The report finds that presidents' beliefs about the mission of higher education are linked to their views on online learning.

Most college presidents say they use technology every day, yet only half say online courses are comparable to traditional courses—and nearly all say plagiarism has increased as a result of technology, according to a recent survey. However, college presidents also believe online courses and technology are the keys to higher education’s future.

These are the results from a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which 1,055 presidents from two-year and four-year private, public, and for-profit colleges and universities were surveyed online about technology use in higher education.

The results seem a bit contradictory: Though only half (51 percent) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value as traditional courses, more than 77 percent say their institutions now offer online courses. Fifty percent also say that 10 years from now, most students will take online classes.

And though 55 percent of college presidents said plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years, and 89 percent said computers and the internet have played a major role in this phenomenon, 62 percent anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital. Also, only 2 percent of those surveyed said the use of personal technology by students is prohibited in their institution’s classrooms.

College presidents might seem ambivalent about technology use in higher education, but most have embraced it on a personal level: 87 percent use a smart phone daily, 83 percent use a desktop computer, and 65 percent use a laptop. Almost half use an iPad or tablet computer, and almost half also use an eReader.

Though the report doesn’t delve into why college presidents believe what they do, other findings from the report might shed light on why some results seem contradictory.

For example, not all institutions surveyed offer online courses equally. According to the report, “private college presidents are among the most skeptical about the value of online learning. Only 36 percent believe a course taken online provides the same value as a class taken in person. This compares with 50 percent of four-year public university presidents.”

Reflecting this attitude, only 51 percent of the “most selective” college presidents say their institution offers online courses, while 86 percent of the “least selective” college presidents say they offer online courses.

Are private college presidents on to something? According to the report, just three in 10 American adults (29 percent) say a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in the classroom. Of those who have actually taken an online course, only 39 percent say a course taken online provides the same educational value as one taken in the classroom.

While it seems many people don’t have a high opinion of the value of online courses, over the past decade “enrollment in online courses at colleges and universities around the country has grown at a greater rate than overall higher educational enrollment,” says the report. According to surveys conducted by the College Board and the Babson Survey Research Group, the number of students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions taking at least one online course increased by 21 percent from fall 2008 to fall 2009. Over that same one-year period, total enrollment increased by only 1.2 percent.

And though most college presidents who believe that plagiarism is on the rise say technology is a contributing factor, only 55 percent believe that plagiarism is on the rise—while 40 percent say it has stayed the same.

In the same private-versus-public vein, the report finds that college presidents’ beliefs about the mission of higher education are linked to their views and experiences with online learning.

Among those who believe the most important role college plays is to prepare students for the working world, 59 percent say online classes provide the same educational value as in-person classes. Among presidents who say the role of college is to promote personal and intellectual growth, only 43 percent say online learning offers an equal value.

Based on the results of the survey, it seems that while online learning and more integration of technology might represent the future of higher education, there’s not much faith in these solutions at the moment, at least among college presidents.

One possible solution, college students say, is hybrid learning.

Nineteen percent of students in another recent survey said they are enrolled in a hybrid class, mixing online curriculum with occasional face-to-face lessons—while 33 percent said they would like to take one or more hybrid courses, according to a report on college student preferences published by Eduventures, a Boston-based higher-education consulting company.

The study suggests that some students are “forced into wholly online delivery because there is not enough supply of hybrid courses.”

For college presidents who are concerned about the increase of plagiarism the internet has given rise to, many plagiarism detecting software options are available—and have been for a number of years .

One such solution, Turnitin.com, is being used by a number of universities to help detect plagiarism from web-based resources.


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