This article analyzes the current academic discourse on "distance mentoring" based on American, European and Japanese experience. A research of contemporary approaches to distance mentoring with HEE (higher educational establishment) participation is presented, and the issue of ethics of external mentoring is considered. As a result of the research, the author-developed mechanisms for distance mentoring of graduate pedagogues at the Moscow City University (MСU) were developed, and the mentor.mgpu.ru digital mentor service was tested. In the course of the research, based on the action research logic, observation, quantitative (surveys) and qualitative (focus groups and collaborative design) research methods were used. The article describes the technologies and functions of distance mentoring designed for teachers with up to three years of experience. A case method for consulting novice teachers is presented, which involves shifting away from the traditional assignment of a mentor to a specific mentee, which allows to make mentoring more technical and point-based, to introduce semi-automated technologies, to accelerate the integration of the pedagogue into the profession. In the course of testing the distance mentoring platform, the most acute problems of novice teachers were identified, mechanisms of interaction between HEE and school in solving difficult situations of a young pedagogue were tested, risk areas were identified.
The idea of distance mentoring is not new, before the COVID-19 pandemic this phenomenon was considered in the context of development of e-learning technologies. There are a number of synonyms for distance mentoring. They are: virtual mentoring, distance mentoring, cyber-mentoring, and e-mentoring. As a means of communication, distance mentoring uses telephone, FaceTime, synchronous tools such as webinars, audio and video over the Internet protocol such as Skype, Zoom, MS Teams and text chat; as well as asynchronous tools such as emails, discussion forums, blog posts and post comments. Traditionally, therefore, the emphasis in the development of distance mentoring technology has been on digital skills. For a detailed overview of current pandemic distance mentoring trends, see Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning (Irby & Pugliese, 2020), a specialized journal.
Potential of a mentor
A number of studies have focused on the personal potential of the mentor (Kidd & Murray, 2013), the roles of the virtual mentor and change of his/her professional identity, leadership formation mechanisms, and the role of "change agents" (Owen, 2015, p. 13). The research of mentoring practices as a form of additional training of teachers is studied in many countries of the world, so in the University of Afyon-Karahisar (Turkey) a distance mentoring platform of forum type was tested, which carried out the selection and arrangement of mentor-mentee pairs, then the sites of distance communication were selected by the participants of the testing by themselves; participants of this project noted that mentoring is positive and enriches both parties; however, most participants said they wanted to establish face-to-face communication because face-to-face communication is more effective for a country's culture (Kahraman & Kuzu, 2016). The influence of national peculiarities on mentoring has also been noted by Japanese researchers (Obara et al., 2021) who, through in-depth interviews and observations, were able to identify and describe characteristics of Japanese mentoring such as paternalism, building long-term mentor-mentee friendships, continuity, and loyalty.
Staying within the e-learning logic, a number of studies have explored the potential of distance mentoring as an auxiliary tool in forming learning motivation, such as a collective work by American researchers studying the impact of distance mentoring programs on high school students' interest in healthcare careers; during the study, the authors observed distance mentoring practices by medical school professors of high school students in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, and noted a significant rise and long-term retention of motivation for medical education (Fernandez-Repollet et al., 2018).
Algorithmization of distance mentoring
The idea of automating the mentoring process occupies modern scientists, so the University of Zurich investigated the effectiveness of a chatbot as a personal development mentor on changes in the personal qualities and habits of the user. Before starting a self-development program, the subjects used a mobile app for ten weeks that performed a mentoring function, asking questions about health and life values and offering self-development advice, as a result it was found that the coaching intervention of an automated conversational agent significantly increases user motivation and machine mentoring can significantly facilitate the process of starting counseling - psyche the mentee up, forming his/her expectations from mentoring, and subconsciously gathering a lot of information about the person, which will be a valuable starting point for profiling the mentee (Stieger et al., 2018).
A review of the literature revealed that the choice of a distance mentoring format is often motivated for a variety of reasons, for example, Hill et al. (2019) recommend choosing distance formats for mentoring in medical education for gender reasons, as women, and there are more women than men among medical students, are much safer and more comfortable with online interactions with a male mentor.
