional developmental strategy integrated fully in the modular curriculum. We are under the assumption that all students  in the program, regardless of academic ability, have the opportunity of mentoring.  In our mentorship model, we view the process of being a mentor as developmental, where all mentors (in the future) will have had the experience of being mentees as part of their formation for becoming mentors.

We realize that for peer-mentoring to be effective, the participants must be willing to partake in such activity.  Thus, we propose to link the task of the mentor as part of their social service to the community.  In this manner, mentoring will be on a one-year term voluntary basis and organized by the institutional program.   Some studies  indicate that mentoring relationships of short duration(less than 6 months) may do students more harm than benefit [5], thus, our rationale for the  mentor-pairing to be for one year.

Once the mentorship is established in the curriculum, additional longitudinal research studies should be implemented along with peer-reviewed studies are recommended.


[1]  Burrell, Brenda, Student Mentors and Protegés Learning Together. Teaching Exceptional Children, 2001, Jan/Feb. p. 24-29.

[2] Curtis, T., & Hansen-Schwoebel, K. Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring: Evaluation summary of five pilot programs. 1999. Philadelphia.

[3]  Dappen, L. D. and J.C. Iserhagen. Developing a Student Mentoring Program: Building Connections for At-Risk Students. Preventing School Failure (Spring 2005): p.21-25. Academic Search Premier EBSCO. Retrieved 29 November 2007.

[4]  Leung, M.L.. & Bush, T. Student Mentoring in Higher Education. In Mentoring & Tutoring. 2003. Hong Kong Baptist University. Vol. 11 No.3.

[5]  Manza, G. Mentoring Works! Presentation at the National Mentoring Conference. 2001. Alexandria, VA.

[5] Mecca, A. M. The Mentoring Revolution: Growing America a Child at a Time. 2001. Part I.

[6] Vygotsky, L.S. Mind in Society. 1978. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sincronía Winter 2008