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Recruiting and Training Digital Mentors

A guest blog by Brian Hassell from Mustard Seed

To understand our digital mentoring training and recruitment initiatives, there is a need to appreciate our background. Mustard Seed has been teaching technology for 19 years. Seniors are our main clientele as our sessions are held during normal working hours. In that time, we have accumulated a lot of hardware, software and folk who enrol with us year after year. And that isn’t just because of the teaching - the social interaction is much enjoyed. We always have tea, coffee and biscuits freely available at all our sessions as this keeps people happy and relaxed. There is an excellent digital projector permanently installed for group presentations and a range of smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops.

Recruiting new digital mentors

Most of our mentors at Mustard Seed have been recruited from within our ranks. By inviting someone to become a volunteer mentor, a knowledge of computers is just one of the attributes we seek. We look for folk who interact well with people, have lots of patience, a positive outlook, the ability to praise without being patronising and the skill to do lots of listening and questioning.

Digital Mentoring Inservice Presentation at Mustard Seed

Hosting a training session for your digital mentors

Since we regularly enrol over 80 students annually, we needed to find a way to train as many digital mentors as we could. To achieve this, we held a Digital Mentoring Inservice on 6 February 2019. An invitation was extended to all our members and twenty-six souls attended the Inservice, partly enticed by the upmarket morning tea catered for and paid with some of our Be Connected grant funding. We planned a two-hour workshop from 9am to 11am, when most people are fresh and alert.

We had two kinds of mentors take part in our session:

  1. Those who already mentor at our sessions full time
  2. Learners familiar with our teaching methods and are available to help on a casual basis

To start, we gave a lesson demonstration where one mentor taught another how to construct a group contact in Gmail. The lesson was projected on the big screen for all to follow. The main emphasis was on the ‘teacher’ leading the ‘student’ without touching the computer. We always emphasise that mentors should avoid taking over the mouse. A dictum we repeat endlessly is, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” There is often a temptation by beginner mentors to take over the mouse and demonstrate a procedure, but we believe that learning takes place when the student is actually doing the clicking and pointer moving. Having the student using the mouse also gives the teacher the opportunity to observe the skill level each student has with a mouse.

We then presented the outlining benefits of mentoring and volunteering. Some of our existing full-time mentors spoke briefly about the benefits they had enjoyed from mentoring. The main reasons highlighted were how much they’ve learned while they were teaching, their enjoyment of interacting with some very nice and interesting people, and the satisfaction of helping others use technology.

The final section of our Mentoring Inservice centred on teaching methods. The steps emphasised were:

  1. Lead the learner through the process of the task they wish to complete.
  2. Allow them to write down the steps if they wish.
  3. Lead them through the process again.
  4. Have them attempt the process, hopefully without prompting.
  5. Only leave them once they can achieve the task without prompting, at least twice.
  6. Never ask the question “Do you understand?” Out of politeness, many people answer “Yes!” Instead, ask questions to test their understanding. Eg. “Why do you need a password to your account?”, “Which is larger, a document or a picture?”

Outcomes

The feedback from the participants at our Inservice found the experience to be helpful and in return, we have enjoyed a lot of teamwork and support from a great bunch of teachers and learners. Some of those present for our session didn’t feel confident enough in their own computer ability to do full-time mentoring. Nevertheless, they were happy with volunteering to do such tasks as keeping computers updated, opening and closing the centre, keeping tablets, phones and laptops charged, setting up and cleaning up the refreshment centre, checking our Bluetooth devices and so on. Not only does this help the organisation but there is learning involved as well.

The other benefit is that it gives those volunteers a sense of ‘ownership’ of Mustard Seed. That builds loyalty, camaraderie and continuity. This is why some of our members have been with us for five years and more. Our Mentor Inservice is now an annual event because it seems to bring so much benefit to the group as a whole. We think it is worth doing!