Mutual distance mentoring practices
With the development of digital technology, distance mutual development programs where the participant acts as both a mentor and a mentee are becoming more prevalent. For example, a paper by Courtney K. Baker and Laura E. Bitto of George Mason University (USA) describes the operation of a distance mentoring platform for the mutual development of mathematics teachers, the principles of mutual mentoring and the protocol for reflective dialogue, and defines the role of the academic mentor, who is present on the platform as an online adjunct instructor (Baker & Bitto, 2021). In a pandemic environment, medical scientists from nine universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Portugal, and Australia have gone a step further and developed a virtual workshop for medical professors in Zoom. The principle of the virtual interactive discussion arrangement is designed to allow for the simultaneous participation of health professions faculty members from different countries, and instructions are provided for moderators, taking into account the cross-cultural nature of mutual mentoring (McKimm et al., 2020).
Mentoring activities of higher education establishments
HEEs quite often initiate distance mentoring activities, primarily these activities aimed at those learners with whom it is impossible to maintain regular contact, they are applicants (Fernandez-Repollet et al., 2018), master's degree students (Fernández-García et al., 2019) and postgraduates (Lim et al., 2019). The 12th issue of Sustainability journal for 2020 provides a systematic review of the literature on forms of e-mentoring in higher education during 2009-2019 and lists 37 higher education establishments actively using distance mentoring (Tinoco-Giraldo et al., 2020, p. 13).
In a study by Spanish scientists (Fernández-García et al., 2019), Ana Fernández-García and colleagues examine the personal qualities and social-emotional competencies of college mentors. From the results of the study, it is clear that a mentor is not primarily a narrow specialist in the chosen scientific field, but rather a navigator for a postgraduate. Mentees consider work to increase motivation, support in moments of doubt and difficulties, the ability to increase the confidence of the postgraduates in themselves, assistance in correcting errors and mastering the publication methodology, assistance in developing interpersonal communication (social skills), clarify the specifics of the academic research environment, assistance in planning and organization of training, assistance in decision-making and administrative issues. The study proved the need for specific training and selection of distance mentors, among the areas of vulnerability of the mentor the researchers particularly noted that HEE professors confuse the mentoring role with the role of the teacher (Fernández-García et al., 2019, p. 41). A paper on the mentoring strategy of a small Andrews University in the United States (Lim et al., 2019), which has been engaged in correspondence work with postgraduates for 20 years, systematized distance mentoring strategies and techniques for developing a general culture of responsibility among postgraduates. The paper provides detailed guidelines for the mentor, provides an overview of the distance tools used, such as GoogleDocs, DropBox, Zoho Projects, and others.
Adaptation of young pedagogues is traditionally carried out in two familiar forms - in-school mentoring and involvement of novice pedagogues in public professional communities affiliated with regional educational management organizations. Pedagogical HEEs support occasional, thematic contacts with graduates, but are not built into the system of adaptation and mentoring, although they have a large talent pool, establishing contact with graduates and a great scientific and practical interest in communication with the next generation of pedagogues. In modern conditions of development of distant mentoring formats it’s possible to build a model of academic mentoring focused on distant communication.
This research posed several questions: theoretical - is a pedagogical HEE capable of being an actor in mentoring a novice pedagogue? What are the constraints of distance mentoring at a university? And practical questions - how to organize an effective distance mentoring that not only young pedagogues but also mentors will be interested in (identifying effective schemes for distance communication)? What Internet-based mentoring platform services should be present on the distance mentoring platform for its effective functioning?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to determine the capabilities and schemes of distance mentoring of novice pedagogues to analyze the testing of distance mentoring platform at a university mentor.mgpu.ru in 2020-2021.
The methodology of the research involves a mixed approach, quantitative and qualitative research methods were applied, which allowed a comprehensive approach to solving the research tasks. The research was carried out within the framework of action research approach during the development of academic distance mentoring service, the stepwise results of the research were implemented in the distance mentoring platform under development.
