What You Can Learn From Your Mentor Outside the Discussion Board

Posted Friday, July 11, 2014

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

More than 250 years later, Benjamin Franklin’s words still ring true when it comes to the academic relationship between student and mentor. It’s a common misconception that a mentor and teacher are one in the same. While both work with students and grade assignments, teachers focus on instruction and presenting information. A mentor’s role is to facilitate your learning and assist you on the path to earning your degree.

But how might they do that? And why? Glad you asked!

They may ask you to explain your reasoning, provide feedback on your latest assignment or encourage you to pursue a research topic you are passionate about. They inspire and motivate you to take responsibility of your education. And usually, what your mentor teaches you offline, can be just as important as what you learn online.


Mentors can be a valuable networking source.

With their academic background and professional experience, mentors can be the connection you need to advance your career. Dr. Dwayne Hodges, mentor in the School of Applied Science and Technology, recognizes that course mentors are industry practitioners and experts. He believes students should take advantage of their mentors’ knowledge and expertise to cultivate relationships and build a network of contacts for future opportunities. When a student is ready and willing to learn, he makes every effort to help them reach both their course and personal learning objectives, often meeting students in-person to discuss the subject matter over coffee or connect with students on LinkedIn. So maximize every chance to avoid “just being a name” and stand out in your courses, because your mentor could very well provide the best endorsement of your work ethic, skills and strengths. 


Mentors empower you to take responsibility of your learning.

When it comes to your coursework, how you choose to apply that information is up to you. In other words, no one is telling you that you have to write an essay detailing the circumstances of a historical event or complete a math worksheet of long division problems, characteristic of a childhood education. As an adult, your mentor will provide you with the opportunity to use your existing experience and knowledge, and apply it to a project or assignment. Or you may decide to use your coursework as a chance to develop a work-related interest. In the end, the more active and hands-on your learning experience, the more memorable (and fun) your education will be.


Mentors encourage your critical thinking skills.

“I can guide students to useful information,” says Dr. Mark Kassup, mentor in the Heavin School of Arts and Sciences. “And I can challenge them to move beyond simple answers and partial solutions.” In other words, there’s a reason your mentor asks you to try again; he is fostering your ability to think through questions and offer strong responses, both necessary skills for your professional and career development.

How have your mentors helped shape your academic or career development?

Tags: Career , Mentors , School of Applied Science and Technology , Taking Courses

Comments (0)

7 Myths About Online Classes Mentors Don’t Want You to Believe

Posted Friday, March 21, 2014

Even though students have done their research and decided that online classes are the best option for them, they still have tons of misconceptions about course expectations and requirements. We tracked down the most common myths students believe, and asked our mentors (yes, those mentors, the ones assessing your grades) to officially bust them, once and for all. Let the debunking begin…

Myth #1: Because it’s an online course, I don’t really have to spend that much time on it.

BUSTED BY: Dr. Sandra Harris, School of Business and Management
“Start with one course to acclimate to the online environment. It is necessary to get into the “classroom” several times a week. Be prepared to spend four to six hours per week on the course.”

Myth #2: It isn’t necessary to schedule or set aside blocks of “class time.”

BUSTED BY: Nora Carrol, School of Business and Management
“Online learning does not lessen responsibility; on the contrary, it can require more time and better time management than face-to-face learning. Expect to do a fair amount of peripheral research using virtual libraries and other online tools. A challenge too is timing, as physical classmates are together, but virtual classmates may be scattered worldwide, all juggling multiple activities in different time zones.”

Myth #3: My mentor is my teacher and should tell me what to do.

BUSTED BY: Dr. Mark Kassop, Heavin School of Arts and Sciences
“I love the adage that an online mentor is the “guide on the side,” rather than the “sage on the stage.” The role of a mentor is to assist students in the process of learning a body of knowledge. It is not the mentor’s responsibility to spoon feed adult learners that knowledge; having mature, self-motivated students helps a mentor to successfully be that guide on the side. I am still responsible for the subject matter, but I can now use it in a different way than I did when I was expected to be the “sage.” I can guide students to useful information, and I can challenge them to move beyond simple answers and partial solutions.”

Myth #4: I only have to put effort into my papers and exams; what I write on the discussion board doesn’t matter.

BUSTED BY: Jordan Goldberg, School of Applied Science & Technology
“[The Discussion Board] is what makes the online dialogue so interesting. Students respond to the topics in the course from various perspectives. I keep an eye on the introductions students post at the beginning of every term to determine how best to tailor my instructional methods to their needs… It is more conducive to learning to interact with other students in an online medium. You are not only learning the subject, but developing stronger written and communication skills that are vital in industry today.”

