Correlation of doctoral dissertation mentor competencies with mentor and learner expectations

  • Andrews, K. (2015). Correlation of doctoral dissertation mentor competencies with mentor and learner expectations. CLUTE International Conference on Education and Business (Peer-reviewed). Maui, HI, January 2015.

There are numerous qualitative studies investigating the perceptions of learners and mentors in online educational doctoral programs in regards to satisfaction, expectations, and importance (Bolliger & Halupa, 2012; Combe, 2012; Kumar et al., 2013) but little research has been conducted in the narrower scope of the culmination of the process-the dissertation or with e-mentors (Brill, Balcanoff, Land, Gogarty, & Turner, 2014). As of yet, it is not known what relationship exists between perceived importance of competency levels of e-mentors and learners. By determining the degree to which importance is related to specific competencies, effective competency qualifications can be set for mentors.

Theoretical Framework

The definition of E-M used in this research is “a computer mediated, mutually beneficial relationship between a mentor and a protégé [learner] that provides learning, advising, encouraging, promoting, and modeling, that is often boundaryless, egalitarian, and qualitatively different than traditional F2F” (Bierema & Merriam, 2002, p. 214).

E-M of learners has been captured as requiring competencies of developmental learning, social, cognitive, teaching reflectively, communication, and managerial (Schichtel, 2010) that Brace-Govan (2003) saw being framed upon a foundation of mutual trust. Schichtel (2010) developed the first digest of the model consisting of competencies necessary for online mentors based upon analysis of research in 25 databases.

The competencies, along with mutual trust, will be a major component for the survey investigation of learner satisfaction in the dissertation process. The developmental learning competence is the level of the ongoing learning process that uses scaffolding in order to increase knowledge and skills to the level of one’s ability. Social competence is the level of building interpersonal relationships through a style of empathic understanding and connecting to others. The cognitive competence is the level of expert knowledge that is not only held but can be conveyed to the learner. Thoughtful self-analysis coupled with self-examination of teaching effectiveness is considered the competence of teaching reflectively. The ability to listen empathically and to hear others and use skills in order to reach mutually beneficial goals is the communication competence. One’s level of being able to mobilize resources is the measurement of the managerial competence. Close, interdependent, behavior leading to an attitude of trust (Gibb, 1991) is the foundation upon which the competencies lie (Brace-Govan, 2003). 

This proposed study examining the efficacy of the online dissertation process with e-mentors and learners will be limited to one factor of effectiveness: importance about e-mentor competencies and mutual trust. However, just as significantly as importance levels with competencies are measured, the perceived importance of each competency and mutual trust should be compared between learner and e-mentor. If the learner perceives a different importance level than the mentor, a disconnect will occur between what will be developed by the mentor and what is desired by the learner.

Literature Review

            Effective E-M encompasses competencies (Schichtel, 2010) that are based upon the premise that trust exists within the relationship. Six competencies were depicted in a model by Schichtel (2010). Gibb (1991) reported that without trust, social systems have no sustainable growth and learning. As the foundation, mutual trust, is the key for holding the competencies together in working order. Sustainability factors in maintaining effective teaching hinge on the level of mutual trust instituting a sense of ownership in the process by mentor and learner (Suhonen & Sutinen, 2014).

In recognizing that age makes no difference in the desire or ability to learn, e-mentors are cognizant of the importance of developmental learning as the first competency. They uphold the importance of bringing support to learners’ fascination and passion with a research topic and recognize that support for learners during university years enhances their life-long learning in various cycles (Bierema & Merriam, 2002). Social competence is the facility for putting oneself in the presence of E-M by sharing the mentor’s full personality by projecting socially and emotionally through whatever type communication is chosen (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). This social competence is about the overall level of interpersonal skills and is directly related to overall teaching effectiveness (Hassan, Jani, Som, Hamid, & Azzizam,, 2015).

