Dive Brief:

  • While more than three-quarters of colleges’ chief online officers deemed the abrupt transition to virtual classes earlier this year to be largely or very successful, half said their schools will require faculty training in remote learning this fall, according to a new report.

  • The annual Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE 5) survey polled 308 college COOs in May. Three-quarters of officials said poorly prepared faculty presented the biggest challenge pivoting to online learning this spring, and 62% said it was underprepared students. 

  • As the pandemic persists and more institutions forgo in-person instruction this fall, they will be looking for ways to improve their online offerings. 

Dive Insight:

The CHLOE report, sponsored by online education groups Quality Matters and Eduventures, typically examines trends in online learning, such as the growth of virtual classes across the sector. 

This year’s survey focused instead on the problems that emerged during the shift online this spring and colleges’ plans for the fall. While a vast majority of institutions intended to resume normal operations in the coming academic year, some have changed course as verified coronavirus cases skyrocket across the U.S.

A typical institution this spring only had one or two weeks to move more than 500 face-to-face courses online, the report notes. At research and other large institutions, more than 2,000 classes needed to be transitioned.

This massive undertaking was especially difficult for faculty who had little or no practice teaching online. On average, half of full-time faculty, and a similar share of part-time faculty, didn’t have experience with online learning prior to the pandemic, the report states. And about half of undergraduate students had not taken an online course.

Recognizing the challenges of the transition, seven in 10 colleges responding to the survey invested in new resources, most commonly purchasing new technology and licenses. The same share of institutions reported “universal” use of learning management systems for remote instruction in the spring. Video conferencing was also widely used.

The COOs reported about half of institutions will be requiring more faculty training for remote instruction this fall. Slightly more than 40% of colleges said they’ll implement similar, but optional, professional development.

“Clearly, COOs are signaling that faculty development was inadequate during the pivot,” the report states.

This training will likely be particularly important because more than 60% of faculty took the lead in designing online courses in the spring across the colleges polled, it notes.

Instructors, especially those with little experience in online teaching, have said the transition was difficult. In addition to quickly translating materials for remote learning, they also needed to accommodate students who may not have access to an adequate internet connection or suitable devices.

One study conducted before the pandemic found faculty prefer face-to-face instruction, though they indicated they’d be willing to explore hybrid teaching. But in a small study of instructors worldwide this spring from Primary Research Group, less than a quarter of respondents told they thought of online learning “very or extremely highly” as an educational tool that could be used post-pandemic. 

Still, the COOs in the CHLOE report perceived faculty members’ attitudes as mostly positive. About a quarter of COOs said faculty had a “very positive” attitude toward online learning after the move this spring, and 40% said they had a “somewhat positive” outlook.

Students, too, prefer in-person instruction, according to PRG’s survey. Dissatisfaction with online classes is one factor students are citing in lawsuits attempting to recoup from colleges some of their spring-term tuition

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