Report Describes Faculty Attitudes Towards Online Education

By Staff
September 3, 2009

A national study released early this week indicates that professors are open to teaching online courses but feel they are not receiving enough support.

The study, entitled "The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences with Online Learning," was released by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Sloan National Commission on Online Learning. It was based on responses from more than 10,700 faculty members at 69 public colleges and universities throughout the country.

"I think it's a call to action," said Jack Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts and chair of the Sloan online learning commission, who was quoted in Inside Higher Ed. "The leadership of universities has been trying to understand exactly how [online education] fits into their strategic plans, and what this shows is that faculty are ahead of the institutions in these online goals."

On the average, faculty respondents noted that public universities failed to provide enough support for online course development and delivery, protection of intellectual property, incentives for developing and delivering online courses, and consideration of online teaching activity with regards to tenure and promotion decisions.

Nevertheless, more than a third of respondents said they had developed and taught an online course, regardless of seniority or tenure status. "Contrary to popular myths," noted Wilson, "faculty at all ages and levels are participating."

The Chronicle of Higher Education points out some troubling conclusions in the study: The majority of faculty respondents felt that online learning is inferior or somewhat inferior to face-to-face learning. While the majority of professors who taught or developed an online course felt that the medium was as good or better than traditional courses, a startling 48 percent still felt that online courses were inferior.

Moreover, survey respondents noted that teaching online requires more effort than teaching face-to-face. "Faculty who get involved in online teaching have to be more reflective about their teaching," Wilson explained in Inside Higher Ed. Professors who teach online courses need to be more organized with lecture notes and materials, for example.

Yet despite the challenges and drawbacks, the study indicated that the majority of respondents have recommended online courses to their students, and cited student needs as a primary reason.

"The access issues trump everything else," noted Jeff Seaman, author of the report, who was quoted in the Chronicle. "The ability to get somebody in a course that they would not ordinarily be able to take, to finish that degree, to pursue that career, to do whatever, is sufficient."

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