A competence that has been recognized as essential in the mentoring of learners in the dissertation phase is cognitive competence, which is the ability to facilitate “the analysis, construction, and confirmation of meaning and understanding through sustained discourse and reflection” (Schichtel, 2010, p. e253). The use of reflective teaching methods is the fourth competence. Teaching reflectively and learning is different from formal, didactic teaching and is an essential component of adult learning principles (Collison, Elbaum, Haavind, & Tinker, 2000).

Communication skills comprise the fifth competence. Salmon (2004) defined this competence as one having the ability to use communication skills in order to stimulate engagement between people in an online environment. Managerial competence is concerned with structuring activities and expectations to the time the mentor will be online for synchronous communication and time lapses that will occur with asynchronous communication (Salmon, 2004).

These competencies are necessary because one does not want to be driven to make decisions based upon technological capabilities but upon learner needs and educational principles (Schichtel, 2010). As E-M is elusive in defining and measuring importance, even more so is the importance with E-M elusive in the culmination of the doctoral work, the dissertation process and with the competencies of the mentor. The relationship between mentor and learner perception of the importance of competencies and mutual trust is unknown.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

The research questions include two descriptive questions about learner and mentor importance of competencies. Further questions ask about the relationship between mentor and learner perceptions of importance ratings of competencies and mutual trust.

Research Methodology

A quantitative research project is proposed to examine the ratings of importance levels of learners and the corresponding essential competencies of mentors as best practices (Brondyk & Searby, 2013) as well as the importance ratings correlation between e-mentor and learner. As Brondyk and Searby (2013) clearly called for empirically-based best practices substantiated by research. A survey will be created and a final draft piloted with a preliminary group of participants, and refined before being administered to the final group of participants (see initial draft survey in Appendix A).

Sample. A for-profit higher educational institution’s doctoral programs will be the population from which mentors and learners’ participation will be recruited for the voluntary survey participant group. A sample size of mentors and learners combined of 74 was calculated from G*power analysis with an effect size of 0.3, power of 0.80, and alpha set at 0.05. At least 50 mentors and at least 100 learners will complete surveys as participants.

Instruments. The six competencies and mutual trust will form the basis for a Likert-type scaled survey assessing both mentor and learning importance ratings. Competency questions will be created from Schichtel’s (2010) behavioral descriptions of the competency sets (see Appendix A, Statements 1-18). Included in the survey are mutual trust questions adapted from the Trust, Openness, Realization, Interdependence (TORI) survey (Gibb, 1991). Two forms of the survey will be created. One form is for the mentors assessing the importance of behaviors associated with each competency and mutual trust. The other form is for the learners assessing the level of importance of mentor behaviors associated with each competency and mutual trust. The draft surveys will be piloted with 15 students and mentors. The draft surveys will be adjusted based upon feedback and responses from the pilot group of participants. A Cronbach alpha will be used to calculate inter-item correlation. If the data analysis indicates, adjustments will be made before the final surveys are distributed. The validity of the surveys comes from the direct connection between Schichtel’s (2010) definitions of the competencies and Gibb’s (1991) mutual trust statements in the TORI survey. An informed consent will be included as a first step in the surveys.

Process. The surveys will be created and reliability ascertained. Invitations  to participate in the survey will be distributed via school email to mentors and doctoral learners by the university’s administration. Distribution of the survey will occur via an online survey host. Informed consent will be obtained before participants answer any survey questions by selection of acknowledgement and agreement with the stated informed consent. Participants will complete the survey according to being either an e-mentor or a learner.

Data Analysis Plan. Data will be collected and SPSS used to calculate the difference in importance means for each of the six competencies and mutual trust. Relationships between learner ratings of importance of competencies and mutual trust and mentor ratings will be ascertained. All variables will be interval data averaged from ordinal items in the subscales of the survey pertaining to each competence and mutual trust. There are no predictor variables identified in the study as all will be analyzed computing the relationship of variable to variable. The perceived importance level from the learner’s viewpoint and the mentor’s viewpoint of each competence will be a variable. 

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Correlation of doctoral dissertation mentor competencies with mentor and learner expectations
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