Virtual Mentoring Potential: exploring possibilities for extending the reach of campus-based mentoring programs
Samantha McMahon, Ashleigh Johnstone, Brendon Newton, Jason Gillard, Valerie Harwood, Kate Senior, and Amy Priestly
Over the last six years the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) has worked in partnership with university researchers to develop a research base for its practice. The research partnership is led by Professor Valerie Harwood (Australian Research Council [ARC] Future Fellow).
AIME is a program that is assisting its Indigenous mentees to progress through school, complete Year 12 and transition to university, further education, and training and employment at the same rate as all Australian students (AIME 2015 Annual Report). The AIME Research Partnership has focused on trying to understand AIME’s success for the benefit of Indigenous education practices, positive post-school pathways programs, and mentoring programs designed to help Indigenous young people. In 2016, 6686 Indigenous school students and 1756 university student mentors engaged with the AIME program, and AIME is continuing to grow these participation rates.
Whilst bringing young people onto university campuses is one of the AIME Program’s successful strategies, it is also one of the few limitations of the current delivery model. This model will only reach those Indigenous students who can take a school excursion to a university campus; as many Australians don’t live within a couple of hours of a university campus, not all Indigenous school students can access AIME. This has prompted some exploration by AIME and research partners into alternative modes for mentoring young people. One of these is virtual mentoring. Ultimately, we wanted to know if we could replicate an AIME session in a virtual world. The initial answer to that question is, “Yes, we can!”
In July 2016, the Partnership undertook a virtual mentoring pilot, to apply the best practice methods of the AIME Mentoring model using an innovative delivery mode. Experienced mentors and presenters from the University of Wollongong (UOW)’s AIME program collaborated with the research team to design and deliver a virtual mentoring session using iSee video collaboration software. There were two stages to the trial. The first involved UOW AIME mentees and presenters testing the modality in a practice session. Based on feedback from Stage 1 we were able to deliver Stage 2, which involved two mentoring sessions with young people in Ngukurr, Northern Australia, in a live virtual environment.
The virtual mentoring sessions were structured around engaging the young participants in developing content for the recently reinitiated community newspaper, the Yugul – Ngukurr News. The newspaper is the result of another partnership between the Ngukurr community and the University of Wollongong. The Yugul – Ngukurr News project was initiated by Professor Kate Senior and is edited by Ngukurr Senior Elder Daphne Daniels. For further details about the Yugul – Ngukurr News initiative, see this UOW media release.
The virtual mentoring pilot proved to be very promising. There was a high degree of interest, engagement and enjoyment from the young people who logged in to the virtual mentoring sessions offered in Ngukurr. Four community members also expressed strong interest in exploring pathways into university, with a follow-up virtual consultation session with university staff and graduates initiated as a result. Some young people from Ngukurr talked about this in the Yugul-Ngukur News that week:
“iSee is pretty cool. Like Facebook, like every other chat line but way cooler. It’s like being in a video game” said Grant Hall …“The iSee program is about passing on knowledge and learning from each other. It was really cool talking to people. Well you get to know what they know and knowing what others know gives a helping hand” (Yugul – Ngukurr News, 29 July 2016, p.2).
Participating mentors (students at UOW, who have experience with AIME mentoring) found the activity personally rewarding. They felt that the virtual delivery mode for mentoring activities performed beyond their expectations and had a great deal of potential for future use, especially in connecting with, and expanding opportunities to, regional and remote communities.
“I found it very rewarding … I just found that, building those connections and just being able to engage and relate with the young guys in that community, I guess far exceeded my expectations … I just found it was a really cool little connect” (UOW AIME Mentor).
Through these virtual mentoring pilots we’ve learned much about the strengths and weaknesses of using the iSee software for replicating an AIME session. We are very happy to share these practical ‘tips and tricks’ with practitioners who are interested in exploring this software option for mentoring young people in regional and remote communities. If you would like to further explore the potential and functionality of the software used, visit the iSee VC website.
Yugul – Ngukurr News (2016). Ngukurr in a ‘video game’, 29 July, p. 2. Available here.
Images by Brendon Newton