When the COVID-19 pandemic forced all Victorian schools continue classes at home, In2science spurred into action. As teachers were preparing the mammoth task of delivering all classes remotely, In2science Coordinators from The University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, RMIT and Swinburne University of Technology were upskilling their mentors to facilitate quality mentoring online.
In2science mentors support students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who face significant educational disadvantage. Normally, mentors would join science and maths classes at these schools and work with teachers to help students relate schoolwork to real-world examples, share their STEM experiences and motivations for studying at university. With the inability to interact with kids in person, In2science faced the challenge of virtually connecting with disadvantaged groups of students—who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM—in a way that would maintain students’ engagement in STEM subjects during significant disruptions to their educational and family lives.
In2science already has an online mentoring stream (eMentoring) for regional and rural secondary students. Leveraging our expertise in online mentoring and training techniques, In2science built a framework to upskill in-class mentors for diverse online learning environments. Ninety-four mentors were trained to facilitate quality conversations online, maintain safety and professional boundaries, and how to approach and share mental health resources should the conversation arise.
Current and past eMentors, Stephanie Lynch (La Trobe University), Zach Wingrave (RMIT), Poojan Agrawal (Swinburne University of Technology) and Vivek Gupta (Swinburne University of Technology) attended to share their eMentoring experience and wisdom on how to successfully engage young people over an online platform.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. University of Melbourne Coordinator Hayden Dalton said, “I’m buzzing! I found it really fun and it was great to see all the smiling faces again”. When asked what they were most looking forward to, La Trobe University mentors said, “demystifying science together” and “to see the students!”. University of Melbourne mentors were thrilled that they could do more to help with many saying they were excited to begin.
Each school will deliver the curriculum in unique ways and In2science mentors are now trained to work flexibly with each school’s preferred online collaboration platform. In2science has since prepared tailored online mentoring options for teachers to best support the individual needs of each cohort. These include one-on-one or small group online mentoring, a mentor joining a scheduled online class, and a weekly mentor call or text over a safe platform for vulnerable students. Teachers are already requesting our university peer-mentors join them remotely, and placements are set to recommence imminently.
The importance of keeping young people engaged in education and STEM subjects cannot be overstated. In2science remains committed to supporting these students and their teachers during this challenging time. Read more about our tailored online mentoring options here.