General methodological framework of the research
The research was conducted in several stages: qualitative analysis of methodological approaches and practices of distance mentoring, by reading public scientific publications on distance mentoring; qualitative analysis of mentors' and young pedagogues' statements systematized during a series of design workshops of the distance platform and professional development courses for mentors from a list of MCU professors and graduates participating in the testing of the distance mentoring platform in 2020-2021; empirical observation of the distance mentoring platform user activity during the 2020-2021 testing, as well as quantitative and qualitative analysis of case studies on the mentor.mgpu.ru platform.
Basis for the research and research participants
The experience of integrating academic and in-school mentoring for young pedagogues is virtually non-existent in the scientific literature (Bulankina et al., 2020; Chekalina & Lebedenko, 2020). A valuable exception is the paper of Rigmor Olsen (2020) analyzing Norway's practice of arranging mentoring for future elementary school teachers by school pedagogues-mentors and academic pedagogues in the context of the Research and Development (R&D) mentoring approach.
The development and testing of the distance mentoring platform was carried out at MCU from 2019 to 2021 as part of two research works of the Institute of System Projects of MCU: "Implementation of models of mentoring and methodological support for young teachers (M&MS YT) in the practices of Moscow schools (2019–2020)" (Moiseev, 2019) and "Development and testing of academic methods of distance mentoring of young professional graduate of college of education working in educational institutions of Moscow" (2020–2021) (Shcherbakova, 2020). The research analyzed the results of design workshops, where 96 people participated, 57 of them - teachers of HEE, 39 - young pedagogues with less than three years of experience, and advanced training courses on distance mentoring (47 mentors). The testing of distance mentoring platform mentor.mgpu.ru was attended by 40 HEE faculty members and 95 HEE graduates, working as pedagogues in schools in Moscow and Moscow region not more than three years.
Functionality and content of the academic distance mentoring platform
In 2018, Moscow City University launched a program to support graduate pedagogues in their first year of teaching after completing their bachelor's degree, as part of the "Moscow Teacher Certification" project (Official project page https://insp.mgpu.ru/mosteacher_about (Accessed on 19.10.2021) ) . An annual support program was developed for project participants that included a number of public events - meetings with faculty members and school principals, thematic webinars and workshops, as well as meetings in Open Space format, where graduates exchanged impressions about their work at school and discussed professional issues. These events were held in a face-to-face format and were broadcast online. One element of the support was a digital platform - the Internet site mentor.mgpu.ru, where graduates could choose a mentor and communicate with him/her online. This service was positively evaluated by graduates, but until 2021 it worked in test mode, the number of users was very limited, as evidenced in Table 1, the site was not unique and functioned as a local social network with online conferencing function.
Due to the transition in 2020 to distance and then mixed teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic it was decided to move the distance mentoring to MS Teams platform, as teachers of Moscow schools and teachers of MCU carried out teaching activities on this platform. The mentor.mgpu.ru website posted links to connect to MS Teams in the news section. In 2021 a series of focus groups with graduates were held and the functionality of the platform was redesigned. The updated version of the platform represents a professional community of graduates and mentors from the HEE and is a space for the development of all participants.
After registering in the system, the graduate goes through online questionnaires about his/her professional activities, this data is stored in the system and form the basis for multifactor monitoring, if necessary, the mentor can get access to the necessary block of information. The graduates are no longer assigned a specific mentor, the counseling assistance is provided ad hoc, on-demand in the form of a case study.
The mission of distance mentoring is now, on the one hand, to organize an electronic service to help young pedagogues by faculty members and staff of the HEE and to form a pool of HEE faculty members and staff at MСU with mentoring competencies, on the other hand. For HEE faculty members and research scientists, distance mentoring is a new opportunity to develop mentoring competencies and self-development. An important feature of the distance mentoring approach is now the situational nature of its implementation. The remote format and semi-automated mentoring algorithm makes it possible not to assign a mentor to a young pedagogue for a long period, but to respond to a request from a young pedagogue immediately, to address the request not only to those mentors who are competent in a particular area, but also have a real opportunity to consult in the near future. The basic principles of the methodology of graduate-pedagogue distance mentoring developed at MСU are digitalization, remotability, openness, dynamism, variability of communication formats, collaboration, mutual development of mentee and mentor, practice-oriented, situationality, stepwise solution strategy, problem situation specification, mentoring iterations, decomposition of complex tasks into their simplest components, the case approach, therefore, the focus of attention shifts from the mentee's personality to the situation, the multiplicity of solutions, since there is no one correct solution.
