Summary of Stanford’s Tomorrow’s Professor post “Conflicted Views of Technology: A Survey of Faculty Attitudes”

A 2018 article from Inside Higher Ed summarizes the findings of academic perception of online teaching modalities and technologies. It was recently featured in Tomorrow’s Professor. The key message in the article was that despite growing acceptance, wide-spread use, and perceived efficacy by early adopters much of the academic discipline still distrusts the use of online teaching modalities. Online teaching comprises much of the University of Alberta’s offerings; a cursory search will return 180 online courses taught at our University this Winter semester alone. Given that the University of Alberta also leads the way in Canada for the production of Massive Open Online Courses, the time seems right for a closer examination of our relationship with and attitudes towards online teaching. If you would like to continue the conversation, contact the Science MOOC Coordinator Gavin Bradley at:
Growth of for-credit online teaching

“The proportion of college instructors who are teaching online and blended courses is growing. So is their support for using technology to deliver instruction.

  • Forty-four percent of instructors surveyed said they had taught an online course, up from 42 percent last year and 30 percent in 2013. (Thirty-eight percent said they had taught a blended course.)
  • Professors who have taught online overwhelmingly say the experience improved their teaching and made them more likely to experiment with new approaches.
  • Three in 10 instructors (30 percent) said they believe online courses can achieve student outcomes comparable to those of face-to-face courses, down slightly from 33 percent last year. And professors are more likely to disagree than to agree that using digital tools can lower the per-student cost of instruction without diminishing quality.
  • Instructors and digital learning leaders alike overwhelmingly believe textbooks are too expensive and support the use of open educational resources and other low-cost alternatives. But their support only goes so far: professors generally reject the idea that saving students money justifies the loss of faculty control over course material selection or shifting to lower-quality options.
    What Are Professors Actually Doing with Technology?
  • Many colleges and universities are expanding their online footprints to try to provide more options for students and enroll more of them at a time when traditional enrollments are stagnating or shrinking, more faculty members are teaching online.
  • The proportion of instructors who say they have taught at least one online course rose to 44 percent in 2018, up from 42 percent the previous year and from 30 percent five years prior.
  • The number of instructors who have taught a blended or hybrid course is growing slowly but steadily, too, edging up from 36 percent last year to 38 percent this year. About three-quarters of those who have taught a blended course said they were involved in designing the course.
  • (Inside Higher Ed and Gallup asked a greatly expanded set of questions this year about instructors’ experiences designing those courses and working with instructional designers to do so. Those who had worked with instructional designers had a very favorable view of their work — but a surprisingly small proportion of instructors said they had done so. A separate article on those results can be found here.)

“The increase in the share of faculty teaching in online or hybrid format is striking, if not surprising given the parallel increase in the number of students participating in online and hybrid courses (based on Babson and other sources),” Martin Kurzweil, director of educational transformation at Ithaka S+R, said via email. “Both factors speak to the growing ‘normalization’ of online and hybrid modalities — although it’s still the experience of a minority, online and hybrid learning is no longer highly concentrated in a few institutions.”

  • Professors were slightly more likely to believe in the effectiveness of online learning in their own institutions and classrooms as opposed to others’. Thirty-eight percent of instructors said for-credit online courses could achieve comparable learning outcomes “at my institution,” and 35 percent said that was the case “in my department or discipline” and “in the classes I teach.”
  • In more fundamental areas, though, online courses did not fare well. Eighty percent of instructors said digital courses were less effective than face-to-face classes in their ability to reach “at-risk” students, and 65 percent said the same about “rigorously engag[ing] students in course material” and ability to maintain academic integrity (60 percent).
  • Instructors who’ve taught online had more favorable opinions about the effectiveness of online learning than did their peers, but they still rated face-to-face courses higher in most cases. The question on rigorously engaging students in course materials is a good example: while 77 percent of those who had never taught online said online courses were less effective than in-person courses and 21 percent said they were as effective, 51 percent of online instructors said the courses were less effective on engaging students in the material, while 44 percent said they were as effective.
  • Professors may question whether online learning is improving their students’ educational experience, but those who have taught online express confidence that doing so has made them better instructors.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, described it as “troubling” that “even after a 10-fold increase in the number of online students [and] strong beliefs that teaching online makes you a better teacher … faculty remain skeptical about online education. Faculty are showing increased support for the use of instructional technology — but not if it is to provide a course at a distance.”

The article goes on to discuss the difference in acceptance between types of faculty members, perceptions of efficacy, and other perceived trends. The full article can be found here.

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