Myth #5: There’s nothing my classmates can teach me.

BUSTED BY: Dr. Gloria Frederick, John S. Watson School of Public Policy and Continuing Studies
“Many adult learners are already active citizens who bring practical experience to the theory and foundation of community development… by its very nature, the online learning platform and related discussion boards provoke collaboration among students seeking to share their professional views and examine the solutions they might have at their disposal.”

AND BUSTED BY: Robert Saldarini, School of Business and Management
“The wonderful variety of backgrounds, life and professional experiences of our students bring textbook assignments to life; the most influential examples come from our own students.”

Myth #6: I’m just a name on the computer screen so the mentor will never notice if I don’t participate.

BUSTED BY: Dr. Amy Hannon, Heavin School of Arts and Sciences
“Online courses demand far more direct involvement of a student who is typically submitting six written assignments per term in addition to taking exams. This requires an active mentor involvement in critiquing their writing, which results in exchanges that often surpass the interaction found in a classroom-based course. All the while, there is the obligatory flow of discussion board postings. In our online courses, no one can opt to sit in the back row and sleep.”

Myth #7: Online discussion boards don’t allow for the same participation that a traditional classroom discussion can offer.

BUSTED BY: Dr. Khaled M. Abdel Ghany, School of Business and Management
“Online classes allow many students to express themselves more freely and to ask more questions than the students in the classroom, who are sometimes shy to speak up in front of everyone.”

AND BUSTED BY: Dr. Robert Price, Heavin School of Arts and Sciences
“Online classes have many advantages that face-to-face classes do not. An online discussion gives everyone time to think about their responses and everyone gets “heard”.”

Tags: Going Back to College , Mentors , Study Tips , Taking Courses

Comments (0)

Learning in the Field

Posted Monday, December 17, 2012

Warren Gramm, mentor at Thomas Edison State College
Warren Gramm, mentor at Thomas Edison State College

by Warren Gramm
Mentor, Thomas Edison State College

Prior learning assessment (PLA) at Thomas Edison State College is designed to help students gain college credit for knowledge gained through real life experiences. As a mentor for the College, when I consider that, I can't help but gravitate towards the many students that have had success through the music PLA credits they've earned while serving our country in the armed forces in locations throughout the world.

Many adult learners are actively engaged overseas and are at the same time demonstrating for me their music backgrounds and capabilities. I wish that more members of the armed forces bands knew that it is possible to gain college credit for what they already know!

Many students enrolled in Thomas Edison State College pursuing the Bachelor of Arts degree program in Music are playing the music of famous composers on a daily basis. While gaining real world experience serving our country, they are also gaining valuable experience in the music field.

In my mind, there is no better way to learn about Mozart and Beethoven than by playing their music. It is important to know what a literary resource might tell you about these musical giants, but to play their compositions add a substantive personal connection.

Please take a moment to read about a student, Reginald Hennessy, who has benefited from the PLA program.

How has the ability to gain college credit in music while you are serving overseas enhanced your career?
In the Army, college credit translates as promotion points. We are always looking to find ways to better ourselves to make the best of our time. We will not be in the army forever and we need to have opportunities for jobs on the outside of the army. Unfortunately (usually), music credits have to be done in house at your college. The ability to do the class online takes away the wait to get back to the states to finish our degrees.

What was the most challenging part of doing your music PLAs while serving overseas?
Time! Balancing a full time career with going to college is hard for anyone but being overseas it seems to a bit harder. We have to be mission ready while we keep our daily work up to date on top of your personal commitments. Postal Services are slower allowing less time with the materials you need.

Besides college credit, what else did you gain from the experience?
Knowledge, even though it’s a PLA you still learn something. As I went through the course I listened to the artist I was writing about or the time period. I learned that no music is dead, and artists are still writing in every genre or time period today. Most notable Gregorian chant with the group Gregorian: Masters of Chant. It is interesting to see their take on popular music.

The PLA program has awarded credit for college level knowledge to band directors, band members, and some of the finest musicians that our nation has to offer.

While serving in the military is something that should be highly applauded in and of itself, through our PLA program we are able to recognize the great life learning experience that the armed forces bestows upon its members. If you're currently serving as a musician in the armed forces, contact Thomas Edison State College to see if you can benefit from the PLA program! Contact the PLA Office at the College at [email protected].


