I’m helping to lead a professional development workshop on campus this week. The workshop is intended to help instructors develop proficiency with the tools and pedagogy behind online teaching and is usually pretty intensive. The group explores the different synchronous and asynchronous tools available to build online learning communities and how to structure classes to best foster student learning. As part of the week, I usually share data from recent studies examining the perceptions held by professors and college students in universities across the country. I want the workshop participants to envision the larger higher education landscape on the role that technology and online teaching is playing.
One study I shared this week was conducted by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) and was released in October 2014. Analyzing data collected from over 75,000 students in 210 colleges and universities, the study is part ongoing longitudinal research conducted by EDUCAUSE that examines undergraduate students and information technology. The study is quite comprehensive. For instance, the report details the percentage of undergraduate students who own smartphones (86%), laptops (90%), tablets (47%) and e-readers (22%). The study also looks at student affinity for technology usage and their overall perceptions of online and blended classes. It’s not surprising that more tech savvy students feel that they learn more from online and blended classes than non-tech savvy students. What may be surprising, however, is that older students (ages 25+) are almost four times more likely to say they learn best from completely online classes than younger students (ages 18-24).
While the undergraduate student study is interesting, the ECAR study of faculty perceptions of information technology is eye opening, especially for those of us who work in faculty development. Looking at the research on online teaching, for instance, the study reports that the vast majority of instructors (75%) do not believe that “online learning helps students learn more effectively.” These statistics, on their own, are not that surprising. In my work with faculty development workshops, I often encounter instructors’ skepticism to online teaching. When the study controls for instructors who have recent online teaching experience, however, the data shifts considerably. Almost half of the instructors with recent online teaching background believe that it can help students learn more effectively than face-to-face environments would.
In a way, the complementary ECAR studies present an updated version of the classic Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham. While students (especially non-traditional ones) are reporting the educational benefits of online classes, instructors are skeptical. After teaching an online class, however, many instructors begin to see the promise that online teaching offers and how it can help students learn. Much like the struggles that Sam-I-Am faces, the challenge is getting instructors to try something untried. “You do not like them? So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may.“