- A significant number of college faculty members prefer face-to-face teaching over online instruction, finds a new report from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research.
- More than 70% of the 9,500 faculty members surveyed by the ed tech nonprofit indicated they favored teaching mostly or entirely face-to-face, but reported a willingness to use "blended learning," which mixes both online and in-person instruction.
- Educause says the findings show a need to reconsider how colleges and universities are employing online learning to make it more attractive to students and instructors.
The portion of students who are enrolling in distance learning courses, which are almost always online, continues to rise. Nearly 35% of students, including those at the graduate-level, enrolled in at least one distance learning class in the fall of 2018.
Despite the steady uptick in students taking classes online, an area of the institution that many schools are investing in more, recent data shows they often prefer in-person instruction. According to a recent Educause survey of more than 40,000 undergraduates across 118 schools, seven in 10 prefer learning experiences that occur mostly or completely face-to-face.
However, in both the student and faculty surveys, participants indicated interest in "blended" learning, which includes classroom-based and online instruction. Half of faculty said they preferred such an environment, with online platforms used to "do the more mundane tasks" like sharing the syllabus.
Students, meanwhile, tended to like certain aspects of online learning, such as being able to submit an assignment digitally, more than a lecture delivered online.
About 64% of faculty members rated their interactions with technology in the classroom as "good" or "excellent" — a 7-percentage-point decline from Educause's 2017 faculty survey.
When instructors were trained in ways to integrate technology with learning, they were more open to students using mobile devices in class. Fewer than half of faculty (47%) who received such training banned smartphones, for instance. That's compared with about 63% of professors who didn't receive such training and didn't allow smartphones in class.
Bans on technology in the classroom might not be the most effective way to help students, the report notes. They may even "decrease student engagement" and "disproportionately affect minority students and students with disabilities needing accommodations."
Some colleges are going beyond merely offering courses online in order to help students familiarize themselves with the technology and be part of the campus community.
California State University Channel Islands, for instance, offers a self-paced course that teaches students how to use the technology required for their online classes. About half of the 1,000 students to have taken the course as of this fall were first-generation students, Jill Leafstedt, the university's associate vice provost for innovation and faculty development, told attendees at Educause's annual conference in October.
And Harvard University's Extension School recently decided to let remote students virtually tune into the classroom-based program rather than taking separate online courses.
Blended learning is proving to be the format of choice for some disciplines, such as law and architecture, that are experimenting with adding online offerings to expand access to what has historically been in-person instruction that relies heavy on discussion.