Tags: Majors and Degree Programs , Mentors , Military , Prior Learning Assessment and Portfolio , Veterans

Comments (6)

Connecting with Students in an Online Environment

Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dr. Mark Kassop, mentor at Thomas Edison State College
Dr. Mark Kassop, mentor at Thomas Edison State College

By Dr. Mark Kassop
Mentor, Thomas Edison State College

I have been a mentor at Thomas Edison State College for more than 25 years for several reasons. First and foremost, I enjoy the adult, self-motivated students who populate Thomas Edison State College courses. They are a pleasure to work with and their diverse backgrounds lead to fascinating assignments and discussion postings.

Connecting with students in an online environment is about creating a positive impact on the student and on the student’s classmates. Mentoring courses on the sociology of the family, as I do, my Thomas Edison State College students have been in all stages of dating, marriage, divorce, remarriage, etc., and their experiences enrich the classes that I mentor. I have learned a lot from my students and, hopefully, they have learned a lot of useful material from me, too!

There are significant differences between face-to-face (f2f) students and online students. One could argue that a student loses something by not having face-to-face contact with their mentor. However, I can honestly say that I know my online students better than I know my f2f students and they might often say the same thing in reverse.

When I was president of the New Jersey Virtual Community College Consortium, I gave frequent lectures around the country about the virtues of online learning. One of the differences that I would focus on is the oxymoron, “anonymous intimacy.” Most of us have had the experience of sitting on an airplane next to an absolute stranger who pours out their life history to us, because they know they will never see us again and their story is safe. Similarly, online students open up to their mentors via e-mail and in online discussions in ways that they are not likely to do in a traditional face-to-face classroom.

Furthermore, students do the same in online discussions. Since they do not know their classmates on a face-to-face basis, they are not as inhibited as they might be in a classroom. They feel as though they can express their point of view in the online discussions and politely disagree with their classmates on controversial topics. The online discussions give them the chance to bond and expand their viewpoints based on feedback from their classmates and mentor.

In addition, online students learn skills that f2f classes don’t usually teach. They learn to collaborate with their classmates in online discussions and projects. They develop lifelong learning skills that prepare them for their careers in ways that they had not suspected. They learn computer skills and online searching skills, including the ability to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources; that will benefit them in many careers.

The main role of an online mentor is to assist students in the process of learning a body of knowledge. I love the saying that online mentors are the “guide on the side,” rather than the “sage on the stage.” It is not the responsibility to spoon feed students that knowledge. Having mature, self-motivated students helps a mentor to successfully be that “guide on the side.” I still need to know the same body of material, but I can now use it in a different way than I did when I was expected to be the “sage.” I can guide students to useful information. I can challenge them to move beyond simple answers and partial solutions.

When I first started mentoring online in 1998, I knew that there were some advantages in an online course space, but I didn’t think about the ability for my personality to travel across cyberspace.

However, in numerous student evaluations over the last 14 years, I have had students comment on my sense of humor, my dedication and hard work, my caring personality, and my availability. In turn, I have learned many things about my online student’s personalities – their dedication, their work ethic, their family lives, their goals, their joys and their concerns. We often talk in academia about civil behavior and some professors and administrators complain about the lack of civility among students. Strangely (maybe), online students tend to be much more civil than f2f students. Online students are more likely to send their regards, wish you a nice day, hope that you are feeling better, suggest that you be careful, etc., than f2f students usually are.

I have lots of wonderful stories about students that I could share from my many years of online mentoring experiences, but my favorite is a female student I mentored about 15 years ago.

The student worked as a midwife in Eastern Pennsylvania. Specifically, she helped Amish and Mennonite women deliver their children. On several occasions she would go out in the evening to deliver a child and get home in the middle of the night or very early morning. Her adrenalin was flowing and she would sit down and write me an e-mail and submit an assignment. Her e-mails were filled with the beauty of the delivery and the children who were on the bed with mom or helping my student with the preparations. She would tell about the joy and assistance provided by the father and describe the new baby that she helped to bring into the world. She would share this beautiful experience and finish off her e-mail by noting that she just had to write her assignment since she was wide-awake and so excited.

There are lots of students who I have had in my classes who needed the flexible schedule that Thomas Edison State College has offered throughout its existence. These students have all had an opportunity to complete degrees and excel and share their excitement as part of our online communities.

Tags: Mentors , Taking Courses

Comments (1)