Happy 5th birthday! Alumni as co-creators, co-researchers and co-authors in developing and evaluating a mentorship scheme

Birthday cake

Having recently recruited the 5th cohort of Alumni Mentors, Dr Anna Foss wishes to share a huge thank you to all the Alumni Mentors of the Project Module (PHM305) on the MSc in Public Health by distance learning who have kindly donated their time and skills in voluntarily contributing to the scheme at some stage since its initiation in 2018.

Those involved in the pilot scheme as mentors or mentees were instrumental as co-creators, especially in suggesting its expansion to supporting students in their MSc research projects via the Moodle discussion forums rather than simply joining Collaborate web-conferencing sessions. Following on from this, they became co-researchers in evaluating the scheme and publishing as co-authors in the International Journal for Students as Partners.   

Dr Anna Foss said “It has been a true pleasure and honour to work on this paper with such a great team of alumni from whom I have learnt so much”.

This innovative scheme was a response to students’ requests to engage with alumni to help break down feelings of isolation. Alumni Mentors were indeed found to reduce the feeling of “distance” in distance learning. This benefit is felt by staff as well as students and Alumni Mentors. Increased confidence was also reported across all these three groups. Alumni Mentors add value by offering credible and relatable authenticity in supporting students beyond what staff alone are able to provide.  Since the scheme’s launch, student engagement has increased, with high levels of reported satisfaction and positive feedback.

During the pilot mentorship scheme, Alumni Mentors and Student Mentees regularly suggested improvements to staff for enhancing the learning experience of students on the Project Module more generally. This type of feedback is unique as usually feedback would be elicited more at the end of the module but, in this case, the feedback came from students and alumni who then became involved in implementing the changes that they had suggested in this ‘students as partners’ model. This is a positive unexpected broader consequence of the scheme as much more useful feedback was obtained and implemented through this pilot mentorship scheme than through our previous standard methods for feedback elicitation. This is partly due to the increased opportunities for feedback through the mentorship scheme but also likely due to the increased rapport between staff, alumni and students that facilitated an open and supportive partnership environment in which feedback was welcomed and jointly acted upon in a timely fashion.

The pilot project was funded through the Centre for Online and Distance Education Teaching and Research Award scheme.

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