Learning Mentor Dissertation Definition

Butterfield, Jean (2012) Investigating the role of learning mentors in primary schools. EdD thesis, University of Nottingham.


This thesis is the result of an investigation into the use of the learning mentor support mechanism in primary schools in England. Learning mentoring is designed to reduce barriers to learning in individual children. This research was devised to enhance current knowledge of the learning mentor process and practices, and the impact of mentoring programmes on pupils.

The research approach was qualitative, involving six case studies of children being mentored in three schools. The research design included part-structured interviews with: the child; his/her mentor; class teacher and parent. Interviews were undertaken before and after the execution of learning mentor programmes. Additional data were generated by direct observation of the interaction of learning mentors and mentees, and documentary evidence was examined. Each case study was analysed and cross-case and cross-setting analyses undertaken.

Improvement for the participant mentees related to social, emotional and behavioural factors. The learning mentor role was not always clearly defined but reflected the culture of each school, the personal characteristics of each mentor and the relationships within each mentor/mentee pair. Mentoring programmes were unique to each mentee’s needs. Impact was slow in all six cases and was facilitated or hindered by: relationships; time; the mentor undertaking multiple roles; and the expectations of the wider school staff.

The significance of my analysis stresses the importance of the triangle of influence of the child/school/parent in aiding a child in school. Aspects of mentoring which could be more closely attended to by schools in order to provide best learning mentoring practice were: mentors identifying strategies; the mixing of curriculum with social/emotional/behavioural targets; liaison with families; communication with the wider school staff; and the involvement of mentees in their own mentoring goals. Mentoring styles centred on the mentor, curriculum or the mentee and related to the leadership styles identified in the schools.

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Mentoring novice researchers

Our academic system is built on a practice of apprenticeship of novice researchers by those who have built a strong foundation of practice.  The assignment of chairs, use of committees, and research assistant positions are all evidence of the model.  In addition to this formal model there are many informal networks, connections and experiences that have attributes of mentoring relationships.  New faculty members should expect to work with students and colleagues throughout their careers to support and guide their work.

The benefits to a novice researcher are obvious, working with a skilled researcher offers the chance to learn methods more effectively, pick up tricks of the trade, and transition from novice to expert gradually over time.  What may be less noticed or talked about are the numerous benefits to the mentor.  Since time is always in short supply, more hands are always better to accomplish research protocols.  Novice researchers bring a fresh set of eyes to a research problem, and may offer insights that others close to the research have not noticed.  If one condition of accepting a mentee is the promise to write up results, co-publication is a possibility and may expedite getting research findings out, thereby amplifying the impact in the larger community.  Mentoring novice researchers is a real opportunity at the same time it is an obligation.

According to the Council on Undergraduate Research, founded in 1978, the definition of undergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.  Further the council asserts that faculty members enhance their teaching and contribution to society by remaining active in research and involving undergraduates.  It is increasingly recognized that undergraduates not only have the potential to participate effectively in research, but that doing so increases the likelihood that they will pursue further research opportunities.  Many campuses have or are creating formalized programs to support undergraduate research, others have less formal opportunities available.  New faculty members who take advantage of the talents of undergraduates will find that the benefits are numerous.

Graduate students
Opportunities to work with graduate student researchers vary from institution to institution based on degrees offered and faculty positions held.  Even at those campuses that do not offer graduate degrees, faculty members can seek out these opportunities with nearby institutions who allow external committee members to serve.  Research progress in a discipline depends upon these mentoring relationships, whether in a Master’s or Doctoral program, or as a Committee Chair / First Reader or Reader.  Accomplished faculty members serve on numerous graduate student committees as a service to the profession.  The experience can be challenging, is time consuming, and likely very rewarding.  New faculty members should carefully consider the field of study, the research questions, the research methods, and whether the topic relates to their body of expertise or interest before deciding upon which committees to serve.  Each campus or department within a campus may have particular expectations of graduate advisors, chairs and readers.  Each committee has a different dynamic as well, and one of the important roles of the chair is to facilitate the process of the committee so that it goes as smoothly as possible.

Undergraduate Research

Council on Undergraduate Research
Affiliated colleges, universities and individuals, Washington D.C.
This organization is dedicated to supporting and promoting high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship. It offers numerous programs, publications, and events around issues of undergraduate research.

Undergraduate Research Community (URC)
URC Planning Conference (January 15-16, 2001). Faculty Development
A group of planners from diverse disciplines in Human Sciences, with varied years of experience, and from higher education institutions with varying emphases on teaching, research and service got together and brainstormed issues for developing faculty to engage in undergraduate research programs. The results are posted at this site.

Mentoring Undergraduates
Undergraduate Research, Buffalo State University of New York
This site links to an article reprinted with permission of the Council on Undergraduate Research from the CUR Quarterly, with mentoring tips from Buffalo State Colleagues, and mentoring workshop slides.

Full Human Presence: A Guidepost to Mentoring Undergraduate Science Students
Coppola, B. (Spring, 2001). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 85, Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Company
In this chapter a science faculty member at a major research university discusses strategic approaches to mentoring undergraduate students within a holistic framework of personal and professional development.  A concept of a coordinated mentoring effort across years and disciplines is described.

The Collaborative Research Model: Student Learning Teams in Undergraduate Research
University of Oregon
A model of undergraduate research with strategies, case studies, and resources is described at this site.

Mentoring Undergraduates in Research: Factors for Success
Hamann, K. University of Central Florida, PowerPoint, allacademic research
This powerpoint outlines features of the UCF undergraduate research program.

Mentoring Graduate Students

Thesis / Dissertation Committee Policy and Guidelines
Graduate Education, CSU Fresno
These guidelines outline the process and responsibility of faculty members who service on Master’s Committees at one campus as an example.

Advising Structure
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego
This site outlines the various roles of faculty advisors working with doctoral students in biological sciences at UCSD.

Role of Dissertation Chair
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Nevada Las Vegas
This site clearly articulates the role and responsibilities of the dissertation chair at UNLV.

Graduate Student Mentoring: Be More Than an Advisor
The Graduate School, Penn State
This site offers a philosophical statement, and links to best practice for mentoring graduate students.

Mentoring Graduate Students
Johnston, J., Assistant Director, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
This site explores frequently asked questions, defines mentoring and its stages, clarifies the difference between mentoring in teaching and research contexts, and offers numerous references.

Mentoring: How to Mentor Graduate Students
Faculty Guide, The Graduate School, University of Washington
This guide is designed to prepare faculty members to mentor graduate students effectively.

Mentoring Graduate Students for Faculty Roles
Shore, C. (May, 2003). APS Teaching Institute, Atlanta
This outline of a presentation at the institute addresses the mismatch between doctoral training and the expectations of new faculty.

Peer and Faculty Mentoring in Doctoral Education: Definitions, Experiences, and Expectations
Noonan, M.J., Black, R. & Ballinger, R. (2007). International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Vol. 19, No. 3, p. 251-262
This article addresses the importance of mentoring through using focus groups to explore definitions, experiences and expectations of mentoring.  Results indicated that the protégés, peer mentors and faculty mentors in the study all had differences in expectations.

Characteristics of Novice Researchers

Scientific Writing of Novice Researchers: What Difficulties and Encouragements do they Encounter?
Shah, J., Shah, A., Pietrobon, R. (April, 2009). Academic Medicine, Vol. 84, Iss. 4, p. 511-516
Interviews were conducted with sixteen novice researchers, 10 women, and most enrolled in medicine, nursing and physical therapy programs.  Four themes emerged: cognitive burden, group support and mentoring, difficulty distinguishing between content and structure, and backward design of manuscripts.

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