Database-Facilitated Mentoring Drives the Effective Placement of Student Teachers

On behalf of Practicum and School Partnership Committee, Hong Kong Baptist University ( www.hkbu.edu.hk)

Overview

This article describes an effective model of database-facilitated mentoring in the Practicum and School Partnership (PSP) committee at Hong Kong Baptist University. An integrated and shared database (PSP Database) was used to support the process of faculty mentoring of new members to the PSP committee. This database captured both tacit knowledge and experience of the existing committee members and made such assets easily accessible to PSP newcomers. This strengthened and helped to build up the initial mentoring relationship between old and new members by promoting organized, systematic and proactive guidance that enabled new members to be familiar enough with task details so as to make immediate contributions. Such enhanced operational effectiveness and team collaboration are essential to the complex and data-intense process of matching student teachers with suitable field-practice opportunities. With limited human resources, consisting of a team of full-time instructors taking on this extra administrative workload, we have successfully placed a large number of student teachers in appropriate field-practice positions by using this dual model of mentoring and data management.

Budget Constraints and Limited Human Resource Power

Large-scale student-teacher field practice is much more complex and interactive than simply matching the specialty of a student teacher to a school with such subjects available. The PSP committee members must have access to both detailed student background and school particulars. To overcome this obstacle, we have introduced a database to support the PSP team. The PSP team is required to match a student's specialty field of study with currently available field-practice opportunities provided by any of the secondary schools in Hong Kong at a particular time. Due to budget constraints and limited human resource power, an integrated and shared database of student information and near real-time data of schools gathered by different committee members must be openly shared within the PSP committee.

Mentoring is Collaborative and Promotes Professional Learning

Mentoring of new members to the PSP enables the committee to perform its duties with minimum resources. Mentoring in educational institutes is traditionally perceived as the mentoring of a student by a professor or senior. In the PSP committee, however, mentoring is collaborative and promotes professional learning among colleagues, while focusing on the daily work of the teaching staff and the administrative tasks such as student-teacher field placement. Routine classroom lecturing d'es not require this type of dynamic and data-intensive collaboration; thus, intercollegiate mentoring has traditionally played a less prominent role. In student-teacher field placement, mentoring within the PSP committee greatly enhances the process of making tacit knowledge explicit. Through communication facilitated by data availability, and the ability to generate tailored reports of student information and school openings, PSP committee members are led to discuss, reflect upon, reappraise and interrogate each other's recommendations for student placement. This leads to the optimal match and results in satisfaction on part of both the student and school.

Tacit Knowledge Transferred from Mentors to Mentees

It is essential that schools receive satisfactory performance from the student teachers we place with them. In the tightly knit education infrastructure in Hong Kong, building the reputation of our students as capable teachers with good potential is important to ensure that more schools continue to offer field-practice placements for our students. In such a delicately balanced situation, the tacit knowledge from mentors must be transferred to mentees. This is first done through direct communication by means of confidential remarks on each student and each school's database record. Second, mentors continually assist all other PSP committee members in making matching decisions, as well as in student coaching through analyzing the data in the database and sharing conclusions about each individual case whenever possible.

Description of the PSP Work Flow

Fig. 1 Use of Technology to Streamline the Work Flow and Facilitate the Mentoring Practice

Diagram of the PSP Work Flow


Description of the database

The database contains detailed information of all schools, student teachers and field-placement history. The mentors in the PSP committee decide what is relevant and how detailed data should be presented for each case. This ensures that mentees hit the most relevant information needed to facilitate their work of securing suitable field-placement opportunities that fit each individual student.

A call log is used to record information obtained from telephone calls between PSP committee members and schools, as well as between PSP committee members and student teachers. Information obtained in this manner is of two natures:

1)Timely factual data, including the most current placement openings, are entered into the database; and

2)Follow-up information, such as which subject-teacher has been approached and what has been discussed, will be recorded to save time and human resources for both parties.

A confidential comments field is a core feature of the database, because it provides the storage and sharing of in-house information. (This will be further discussed in the next passage.) The database enables a stable standard of PSP committee-member recruitment success and performance in representing the university while communicating with schools and student teachers. Committee members will be perceived to be more sincere, knowledgeable and concise. Indeed, the placement work d'es become significantly more efficient.

At the current stage of development, the confidential remarks section, which is only viewable by PSP committee members, is highly relied upon as guidance. All committee members make contributions to this remarks section by recording their encounters and experiences with each school and every student. However, the mentors and more experienced PSP committee members make the most valuable additional contribution of analyzing the student and school data and drawing empirical conclusions or inferences from this - serving as guidance and recommendation to other members dealing with these schools and/or particular students. School-related data is relatively static compared to student data because students come and go in cohorts from year to year. As such, accumulated school information can be carried over and accumulated into invaluable information that is reusable. On the other hand, student data may be archived and used to compile a data warehouse to analyze trends in student performance and student outcomes that informs departmental decision-making such as curriculum design, student recruitment, staff recruitment and budgeting.

A Look to the Future

In the future, the database will be developed into a data warehouse that can generate a comprehensive set of information regarding particular schools and student-teacher placements. The fundamental concept of a data warehouse is the distinction between data and information. Data is composed of individual facts, whereas information is data that is summarized into a report which can assist informed decision-making. Additional query functions also will be written to further enhance this ability in the current database. This includes converting data into useful and relevant information and knowledge to facilitate efficient student-teacher field placement, as well as to follow up on their level of success and satisfaction regarding the placement. In terms of technical development, the first step will be to standardize the database and data collection terms that are used. Second, accumulated data will be organized to facilitate new queries. Third, new types and sources of useful data need to be identified. And finally, more faculty staff will be recruited to contribute to the data-collection process as well as to give suggestions for continued relevant improvements.

The database will be continually upgraded and altered according to the changing needs of the PSP committee; the current version 1.0 will be freely distributed. The database contains information on all of the secondary schools in Hong Kong, which is publicly available, sourced from official school Web pages and published documents.

* For a free copy of the PSP Database version 1.0, please write or e-mail to:

Ms. Ivy Lo
ivylo@hkbu.edu.hk
Room RL2 - 116
University Road Campus
Hong Kong Baptist University
Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

References

Bereiter, C. 2002. Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Dantonio, M. 2001. Collegial Coaching: Inquiry into the Teaching Self. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.

Malderez, A. and B. Bodoczky. 1999. Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press.

McKenzie, B.C. 1995. Friends in High Places: How to Achieve Your Ambitions, Goals and Potential With the Help of a Mentor. Chatswood, New South Wales (Australia): Business & Professional Publishing.

Torrance, E.P. 1984. Mentor Relationships: How They Aid Creative Achievement, Endure, Change and Die. Buffalo, N.Y.: Bearly Ltd.

Udelhofen, S. and K. Larson. 2003. The Mentoring Year: A Step-by-Step Program for Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Zachary, L.J. 2000. The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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