The mentor profile (Figure 1) is a kind of business card reflecting his/her subject area of consulting, scientific interests, it’s on the platform in the public domain, it can be viewed by unregistered users, which solves the problem of expert positioning of the college employee for the general public.
In the personal area of each user there is a calendar of events, where everyone can add an online event or post an announcement of an offline event with professional content. The platform is equipped with a personal messaging service. The specifics of the platform are in the developed and tested method of case-mentoring.
Principle of implementation of the method of distance case-mentoring on the mentor.mgpu.ru platform
The system-forming elements around which all the work of the platform is built are the problem situations described by young pedagogues. Thus, the unit with which the mentor works on the platform is not the mentee, but the problem cases. This methodology implies the rejection of systematic counseling of a young pedagogue by only one mentor, as this method is implemented in the system of in-school mentoring and, coming to the HEE for counseling, the young pedagogue often has a narrowly situational one-time request. In case of a prolonged counseling at the HEE, the young pedagogue gets an opportunity to seek advice from different mentors who have a high degree of expertise in different areas, which should ensure a higher efficiency of academic mentoring through this method. Each case of a young pedagogue can get to the consideration of a separate mentor according to the profile of his specialization. Let's consider stages of implementation of the method on a specialized communication Internet platform.
The stage of creating a case. The young pedagogue describes the problem case in the process of filling out a specially created electronic form for case creation. The structure of the case can be found in detail in clause 188.8.131.52. Special selection fields in the case structure allow to systematize and relate the case to the scope of mentor consulting, the platform reference materials (library) and the archive of previously solved cases on the platform. The archive and library serve as the system's first automatic response to a user request. Each case automatically receives a unique number on the platform and is recorded in the system as an independent unit, the statistics of work with which is easy to trace for the platform administrator.
The stage of selecting a mentor. As a result of automatic analysis of the case, it’s offered to the mentors (one or more) corresponding to the declared profile. The young pedagogue sees the information about these mentors in the corresponding personal area interface, and selects one mentor. Once the young pedagogue has selected a specific mentor for his or her case, the case is displayed in the mentor's personal area. The electronic system notifies the mentor about the request for consultation, then the mentor either accepts the case or refuses, if some conditions do not allow him/her to consult on this issue, then the electronic system produces the second round of case assignment to other mentors.
The step of mentor's work with the case. After accepting the case, the mentor gets acquainted with the case and receives a list of questions-hints from the electronic system, which should be additionally asked to the author of the case to clarify and develop the specific situation, the list of questions is presented in clause 184.108.40.206. This list is not redundant, the mentor can choose a ready-made question and ask his/her own by placing it in the "other" field. Two types of questions are used: clarifying and developing. Developing questions actually lead the pedagogue to reformulate the case. Once the young pedagogue sees the questions in his/her area and has the opportunity to answer them, he/she has the opportunity not only to specify the situation, but also to rephrase or even completely change the description of the case. This function is represented on the platform by the option "Define the problem more precisely". The young pedagogue also receives guiding questions such as: "After you have worked with our questions, do you want to reword the reformulate of the request or make it more precise?" etc. The scenario for the reformulation work is as follows: the young pedagogue may answer "no, I want to keep the first version of the request". This is reflected in the mentor's area. Or "yes, I want to redefine the request." Then the electronic system offers the button "Continue with the case" and the form appears again with the indication that it is the second revision. The methodology calls for up to two iterations of case redefining.
Electronic format of case consulting gives an opportunity to lay down several options of privacy of communication of the young professional with the mentor and case solution:
a) personally - in person, via chat or any other personal communication channel, and clarify additional details. In this case the identity of the young pedagogue and the general data of his/her platform user profile are available to the mentor.
b) anonymously, this format is used if the young professional for some reason considers it unnecessary to reveal his/her identity, then the mentor displays the function "Write a possible solution" in the field that opens and "send" the solution. The young pedagogue will see the solution, but does not come out to face-to-face communication with the mentor. It should be noted that this format is not available for in-school mentoring, although it is extremely important when dealing with crisis situations where pedagogues are unable to discuss school problems by revealing the identity;
d) collectively. This option allows the mentor to consult with another mentor by clicking on the "Take opinion of a colleague" button, it makes information about the case available to specific mentors;
c) publicly - send the case for group discussion in the platform forum. In this case, the case is posted on the forum in the section "What to do? Looking for a way out together" in impersonal form, without direct or indirect reference to pedagogues, school and other participants in the educational process, other mentors and young professionals can join the discussion of solutions. Public discussion can be independent as well as a part of the existing discussion, in the development of the topic, add a case to the existing public discussion.
