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Cyber mentoring reassures students earlier in career path

What if you devoted three years of time and money to your education major, only to realize during your senior-year student-teaching experience that you hated to teach? It’s been known to happen.

Thanks to the WSU Cyber Mentoring Project, it could happen much less often.

Spearheaded by Gerald Maring, a professor with the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, and developed in collaboration with other faculty members, the project uses videoconferencing links between college-level tutors and K-12 students statewide to provide preservice teaching opportunities.

From its origin as e-mail communications and customized websites in 1996, the project has grown with the help of varied grant funding and telecommunications infrastructure improvements. Today, it employs computer writing tablets and high-definition cameras to create a live virtual social learning environment that captures most of the inherent teaching and learning advantages of more traditional settings, Maring said.

One measure of the success of this cyber mentoring effort is that the project was chosen by the National University Telecommunications Network to receive its Outstanding Distance Education Innovation Award in 2003.

The project provides learning opportunities to geographically and otherwise isolated K-12 schools in Washington and early real-life teaching experience to WSU education majors. In addition, it generates research data that offer valuable insights into the educational process, Maring said.

Expansion into other areas of the state is expected, he said, but the WSU project still is in the research and development stages.

“We’re still in the ‘proof-of-concept’ phase,” he said. “A key focus of our research is on the educational benefits the project provides to preservice teachers.”

One classroom teacher for more than 20 years said the program is a potentially invaluable tool for providing preservice teachers with experience in many key aspects of classroom teaching.

Terri Pixlee teaches at Columbia Basin Secondary School in Moses Lake, one of the schools participating in the cyber mentoring project.

“I’ve seen how we lose many first-year classroom teachers, in large part because they don’t have a chance to see what classrooms are really like and lack many needed classroom management skills,” she said. “Cyber mentoring alone won’t prepare preservice teachers for the classroom, but it can give them a real taste of what it’s like.”

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