Fun with flags and supports

This week in my mailbox, I received an original drawing from an “artist in residence” from Cork. A very special almost seven year old knows that I am working hard developing my “First Paws” final project. I promised her that I would upload her drawing to my blog so she can tell her múinteoir (teacher) her nuacht (news) that it has gone víreasach (viral).

This started me thinking about learner supports and how important they are. This drawing was such a lovely well needed morale boost.

As it happened, last week I felt I was a learner. I forget sometimes that I am a learner. I felt pressurised and stressed, and if I am honest, a bit down in the dumps. My day job is revving up to full throttle with final projects from my own adult learners due at Easter. I spent the week clocking up hours check in on my groups while knee deep in the development of alternative assessments for their final exams. I was wrecked and I still had my UL workload. To cap it, both my oven and heating system crashed while Ireland was being influenced by an Icelandic weather front. It really was one of those weeks. The weight of the world was on me.

However, I was very appreciative of the efforts people made to make me feel better. In addition to receiving this drawing, I also received a one-to-one call from my project supervisor. She really inspired me to keep going. I was not in danger of quitting the course, absolutely not. Simply, it was just one of those weeks. We all get them.

I am going to repeat this last sentence on purpose. We all get them. I am a relatively mature person in age and usually on top of my game, but I needed a helping hand. It would seem this evening that even The Queen of England needs support. The point I am making is that needing supports will hit us all at some stage regardless of age or where we are at in life. On the surface, it might be difficult to determine who needs a boost. Therefore, providing learner supports to all learners is essential. For the most part, supports do not need to be complicated. Simple cost effective strategies can be extremely effective. Indeed, a phone call, kind words and support from family and friends can go a long way.

At work I am involved in the Amber Flag Initiative (2021). This initiative promotes wellbeing for staff and learners.

The Pieta House Amber Flag initiative recognises the individual efforts of schools, companies and groups to create healthy and inclusive environments that support mental well-being.” (Pieta House, n.d.)

One of the initiatives we have planned for next week until the end of the academic year is to upload one daily motivational post for all learners and staff. I am interested in online motivational posts as a research topic. While carrying out research for my literature review, I discovered a study had been carried out in the 1990s on the effectiveness of daily quotes as a learner support. This research revealed that learners liked the quotes and they missed them when the daily quotes were stropped. These quotes did not impact on learner retention rates or their success or failure at online learning. However, these quotes had a role to play in making a learner feel uplifted every morning, even if their impact were short lived. In that study, family and friends were deemed to be the most important support for online learners, followed very closely by college tutors and employers. As a result of this study, the relevant college published material and information for different people with suggestions on how they could help their learner friend. If only I could find a link to reference the original study!

I think this could be a really great research topic going forward. I would be interested in finding out how learners are being supported, the type of supports being implemented and their successes or otherwise.

When designing online courses, learners should be provided with a suite of supports to help them succeed. At a basic level, physical supports such as access to IT equipment and software is a necessity. Further supports include assistive technology and training in the use of IT. However, the latest trend is to provide online learning support mentors.

Mentors have traditionally been provided to high risk primary and secondary students, but it seems the concept is expanding to adult learners. The impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the need for adults to be supported in their studies. The following is a summary list of skills required to be a general mentor.

Learning support mentors (LSM) must have:

  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • the ability to analyse problems and devise solutions
  • the ability to empathise
  • a non-judgemental approach
  • the capacity to motivate
  • a commitment to equality and diversity. (Prospects, n.d.)

There is a wealth of literature on retention of online learners. Providing a online mentoring support is a very interesting idea. No doubt it is the duty and role of course directors to be mentors as it is, but to appoint LSMs in their own right in full-time roles is an interesting idea. I know many colleges have year heads or course tutors, but this is a very impressive idea.

To conclude today’s blog, I will end with an inspiring quote, even if the impact is short lived.

“Instruction does much but encouragement does more.” (Lesson Planet, n.d.)

References

Amber Flag Initiative (2021), available:

https://www.pieta.ie

[date accessed 07/03/2021]

Lesson Planet quote available:

https://www.pinterest.com

[date accessed 07/03/2021]

Prospects (n.d), available:

https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/learning-mentor

[date accessed 07/03/2021]

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