It should be noted that the young pedagogue, the author of the case, has the absolute right to choose the format of communication and discussion of the case.
The stage of reflection of the case solution. After the mentor has given a "possible solution," the young pedagogue can: a) complete the case solution, take the mentor's advice into account, and fill out a reflection sheet; b) run a second opinion, choose another mentor, and go the same way. The "second opinion" option is available only once. After receiving the second opinion, the young pedagogue fills out a reflection sheet. The moderator of the website has full access to the history of case iterations, which is also an opportunity for reflection and research analysis by the developers of the methodology and the HEE as a subject of mentoring in general.
Case solution unification stage. After the work with the case is completed, the case in an impersonal form together with the clarifications, materials and solutions goes to the library of the platform. Here the case can be viewed by all platform users.
Distance mentoring platform rubricator
The end-to-end rubricator platform consists of eleven items presented in Table 2. According to this rubricator, the mentor marks the counseling areas in the personal area. The young pedagogue assigns rubricator tags to the case study. All reference materials in the library are also labeled according to the common rubricator when they are added. This end-to-end nature allows one to easily organize all the resources of the platform.
- Fields to be filled in when submitting a problem case:
- Essence of the problem (Up to 1,000 characters);
- What actions have you already taken to solve the problem? (Up to 1,000 characters);
- Why is it difficult for you to solve the problem yourself? (Up to 1,000 characters);
- Question to a mentor (up to 500 characters);
Participants of the situation (multiple choice from the list: parents, fellow pedagogues, educational institution administration, administration of the education department, other departments, NGOs, students in preschool, pupils in forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11);
Specify the problem field of the situation (multiple choices: educational law; professional ethics; class management, motivation; digital technologies; individualization of the educational process; methods of teaching the subject; monitoring and evaluation; urban educational projects; self-management; interaction with parents; personal resources; work with families in the risk group);
How do you prefer to work with the case: (choose one option: personally, the mentor can contact you personally; anonymously, the mentor will not have access to your personal information such as your name, first name, your employer, etc.); you consent to group discussions of the case with both mentors and/or other pedagogues as long as your personal information and the individuals and organizations in the case are kept confidential;
Urgency of the solution (choose from the list: urgent, need advice, want expert opinion);
Do you agree to have the solution of this situation posted in an impersonal form on the website in the "History of solutions" section, possible answers "yes" or "no".
The list of questions to choose the expert when you first meet the case
Developmental questions about goals and motives: What exactly do you want to get out of this coaching session? What goal do you really want to achieve by solving the problem described? What would be the ideal result? Describe it. What do you want to change in your work by solving the situation described? How would you, your students, and your colleagues benefit if you achieved this goal?
SWOT analysis: think and describe your strengths important in this situation; think and describe your weaknesses important in this situation; think and describe external circumstances that hinder, threaten, obstruct you; think and describe external circumstances that could help you, be a source of additional resources and opportunities
Questions about possible options and ways of solving: what options do you see for yourself and why aren't you satisfied with them? What do you think you need to do next? What could be the first step, from your perspective? What happens if you do nothing? What is already working for you in this situation? What is good about it? What is the most difficult thing for you to deal with? How have you handled situations like this before?
Questions to help you plan: What three actions can you take to see your first result as early as this week?
Platform library and statistics
- The distance mentoring platform library consists of two types of materials.
- Type 1 - solved cases, which automatically go to the library after completing them (anonymously).
- Type 2 - articles, books, or links to any external resources, links that mentors attach to the solved case.
Articles and other resources can be added by website moderators or mentors. Each material of any type when entering the library is provided with tags and characteristics, according to the platform end-to-end rubricator.
