Research: Faculty and IT Administrator Views of Tech in Higher Ed, Part 3

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The fifth annual Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology from Inside Higher Ed has revealed some eye-opening insights into perceptions of technology in higher education. In Part 2 of this post, we discussed how faculty members in particular are skeptical about the quality of online courses, especially compared to in-person instruction, while academic IT leaders are far more confident in the quality of online offerings. As we wrap up this series of posts on the survey, we’ll focus on experiences with online learning and how these programs are being supported by colleges and universities.

This study has revealed a direct correlation between online learning experience and perceptions of online learning. In other words, the more experience faculty members have, the more likely they are to believe in the quality of online learning. Only 37 percent of surveyed faculty have taken an online course for credit as a student, while 39 percent have taught an online course for credit.

The highest percentage of faculty (43 percent) have taught in blended learning environments that combine in-person and online instruction. Sixty-nine percent of faculty member who have converted a face-to-face course to a blended course said they incorporated more active learning techniques into the course. Fifty-two percent said lecture time decreased.

Faculty members who have converted an in-person course to a blended course were asked to rate four reasons for doing so:

  • Ability to serve a more diverse set of students
  • Improve the educational experience by introducing more active learning into the course
  • Improve the educational experience by using online content
  • Save the institution money or space by reducing class time

The ability to serve a more diverse set of students was deemed “very important” (49 percent) or “somewhat important” (37 percent) by faculty. Improving the educational experience by introducing more active learning was rated “very important” by 43 percent of respondents, compared to 29 percent for using online content to improve the experience. The financial component was the least significant factor, rated “very important” by just 9 percent of faculty, although 31 percent rated the desire to save money or space as “somewhat important.”

The vast majority of faculty with an online teaching background (79 percent) say the experience has helped them improve their teaching abilities in the classroom. When asked specifically how that experience has improved their teaching skills, 86 percent said they are able to think more critically about how to engage students with content. Eighty percent have become better at using multimedia content, and 76 percent have become better at using learning management systems.

Once again, we see a disconnect in perception between IT administrator and faculty member perceptions when it comes to institutional support for online learning programs. Both groups were asked how strongly they agree with various statements about their institution’s support for online learning. These statements involved technical support, compensation, rewards for contributions, incentives for online teaching, protection of intellectual property rights, recognition of time commitments.

Generally, IT administrators have more positive feelings about their institution’s level of support than faculty. For example, a much higher percentage of IT administrators agree or strongly agree that there is adequate technical support for creating (75 percent) and teaching (74 percent) online courses compared to faculty (49 percent for creating, 47 percent for teaching).

While online teaching is becoming more prevalent in colleges and universities, the Inside Higher Ed survey shows that most instructors believe in-person learning is superior. However, this survey indicates that the perceived quality of online courses is likely to increase as faculty gains experience, and blended learning continues to become a preferred model. Many institutions would be well-served to take steps to clarify institutional motivations and support for these programs, both financial and technical, to build support among faculty.