Faculty confidence in online learning grew this summer, survey finds

Dive Brief: 

  • Nearly half (49%) of college faculty members view online learning as an effective method of teaching, according to an August survey of more than 3,600 instructors from Tyton Partners, an investment bank and consulting firm that covers the education sector. 

  • That’s up 10 percentage points from faculty members surveyed by Tyton Partners in May, suggesting the preparation over the summer for remote teaching this fall instilled greater confidence in online learning. 

  • However, faculty members say they want more hands-on training and greater help with preparing students to learn online. 

Dive Insight: 

The new report sheds light on faculty sentiment about a wide-ranging set of issues related to the fall term. One of the most notable findings is that instructors’ perception of online learning improved, even though some observers predicted there would be a “negative backlash” against it, said Kristen Fox, director of Tyton Partners’ strategy consulting practice.

Four-year colleges were more likely to teach in-person and hybrid classes this fall term, while two-year schools were more likely to teach online, the survey also found.

That could explain why two-year instructors were more likely to have confidence in their institutions’ health precautions. Faculty members whose schools are primarily online this term are more than twice as likely to trust safety measures than those whose colleges are mostly holding in-person classes. 

This fall has been a flashpoint for faculty members, some of whom contend they’ve had little say in their institutions’ pandemic responses and have serious misgivings about teaching in-person classes. Some have protested or even sued their universities. 

Many faculty members are also concerned about their colleges’ financial health, especially if enrollment has declined. Overall undergraduate enrollment dipped 2.5% year-over-year this fall, though the community colleges sector saw losses of nearly 8%, according to a preliminary report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which covered 22% of schools. 

Even so, more instructors said in August that their institutions are achieving “an ideal digital learning environment” than did three months prior. Overall, 57% of faculty members at two-year schools agreed with that statement, compared with 45% of those at four-year colleges. 

Yet the result signals that roughly half of instructors are unsatisfied with their schools’ remote education. “Most institutions still have work to be done to achieve that ideal digital learning environment,” Fox said. 

Colleges could improve in several areas. Instructors said they wanted more faculty development that included hands-on learning and discipline-specific support, as well as help with personalized outreach to students in their large classes, she said.

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