During the testing and operation in 2021 on the platform 37 cases, their distribution by rubric is shown in Figure 2.
11 cases (18 %), as the most numerous group, concern questions of management of a class and motivation of students, the second most popular field of advising is interaction with parents and conflict resolution with them, 11 cases (16 %) are about this, another similar block of cases - professional ethics, here cases concern ethics of conflicts of a pedagogue not only with parents, but also with children and school administration, there were 8 (13 %) cases. The smallest number of requests concerned the use of digital technology - 3 cases (5%) and 1 case about Moscow city educational projects, on the self-development of a pedagogue - there were no sales management advice requests, which indicates the motivation of requesting the aid of the platform. Young pedagogues ask questions primarily faced with conflict situations, the prospect of professional development is not a popular subject of referral to a mentor.
The technological and methodological search for effective distance mentoring techniques is a traditional subject of research in the development of e-learning methodologies. During the 2020-2021 pandemic, a surge in distance college consulting and mentoring has been recorded, with medical schools leading the way. Mentoring initiatives of HEEs are most often ad hoc and chaotic in the form of forums, training and motivational webinars, creation of thematic communities in social networks. During the development and testing of the mentor.mgpu.ru distance mentoring platform no similar practices were identified. MСU implements the technology of work of university mentors with cases of novice pedagogues. The principles for implementing this technology are: narrowly segmented counseling, when the mentor works with a specific request, not with the young teacher; solution of the redefined case in the format of the answer to a specific question; each counseling request is atomized to a separate case; stepwise solution strategy; clarification, subsidiary text to the case by the young pedagogue, which itself is already part of the solution; a series of iterations to clarify the case, variability of communication formats; multiple solutions, mentor gives not a correct but a possible solution, because there is no one correct solution.
Vulnerability of distance mentoring of pedagogues
The research identified factors that can negatively affect the systemic and mass application of academic distance mentoring. HEE faculty members have no direct motivation in mentoring, some HEE teachers believe it is possible to act as a mentor only in relation to a narrowly specific area, limiting themselves to specialized subjects, leaving no opportunity to advise graduates on a broad psychology-pedagogy profile, in particular in the field of self-management, education system development and pedagogical communication. Busy schedules of HEE faculty members also makes it difficult to include them in mentoring. There are no qualimetric technologies regarding mentor activities. External mentoring, such as a pedagogical HEE in relation to the school where a young teacher works, causes ethical and cultural concerns among young pedagogues. Some of them are unsure of the legitimacy of seeking advice when dealing with controversial issues from an outside organization.
Trends in the use of the distance mentoring platform identified during the testing
During the designing and testing of the platform services mentor.mgpu.ru the most attractive ones for novice teachers were selected: an information portal about teacher work and professional development, request for personal consultation of a mentor on a problem situation - case solution technology, conversation with the mentor online, creating public themed events for a group of young teachers, which can be initiated by both mentor and mentee, creating and conducting remote discussions and discussions for young teachers, online surveys The case method, remotability and possible anonymous application of a young pedagogue make the mentor.mgpu.ru platform a semi-automated mentoring service; with the accumulation of a pool of solved cases it is possible to apply artificial intelligence technologies and expand the algorithm of generating clarifying questions and offering similar, already developed solutions for a similar situation. The mentor.mgpu.ru platform has potential, it can become a center of professional community of young pedagogues-graduates of MСU, for further development it is expected to involve pedagogues with work experience of three years or more in the practice of mentoring on the platform, which will solve the issue of short-term appeal to the platform, on the one hand, and on the other will ensure the inflow of new mentors competent in pressing issues of life at modern school and teaching routine, well familiar with the principles of the platform and interested in developing their own mentoring skills and self-assessment.
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17 April 2022
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Belolutskaya, A. K., & Shcherbakova, T. V. (2022). Opportunities and Tools for Distance Mentoring at University: "MCU - Your Mentor" Platform. In S. Vachkova, & S. S. Chiang (Eds.), Education and City: Quality Education for Modern Cities, vol 3. European Proceedings of Educational Sciences (pp. 14-28). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epes.22043.2