Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This study investigated online mentoring as a method of supportinginexperienced, geographically-dispersed Supplemental Instruction Leaders (SILs). Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic support program thatemploys successful senior students as SILs to facilitate regular peer learningsessions. Over 250,000 tertiary students attend SI each year worldwide (Arendale, 2002). Students who attend SI are more likely to succeed in theirstudies, achieve higher grades, and be retained at their institutions (Martin &Arendale, 1993). The Australian higher education sector has a need forinitiatives like SI that support the success of non-traditional students (Bradley,Noonan, Nugent, & Scales, 2008); however such programs can be difficult toimplement in multi-campus institutions (Winchester & Sterk, 2006). In this study,online mentoring was examined as a method of addressing some of thedifficulties in supporting inexperienced SILs who are geographically isolated.

There is minimal research literature about the use of mentoring or community tosupport SILs, and none addressing the problem of supporting geographicallydispersedSILs. Online mentoring and community models have been usedsuccessfully in other contexts to support novices that are geographicallyisolated from potential mentors and their peers. SILs are different from menteesin most mentoring literature; traditional mentees are either career employees orstudents being mentored for their academic success. In this study, SILs arebeing supported for a part-time, fixed-term role that few intend to continue as acareer.

The following research questions were investigated:

Research Question 1: What models are appropriate for mentoring geographically-dispersed Supplemental Instruction Leaders?

Research Question 2: In what ways does participation in an online SIL support program impact on mentors, mentees and community members?

The study consisted of two phases, each addressing the correspondingresearch question. In Phase 1, an exploratory qualitative study was conductedinto the development of an online mentoring model for geographically-dispersed SILs. A new theoretical framework was developed from Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) and Social Exchange Theory (Emerson, 1976; Homans, 1958) to inform the design of the model. This framework assisted in understandinghow mentoring happens, and why mentors and mentees might participate in it.

In Phase 2 the model was investigated twice using a qualitative, multiple-casestudy methodology. There were 30 participants from six campuses of fiveAustralasian universities in the first study, and 67 participants from 27campuses of 25 academic institutions from three continents in the secondstudy. Data were analysed using a deductive approach based on the theoreticalframework. Key findings of this research were:

  • A model for the mentoring of geographically-dispersed SILs.
  • An understanding of the impacts of the model on participating SILs. Rolemodelling was found to be the component of mentoring most used for SIL development; this is interesting given Ensher, Heun and Blanchardʼs (2003) proposition that “role modelling may be the function of mentoringthat is least efficiently done in a virtual setting” (p. 273).
  • A set of design variables for the development and expression ofmentoring models. These variables address an identified need in theliterature for clarity in academic communications about mentoring.
  • A set of design variables for the development and expression ofmentoring models. These variables address an identified need in theliterature for clarity in academic communications about mentoring.

This research has significance for online mentoring and higher education ingeneral, and more specifically, the support of geographically-dispersed, parttimestaff, such as SILs and university tutors or teaching assistants.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.