As education becomes more accessible with advanced technology, more and more students are opting to enroll in online schools or take some of their traditional college courses online.
But as this trend grows, institutions are finding it necessary to address faculty concerns and ensure online programs are high-quality and rigorous.
Online and blended learning programs from higher-ed institutions across the nation certainly inspire innovation, but higher-ed administrators must consider faculty point of view amidst these changes, according to Building Trust: How to Address Faculty Concerns about Online Education, a new whitepaper from Wiley Education Services.
Nearly five years ago, 58 percent of professors in a Babson College survey described themselves as having “more fear than excitement” about the growth of online learning; more than 80 percent of academic technology administrators, on the other hand, said they felt more excitement than fear.
The whitepaper aims to help administrators better understand faculty concerns about online learning, and it also offers recommendations to address those concerns.
(Next page: Faculty’s 3 biggest online learning concerns)
Faculty concerns about online learning tend to center around quality, support, and incentives.
Problem: The Babson survey found that many faculty members “believe that online learning outcomes are inferior to those of traditional courses.” Just 25 percent of surveyed faculty members said they believe their institution has the tools in place to assess the quality of online instruction. Fewer than half said they believe their institution has tools in place to assess traditional instruction.
Solution: Institutions offering online learning courses and programs should ensure effectiveness both to reassure faculty and to validate their institution’s mission. Institutions can provide evidence of their commitment to quality by generating authentic and transparent outcomes data for all modalities in order to support the improvement of all instruction. They also can investigate instructional variables beyond modality to determine which practices within the broad category of online learning are most effective at meeting various learning objectives.
Problem: It can be common for campuses to have just a handful of instructional design and technology staff, leading to a do-it-yourself approach to course development that can leave faculty feeling challenged and uncomfortable. Creating dynamic and engaging online course material usually requires a team of people.
Solution: Institutions can provide a support system for faculty teaching online. This system should include design support, technology support and facilitation support. Once those supports are in place, faculty are likely to expand their views of online learning and its potential on campus.
Problem: When concerns about quality and support are addressed, faculty often worry next about incentives, including compensation and recognition. Only 30 percent of the faculty surveyed in the Babson survey said they believe their institution has a fair system of paying for online instruction, and fewer than half said they think their institution respects online teaching in tenure and promotion decisions.
“Many schools taking the initial leap into online learning treat developing and teaching an online course as an amount of effort equivalent to teaching one section of a traditional course,” according to the Wiley report. “Course development and online instruction is itself a tremendous investment of time. It requires a deconstructing of learning events, reconstituting them to engage students at a distance and producing an often exhaustive amount of instructional material for students to make sense of the design.”
Solution: Schools that are successful in bringing faculty along in their online initiatives have ensured that compensation reflects the commitment online course development and teaching entails. Institutions also should think about what will motivate faculty to put in the effort to rethink their course and move it online, and how peers and leaders will view that work.