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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mixed Signals from Faculty on Online Ed

New research shows a majority of faculty members continue to fear the growth of online education, but that could change as more instructors begin to use technology. Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012, reports that while nearly 70% of instructors who only taught in classrooms were afraid of the online push, 59% of instructors who taught an online course were more excited about the trend.

The study conducted by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group, surveyed 4,546 faculty members and 591 academic technology administrators. Respondents were questioned about their perceptions of online quality, institutional support and training, and compensation.

The report found diverging viewpoints on online education between faculty and administrators. Nearly 60% of all faculty respondents either agreed with or were neutral to questions about whether their institutions were “pushing too much online.” At the same time, 79% of administrators disagreed with the notion.

Faculty gave failing grades to online learning outcomes, with 66% saying they were lower than tradition classroom work. While 39% of teachers who had taught online agreed with the substandard learning outcomes, nearly half said online and traditional courses produced similar results and 66% of online instructors felt online teaching was capable of matching classroom instruction.

“Learning how to teach online probably would be one of the best steps a professor could take to assure viability in the 21st century,” wrote John Thelin in a follow-up essay on the report that appeared in Inside Higher Ed. “The most dysfunctional response by a professor today would be to dismiss or ignore both the technology and the social consequence online learning has.”

Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky who describes himself as “not so much low-tech as slow-tech,” wrote about his efforts to take one of his graduate classes online. While the course preparation phase was thoughtful and innovative, getting official approval included delay and “unreasonable obstacles.” At the same time, he concluded that online courses do not necessarily mean new revenue for the school or savings for students.

“All the variables of effectiveness, efficiency, cost, and price are subject to the same complexities, adjustments, and vacillations of any higher education program offering,” Thelin wrote.